Attilio Novellino is an Italian sound artist born in Catanzaro in 1983. Guitar, electronics, deep basses, field recordings, piano and harsh distortions are used to build dreamy and melancholy soundscapes, to draw floating layers of burning material, to launch dronic textures that become noises, streaked with misty romanticism, characterized by a pronounced emotional side that combines post-industrial visions, nocturnal glows, blurred pictures and old memories...
You have recently taken part in the Loud Listening release out on Cronica, a project curated by AIPS, the Archive of Italian Soundscapes, set up by Alessio Ballerini and Francesco Giannico for promoting soundscape culture in Italy. Since you’ve taken care of post-production, could you describe the album and how it fits in with AIPS’ remit?
The idea of Loud Listening was to make an album made of field recordings all taken in industrial plants in four different cities throughout Italy. We wanted to give prominence to industrial labour, which is carried out by thousands of workers every day, in order to enable the listener to come into direct contact with the sounds of the factories’ apparatus, amongst the raw materials and the machinery. In a word, to place the listener at the core of the industrial production.
Our aim was to reflect both on the importance and the role of industry and workers, in a time of economic crisis in Italy, and to provide a sound map of labour, taking into consideration the undoubted appeal that the symphonies produced by certain mechanical sounds can have, without being unpleasant and irritating to the ear.
Our samples were then processed by ten different artists who operate within experimental and digital music, and who treated the sounds according to their own sensitivity.
Listening Loud fits perfectly within AIPS’ remit as the Archive aims to promote the culture of soundscape and everything that is connected to the concept of “soundscape composition”. This album, which combines field recordings with digital processing to draw a small soundmap of labour, represents, in my opinion, a good example of the kinds of issues that AIPS tackles.
Your track Calme Cementi is based on field recordings taken at a cement plant in Marcellinara near your hometown of Catanzaro. How did you go about recording and constructing the resulting track?
I have always been fascinated by this cement plant, since I was a kid as there aren’t that many big factories in my area. Every time one takes the motorway coming into Catanzaro, one is confronted with this imposing structure. It is not something that one cannot avoid seeing. Therefore, it was only natural for me to select it and to ask permission to visit the plant and to take sound recordings within the different units. I have recorded sounds next to the furnaces, amongst the conveyer belts transporting the raw materials and in the corridors and hallways where sound travels alongside the walls, producing great natural drones. Basically, I have tried to document all the different types of sounds generated by the cement plant. Once in the recording studio, I’ve edited the material selecting the parts that excited me the most in order to create a “pleasant” and varied aural structure without altering the nature of the field recordings.
Considering the large-scale pollution and the aggressive urbanisation of the countryside why is it that, at least to my knowledge and with the exception of AIPS, electro-acoustic musicians working with field recordings don’t seem interested in tackling the destruction of the Italian landscape?
I believe this is because we live in big urban centres and we are now used to the sounds that the industrialized cities produce on a daily basis to the point of not noticing them any longer. Nobody pays any attention to sounds that up until a few years back wouldn’t have been tolerated for more than five minutes. Nobody is surprised any longer by the continuous frequencies that have become a part of our lives. With field recordings, one strives, in the majority of cases, to capture a less “polluted” sonic environment to the one which we have grown accustomed to, an environment that we manage to perceive with greater clarity, precisely because it appears as unusual.
In Italy, there are still places where it is possible to immerse oneself in nature and to record the sounds of water, plants, and animals. I have frequently done so. It is an extraordinary and relaxing experience, almost spiritual. And yet, one cannot live under the illusion of being graced but that sort of landscape. It is important to listen to all the facets of our soundscape without turning away from the harsher realities.
Catanzaro is also know as “la città tra due mari”, the “city between two seas”. If one was to subscribe to the tradition of psycho-geography, would you say your music has been shaped or indeed influenced by Catanzaro’s location?
I do believe that geography can influence one’s psyche, but I wouldn’t say that Catanzaro’s location has directly shaped my music. Most likely it played a role in forging my personality. This small town perched on three hills, gives a clear view of the sea while keeping it at bay as if it was trying to protect you from the water. Catanzaro is so enclosed on itself that it inevitably creates great expectations towards anything that may lie beyond its perimeter. It is also very similar to a mother’s bosom. This has contributed in keeping alive my child like enthusiasm towards life and has spurred me to use my imagination. I still consider myself a nostalgically complying “hostage” to the city.
Also, Catanzaro is known as the city of the three Vs, namely San Vitaliano, the patron saint; velvet, as an important silk centre since the time of the Byzantines; and wind (vento in Italian) as constantly experienced by the strong breezes from the Ionian Sea and Silas. Is it just a coincidence that you have chosen as a moniker another V word: “A Vortex of Low Pressure”?
