Alessandro Tedeschi aka Netherworld is the man behind Glacial Movements, an ambient isolationist label based in Rome and dedicated to Arctic landscapes and atmospheres...
Let’s start off with your label Glacial Movements, how did it come about and what is the philosophy behind it?
I have always loved the cold, and the feelings conjured up by snowy landscapes, gusts of winds, and ice as they give me a sense of freedom. The way snow softens sounds, enables me to regain a sense of peace and calm that, for someone who lives in a city like Rome is impossible to experience otherwise. Furthermore, I am fascinated by opposites: the North and the South Pole, the Artic and the Antarctic… Over time, I have also explored the mythological aspects of Hyperborea a region in the northern lands that lays beyond the north wind and is inhabited by the Hyperboreans, a mythical people. When I started my label, I tried to combine my interest in all things glacial with my love of ambient and isolationist music.
What was the spark that made you want to release music yourself?
There were two events that spurred me into this direction. Back in 2004 I met Gianluigi Gasparetti, aka Oophoi who, at the time was running both a magazine called Deep Listening, for which I contributed reviews, and a small label, Umbra, which alas is no longer. It was a small but very stimulating venture. At the same time I released an album on an American label. I found communicating with them very frustrating. It took ages for them to send me 10 copies of my CD, which we had agreed on, and the whole experience left a bad taste in my mouth. So I looked at what Oophoi was doing, and after releasing a couple of albums on Umbra, in 2006 I set up Glacial Movements. I like a challenge and this sounded like a good one to undertake. I started off with a compilation, Cryosphere with tracks by Aiden Baker, Tuu and Oophoi amongst others. It was released in an edition of 300, which sold out pretty quickly. This encouraged me to put out my own first release Mørketid, which is my first official CD, and not a cd-r, in an edition of 500 copies. From then on I managed to get on board many of the artists I had always admired like Lull and Francisco López, who gave further impetus to the label.
How do you select an album for Glacial Movements?
It is vital to me that every release fits within the label’s ethos, not just musically but also visually. I ask all musicians I work with to create an original piece of work to reflect the Northern atmosphere and imagery that feeds Glacial Movements.
Most of the artists I work with are very different from each other in their musical approach, but so far, they have all produced unique works inspired by the Artic for my label. Loscil, for instance, who works primarily with Kranky and Ghostly International, is based in Vancouver and came up with coast/range/arc, an album which was inspired by the landscapes of the Northwest coast of Canada and which constitutes a real departure for him but fits in perfectly within the label. Also, amongst the new releases is the latest album by the Norwegian duo Psjuk (Rune Sagevik and Dahl Gjelsvik) which is entitled Tele, the Norwegian word describing frozen underground water. There is always some glacial thread. I wanted the label to have a very clear imprint, something that I hadn’t been able to find elsewhere. For better of for worse, Glacial Movements has a very strong identity.
As for the album covers and visuals, I work with Bjarne Riesto, a Norwegian photographer who lives above the Arctic Circle and has an amazing library of images. Together with the musicians, we choose the most appropriate photographs, which I then send to a graphic studio in LA (Keep Adding), where they design and create the digipacks.
How many copies of any single title do you release?
The maximum number of copies of digipak CDs I produce of any single title is 1,000. That is the most I can shift, even though I can rely on a very good network of distributors that covers Europe, America and Japan. Aside from the physical releases, I also do digital downloads, which work well and are a good source of revenue. I do most things myself as a one man band, as it is such a personal project to me that I would find it difficult to delegate. Furthermore, I consider the promotional aspect of things of the outmost importance, and this is something that a number of labels tend to neglect.
In terms of dealing with artists, how long does it take to finalise a product?
It depends on the artist. Some of them work very fast, others take longer. For instance, it took a relatively long time for an album such as Like a Slow River by Mick J Harris aka Lull. Mick had not released anything under the Lull moniker for several years. When I got in touch with him, he was enthusiastic, but was not sure whether he could come up with something that would have fit in within the label’s remit. After about seven months, though, he sent me Like a Slow River, which I consider amongst the best things he has ever done.
With other artists, though, things happen a lot quicker. Francisco López moves really fast. In the space of about three months he sent me Amarok, which is inspired by a gigantic wolf in Inuit mythology.
It can also happen that I get approached by an artist who’s already produced an album, which is just perfect for Glacial Movements. This was the case with Stormloop and Snowbound, a collection of tracks recorded in 2009 and inspired by a heavy snowfall.
Having said that, once I get sent an album, there is usually a bit of tweaking around to do before we finalise the product. It has been good so far, even though it hasn’t always been a smooth ride. In the case of Thomas Köner for instance, everything was already in place, we had met here in Rome and discussed things, and the music was done. At the last minute, however, he decided otherwise. It was a big blow for me as I’d been working on this for a couple of years and I still don’t really understand what happened, but such is life.