For both historical and cultural reasons both of the first Vs are very distant from my experience. The third one is a completely different kettle of fish. The wind is an intrinsic presence in Catanzaro. There are no open spaces within the city that aren’t governed by an unrelenting and chaotic windpower, regardless of the seasons. In winter it is cold and piercing, in summer it is hot even though seldom sultry. It is like a permanent disturbance that becomes a psychological trait of the inhabitants. The constant presence of the wind doesn’t just blow through one’s hair but also through one’s thoughts, so to speak. There are only very few days throughout the year when it actually dies down. Still, one has to contend with the wind even indoors. In my bedroom, for instance, a daily battle takes place amongst the shaky frame of the windows and the air, which tries to filter through any opening it can find after having clashed noisily with the windowpanes. There’s a definite correlation between my old moniker “Vortex” and this wind or “Vento” as we say in Italian.
Keyboards play a large part on your first solo album, Anonymous Said. Was the piano your entry point to the world of electro-acoustic music?
I’m glad you’ve noticed. As a matter of fact, when I was working on Anonymous Said I was very much influenced by specific minimalist works and by the way a number of musicians close to that musical language approached the piano. Even though I had already started to process sounds, at the time I focused on compositions made of just a few notes and a few keys, with pattern reiteration and combination.
The piano is the instrument I am most confident with, therefore it was only natural top bring that into my first musical works. Aside from having an extraordinary “classical” elegance, the piano produces sounds, which represent a great source of material for adventurous manipulations.
Your second solo album Through Glass has recently come out on Valeot. As the press release indicates, it “emerged from thoughts about the power of the light filtered through glass”. You also state that sound, just like light, can be reflected in a thousand directions, giving rise to previously inaudible material. By saying this, are you introducing notions of spirituality into the equation?
With that statement I was referring to the generative power of certain creative processes. The idea for Through Glass came to me after having worked on a light set for a photography project. I was fascinated by the way the light gets refracted, distorted, altered and fragmented when passing through glass creating new and autonomous forms, which held very different meanings to the original ones. My approach to sound is very similar in a way. By processing an audio signal, by turning down certain frequencies, and highlighting others, by fragmenting the sound and accentuating specific tones, one can reveal the intrinsic design hidden in the original material.
The name of Fennesz has come up in the press in connection with Through Glass. Does his work, and that of Tim Hecker, act as a sort of beacon for you?
Fennesz and Tim Hecker are two of ma favourite artists. I bought their albums and I went to see them live. I would lie if I told you that I’m not influenced by them in my approach to music and most probably this transpires in my work. Having said that, they are not my only influences. Also, I have never consciously gone for a calligraphic reproduction of any particular model. I am not surprised the press has picked up on this thanks to the enveloping nature of my music with its melodic and discordant elements. Fennesz and Tim Hecker are two of the most well known names with experimental music therefore, those who are not familiar with my work can get a quick, even if vague, idea of the kind of atmosphere evoked by my albums. Every comparison, though, is only an approximation, which, by highlighting specific connections, inevitably omits other peculiarities and characteristics.
Through Glass also feature contributions by Alessio Ballerini, Enrico Coniglio and Ennio Mazzon. What was their involvement on this particular project?
I invited Enrico and Alessio to take part in my album and I have asked them to send me some material. I have then worked on those sounds in different ways more than once. I then added extra parts to create the long track that opens the album A Footpath for Night Dancers. Alessio sent me additional material, which I have immersed into my own sounds to create Yosemite’s Night Sky. In terms of my collaboration with Ennio Mazzon on this album, I have used excerpts from a track he had sent me for Underwater Noises, that never made it onto the album. I “embroidered” that material with sounds I created with low frequencies and synthesizers to produce the title track. A second track, After You’ve Had a Life, was something we’d been working on for a while. It was meant for a different project, but it ended up fitting perfectly within Through Glass. I would also like to stress that Alessio, Enrico and Ennio’s contribution has been instrumental. I knew they could add an extra layer to my music and I was very keen on having them alongside me on this particular journey. I cannot thank them enough.
Speaking of collaborations, The Silent Bride recorded under the moniker Sentimental Machines is a collaborative project between Gianfranco Candeliere: guitar, laptop Saverio Rosi: synth, fender rhodes, piano, guitar, laptop and yourself on piano, guitar, laptop. The participation of Emanuele Tonon reading excerpts from his novel Il Nemico (The Enemy), gives it a retro feeling underlined by echoing and muffled piano lines featuring on tracks such as Avril (A Train to Venice). It also makes me think of a certain strand of Italian experimental cinema from the 60s, with films like Un uomo a metà by Vittorio De Seta, who coincidentally made a number of films in Calabria, your own region. Is this intentional?
We specifically aimed to create a sound, which recalled a different era. We wanted to make Emanuele’s voice sound as if it came from the loudspeakers of an old radio, and the piano parts as if they came from an old vinyl played on a gramophone or, indeed, as if they could be heard echoing from an old drawing room from the beginning of the last century. We wanted to take those sounds alongside dusty dirt roads and on old and rusty tracks. It is most likely that the sum of those elements has produced a tone and feeling similar to the one suggested by the films you have indicated. This is hardly surprising, considering that film is a common interest amongst all three members of Sentimental Machines and something we talk about a lot.