Still, there are new names on the roster such as Marsen Jules, and Retina.it, Yuya Ota and Celer amongst others.
Generally speaking, I get quite a few emails and it is hard to keep up as I hold a day job and have little time to answer all requests and listen to everything I get sent. I get very little done over the week, and but tend to dedicate my weekends to music. Whenever a project is worth it, I spend time on it.
Will you ever be releasing albums as digital downloads only?
No. The physical album is essential to me. I like digipacks and wouldn’t bother releasing music otherwise. Also, to be honest, there is always a certain element of risk attached to a physical release and having no production expenses is a whole different ball game. I like a challenge. Even though there are fewer people buying albums, there will always be a market for a good and carefully produced CD. It might take longer to shift copies, but in the end one gets there. It is difficult with new and not yet established artists, but having big names on the label does certainly help raise the label’s profile.
And how about doing vinyl releases or limited editions?
I consider 500-1,000 copies to be already a limited release. To go even lower would be a shame as there are many who still ask me for albums that have sold out. Just to give you an example, The Art of Dying Alone by bvdub sold out pretty quickly, but I still get people asking me whether, by any chance, I have a few copies lying around. Once an album is sold out though, that’s it. I don’t re-issue any titles. On the other hand there are digital downloads available on a number of platforms. I much prefer physical releases myself, as I don’t even have an iPod. I have never downloaded anything on iTunes either, and wouldn’t really know how to go about it, to be honest. I do have an mp3 player, which I take with me when I go running, but I mostly listen to the radio. I feel that music needs to be listened to on a good hi-fi. Quality of sound is paramount. Unfortunately, at present I don’t really have enough time to listen to music. Also, my studio is at my parent’s place, which makes it difficult for me just to listen to music.
You’ve also created a sub-label of sorts, Würm, can you tell me something about it?
With this series I wanted to release albums made of one single extended track and all directly inspired by Würm, which is the name of the world’s most recent glaciation, which ended about 10.000 years ago. There has only been one single release so far by Oophoi, which is an album I love, but somehow I haven’t pursued the matter further and the project is now on hold for the time being.
What is your take on the Italian ambient scene?
There’s not much going in Italy other than a few festivals such as Flussi in Avellino, Node Festival in Modena, and Dissonanze here in Rome where I met Francisco López and Thomas Köner. Having said that there are plenty of people doing rather interesting stuff.
Anyone in particular you can think of?
Lino Monaco and Nicola Buono, aka Retina.it. A few months ago, they invited me to play at Ferro3 in Scafati near Pompei where they hold electronic gigs. We discovered we have a lot in common and they have now recorded an album for me, which I will be releasing in May and which should be entitled Descending Into Crevasse.
Are there any other Italian artists on your label?
Aside from Retina.it, I have already released albums by Oophoi and Aqua Dorsa a project by Enrico Coniglio and Oophoi. Enrico and Gianluigi have two very different musical approaches and together they managed to produce something utterly original. When I heard their album, Cloudlands, I fell in love with it and offered to put out on Glacial Movements.
Could you describe to me Netherworld, which is your own musical project?
Between 14 and 17 years of age, I was involved in hardcore and techno music and used to attend raves with friends. The turning point for me was when I bought an ambient music compilation on Virgin Records in ’94. I loved the introspective atmosphere of it and I began to familiarise myself with some of the artists I was later to have the honour of releasing on my own label.
Netherworld was born in 2004. It is my third eye, in a way, or rather, my third ear, since we are talking about music! I have always thought that what we perceive to be reality is in fact an illusion and that one has to look beyond appearances. As I find it difficult to articulate these thoughts into words, I do it through music by processing sounds and transforming them into something new, that holds a certain melody. Netherworld is a means for me to tap into this other reality, which needs to express itself somehow.
I use field recordings as source material (often from glaciers and icy landscapes) and even short fragments of classical music, which I process to the point of making them unrecognisable.
What kind of classical music?
I like the idea of perfection within music, anything from Bach to Debussy, and from Mozart to Maria Callas.
What is your take on loops?
I often use them, especially when processing classical music. I like to work with the dilation of sound and following a circular movement.
All the sounds I use are acoustic and organic and I process them in an analogical way before uploading them onto my laptop because by doing this they retain a certain warmth. I only use the laptop as a sequencer not to create sounds.
What was the inspiration behind Mørketid?