I discovered the work of the late Vittorio De Seta only in 2011, after his death. Watching Un uomo a metà, I came to a very similar conclusion to yours, finding strong connections between the atmosphere of that film and that of an album such as The Silent Bride. Other people have mentioned the work of Tarkovsky, Fellini and Carmele Bene. In fact, Saverio is actually a great fan of Carmelo Bene. These parallels are all rather apt.
You also feature on Domestic Tapes vol II an album by Leastupperbound, a solo project by Saverio Rosi, of Sentimental Machines, with whom you have also performed live at Flussi in Avellino. How did you approach your set and how important are visuals for you when performing in front of an audience?
I consider visuals as a double-edged sword. On the one hand they can enrich the music in a live setting, on the other, they risk pushing the music in the background, in a way, since the audience is generally speaking more receptive to visual rather than sonic stimulus.
Moreover, they can inhibit the imagination of the listener, which is the last thing I would want. To prevent this collateral damage from happening, there has to be a very strong connection between music and visuals and good chemistry between the artist or filmmaker and the musician. I would like to repeat the experience in the future, but I believe music can be enjoyed even without the aid of images.
Together with Leastupperbound you have also taken part in E-ArtQuake, a collective exhibition that aimed to connect digital arts and new technologies, with themes relating to memory, trauma and loss of identity in the aftermath of traumatic events such as the Irpinia earthquake of 1980. What is, or should be, the role of electro-acoustic and experimental music in uncovering memory? Also, what are in your opinion the best works that reflect human suffering within electro-acoustic music?
What we did was to build our set around original recordings with survivor’s accounts, which Saverio managed to procure, in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. The voices of the witnesses were mixed with drones, short waves and samples we processed live. The powerful ending was meant to reproduce the earth tremors. It has been a very important commemoration.
I have always been fascinated by the idea of utilizing a tool, which epitomizes modernity, such as the laptop, to undertake sonic journeys through memory in order to evoke past feelings and memories. I consider the language of experimental and electronic music free from any formal rule, and particularly apt in recovering snatched from the past in order to bring them back to life in a new way. Field recordings and sampling enable to insert sounds, voices, instruments and noise from the past into a new work, not just by dressing them up under a new guise but using them as means to produce new concepts. It is as if these elements become musical instruments themselves.
William Basinski with his Disintegration Loops has given us an extraordinary picture of human suffering captured in one of its most intense aspects: the anguish and dismay that a sudden loss provokes. The sounds that seem to endlessly repeat themselves, are in fact subject to process of deterioration that consigns them to memory. They envelop the ruins of the twin towers on the wake of the 9/11 leaving nothing but the echo of tragedy.
Another album which has affected me deeply is Ich bin bei Dir by sound artist and designer Cristiano Rinaldi, who records under the moniker Simultan. It came out on Resting Bell in 2008 and it is a tribute and dedication to Etty Hillesum, a Jewish writer from the Netherlands, who was murdered 1943 after nazi-deportation in Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is a deep, intense and mournful work.
Back in 2010 you curated a compilation together with Enrico Coniglio of Italian sound artists on a theme of underwater noise. Also, there is only one female name on it, that of Elisa Luu. Why do you think it is that female musicians working within electro-acoustic music are so under represented? Also, generally speaking what is your view on the Italian scene, any names, festival, labels, or venues you’d like to recommend?
I don’t know exactly why that is, so I’ll improvise a psycho-anthropological explanation. Women are, generally speaking, more extrovert, they find it easier to express their own feelings and therefore such an intimate and solitary field as electro-acoustic music might not be as appealing to them. Still when they do venture within this world, they do it with a specific sensibility and a distinctive touch.
Also, I have to say that I find the electronic scene in Italy very vibrant and full of interesting people and ideas. There is a great will to do stuff and also a greater cohesion than in the not so distant past. I believe it is most definitely on a par with the scene in other countries, which benefits from greater exposure.
Aside from the artists with whom I’ve worked and which we have already discussed, I would like to mention Easychord, Valerio Cosi, Alberto Boccardi, who released his latest album on the Fratto9undersky label, one of Italy’s most interesting labels. Also, Giovanni Lami, Giulio Aldinucci, Pietro Riparbelli, Architeuthis Rex, Andrea Belfi, Dramavinile, Francis Gri with his Krysalisound output, and Silentes and Onga Boring Machines, who all do excellent work. I’ll stop here as I simply cannot mention everybody.
As for festival, I would pick Flussi and Interferenze in Campania, Node in Modena, Chorde in Roma, and Transmission in Ravenna as personal favourites.
Finally, if you were to put into words the sound of 50,000 disembodies screams how would you describe it?
A path through a dark tunnel, made of shadows, aural detritus and snatches of melody.
The album Loud Listening is available as a free download on Crónica