Mørketid is a Norwegian term that indicates a certain period in the year when the Arctic winter cold encases everything and the sun doesn’t rise over the horizon. It’s a cold and dark period that distinguishes regions and people living in the Artic. A few years back I visited Norway. I started off in Trondheim, then headed to the North Cape, and back down to Bergen along the fjords. I was stunned by the landscape and the pervading sense of silence. Paradoxically, a friend from Trondheim once complained about the traffic, and I just told him, “You, should try Rome, mate”. It was amazing, I kept thinking, “I should be living here…” It took me a long time to recover from the “trauma” of being back home.
Did you visit Norway with the intention of making an album?
No, even though I had taken a digital recorder with me, which I used a lot. Even without one, though, I would’ve still made an album, as I was so inspired by the place. Once I started working on Mørketid, I integrated the sounds I recorded while over there and added a few things. It worked and the album was well received, especially in Italy, which is something I hadn’t anticipated.
Was it the first time you’d travelled to nothern countries?
I had been to Scotland, to the Highlands, where, once again, I encountered really beautiful landscapes, but I did not have my digital recorder with me on that occasion.
Can you tell me something about bvdub’s reworking of Mørketid?
After I released bdvud’s The Art Of Dying Alone on Glacial Movements, Brock and I became good friends. We haven’t physically met, as he lives in China, but we regularly correspond online. When I sent him Mørketid he was so inspired that he decide to do his own version of it. The album, I Remember, is not a remix album as such, but rather a translation of it, as bvdub wanted to translate the emotions he felt while listening to it into music. He uses my work as a base into which he has interwoven his translations. Whereas The Art of Dying Alone might be, on some level, not as close to the spirit of the label as other releases, even though it has a definite isolationist feel to it, I Remember certainly fits the bill. The sound has a colder feel to it and, generally speaking, the album represents a sort of departure for him, even though we are talking about a prolific and diverse musician.
About your album Mørketid he wrote, “I am constantly reminded of broken dreams”.
Mørketid, to me, is strictly linked to my experience of Norway to the landscapes and to an isolationist feel. He saw something different in it. We all see different things in music.
Why is isolationism so important to you?
It is a way for me to detach myself from everyday life, to access mental space, a place where I can reflect on concentrate on myself and my surroundings and where I can look at things from a different perspective. I do not interpret isolationism as something negative, or as a rejection of all things. Yes, I do isolate myself, but I do it because I love silence. I often wander by myself into woods and go for long walks in the snow. I love taking my mountain bike and exploring mountain paths, just to be on my own. I believe that to truly understand what lies before and beyond us, one needs to begin from within. Isolationism is the only way for me to be able to do so.
When you say “beyond”, what do you refer to?
I believe there are other dimensions that we cannot perceive with our five senses. There is a different reality, which one cannot access whilst living in this material world of ours. It is difficult to tap into one’s spiritual side amidst the chaos and confusion of everyday life. There is a spark inside each one of us that is covered with soot, by removing the soot one gets in touch with a light, which I identify as God in a Gnostic sense.
Is silence then a way for you to delve into your spiritual side?
Silence is necessary to me. I place silence at the centre of my music. I would say that this is even more apparent in my second album Over the Summit. I love climbing and every time I reach the top of a mountain, it is as if I am able to see things from an entirely different perspective. Every time one reaches a summit, one is rewarded with clarity of vision. Also, the silence one encounters is deafening. The same applies within an internal journey and this is what I tried to capture with Over the Summit.
Do you believe then that being in touch with nature puts one in touch with what lies beyond?
Yes. By being in touch with nature, one gets in touch with one’s inner self. One has to lift several veils to capture nature’s secrets. It is an internal and spiritual journey.
This is not something that is talked about a lot within music…
I rarely talk about it myself. It is such a personal thing that it is difficult to find the right person to talk about it with. I am fascinated by alchemy, by ancient civilizations and all things esoteric. Alas the world moves in a different direction, which is not mine.
Let’s talk about Rome now.
I was born and brought in Rome and have always lived along the Casilina. I am now based in Torpignattara a district to the east of Rome. It is a beautiful city, but it is tough.
Within Rome, have you ever found particular locations inspiring in musical terms?
Not within the urban area, but just an hour’s drive from Rome there are some great locations within the Lazio region, near Viterbo or Rieti, for instance, with plenty of history. Lazio is a beautiful region. There are nice stretches of seaside to the south by Sperlonga, and beautiful mountains that I found very inspiring for Over the Summit. Also Lazio is next to Tuscany, Abruzzo and Umbria three equally beautiful regions. If I had to pick one place within Rome, though, I would say the Appia Antica Park. It is a very green corner of Rome full of archaeological ruins and very peaceful. I went there in February after the snowfall, which is a rare occasion for Rome. It was magical.