Gianmaria Aprile is the label-head at fRaTto9 uNdeR tHE sky. He also plays in the bands Luminance Ratio and Ultraviolet Makes Me Sick. He has attended several Soundpainting courses with the music lab and jazz orchestra “Il Resto Del Gruppo” and in 2010 he joined the “Pipeline Trio”: an impro-free-jazz trio with Giancarlo “Nino” Locatelli (bass clarinet) and Simone Fratti (double-bass).
You have studied at the International Music Academy in Milan and yet you seem to have a more instinctive approach to music rather than academic collaborating with webzines and remaining fiercely loyal to the independent music scene. Has this always been a conscious decision or something you fell back into?
I would say it was a more or less conscious decision; after graduating in a completely different field, I chose to deepen any practical musical experience I had gained over the years by enrolling in Milan’s Music Academy, even though I didn’t have any real expectations. Still, I did so, because I believe it is very important to have an academic background in order to be able to build on tried and tested knowledge, which gives one freedom to experiment even to the point where one can put said knowledge aside… Unfortunately, at present I don’t have the time to pursue further my studies.
The best experience one can gain, though, is on the ground. I worked as a live sound engineer for a number of years, and even if this is something somewhat different from working in a studio, I was able to learn the ropes and to gain an understanding of the main issues involved.
The name of your label comes from a track by your late uncle Al Aprile, a musician and radio deejay for Radio Popolare, from whom you have inherited, amongst other things a huge record collection. Aside from rare examples such as Battiti on Rai Radio 3, what do you think could be done to promote experimental and electro-acoustic music on Italian radio?
I have always been fascinated by radio, which has always been a source of information, musical or otherwise, for me, to the point that I now work for the Swiss radio station RSI, as a technician and post-production audio editor. Television has for quite some time now regularly been losing viewers (with the possible exception of pay TV stations such as Sky), whereas radio, thanks in no small part to podcasts, has been regaining a considerable number of listeners. Non-conventional music could be promoted more thanks to Internet and online radio stations. Alas, here in Italy we are still lagging behind in this respect. For instance, we don’t have any collage radio stations, which are traditionally more in tune with the “underground music” scene.
You are a sound engineer by trade and yet, you seem to be happy to devolve any mastering duties to Giuseppe Ielasi, who’s mastered most of the releases on Fratto9. What appeals to you specifically about Giuseppe’s mastering technique?
Mastering is a necessary and quite distinct stage in the production of an album. I have always worked as a sound technician on live performances and in my own small studio I work on the mixing desk, but mastering is a different cattle of fish and something I am not specialised in. Also, I currently don’t have the time and concentration to dedicate to this task nor do I have all the required gear.
The best a sound technician can hope for is to be able to produce a recognisable sound, which becomes apparent even to a casual listener. That is why a musician or a band might go to someone specific for a mastering job, in order to achieve a particular sound. That’s how I think of Giuseppe Ielasi and that is why I asked him to master a number of albums I was releasing. His technical skills, his attention to detail and his highly tuned ear, make working with him a real pleasure. He is like a surgeon specialized in microsurgery: he studies carefully each single track and sets about working on the different frequencies with extreme care and dedication.
You’ve recently started a limited split seven inch series on coloured vinyl, pairing artists on Fratto9’s roster (form Luminance Ratio and Luca Sigurtà to the upcoming release by Alberto Boccardi) with international artists such as Steve Roden, Oren Ambarchi and Panicsville. How did you convince them to come on board?
Funnily enough, I would say that it is easier to collaborate with international artists rather then Italian ones; after having listened the audio material I sent them, they accepted with no difficulty. It has been a real pleasure to discover that sometimes there are no walls between small label such as fRaTto9 and big names on the international experimental and electro-acoustic scene. I am happy to say that the next artists to join the label’s ranks, so to speak, will be Lawrence English and Francisco Lopez.
The split vinyls are co-released together with the Italian micro label Kinky Gabber, while Luminance Ratio’s first album Like Little Garrisons Besieged was released in conjunction with Boring Machines. Is this a cutting cost exercise or it is about creating a network of like-minded labels in order to reach a wider audience?
Both, I would say. Also, I have known Onga for a number of years now and we both value each other’s work and approach. It has also been a good excuse for us to try and uncover the strengths and weaknesses of such a niche market from a joint point of view.
Kinky Gabber, on the other hand, is the label run by Luca Sigurtà, which has indeed meant sharing costs and taking advantage of wider options in terms of distribution.
What is the concept behind the micRo c9sM9s series, which has so far seen three releases by Alberto Boccardi, Luca Sigurtà and Giovanni Lami and Shaun McAlpine?
I started the micRo c9sM9s series when I found myself with the three aforementioned works in my hands, which represented a new musical departure from what I had produced up until then, even though they could be seen as a natural evolution of the fratto9 sound. The label has developed in parallel to my musical development as a musician (or so called musician…). When I first set up fRaTto9 I was playing with Ultraviolet Makes Me Sick, who had been labelled as a “post-rock” band, and that was the scene I was moving in. That is why the first albums I released on the label could be seen as falling into that genre even if a free/impro component was already present.
Over time I developed a new sound thanks in no small part to the collaborations with Andrea Ferraris (who also played in UVMMS) and Giancarlo Nino Locatelli, amongst others.
In a recent interview with Onga from Boring Machines, I asked him what he considered the strengths and weaknesses of the Italian experimental music scene and he mentioned Italy’s rich heritage in terms of innovation within music as a strength, and the erosion of the role of culture in Italy as a definite weakness. What would your answer be and why do you think there are no high profile labels in Italy on a par with Touch, Editions Mego, or 12k?
For sure, as Onga says, there’s a huge problem with the infrastructure, which is not capable of catering to the varied musical output of our country. At the same time, there’s a chronic lack of musical education. This means that any label operating on a relatively small territory and not supported in any way by the cultural institutions cannot develop in a comparable way to notable examples such as Touch or 12k. Furthermore, we are talking about a huge investment both in terms of time and money on the part of a label, that very seldom can yield any financial return, especially in its first few years of activity and given the current crisis of the record industry.
The current line up of Luminance Ratio is comprised of Andrea Ics Ferraris, Luca Mauri, Luca Sigurtà and yourself. Considering you don’t exactly live close by, how do you go about coordinating the band and developing ideas and concepts for new material?
Generally speaking, we set up meetings that can last for a whole weekend were we discuss and work on any ideas we might have at the time and more often than not we end up recording some new material. It can also happen though that we begin by improvising or conversely we might take a few previously written down notes and try to translate them into music.
Luckily, Luca Mauri and I live quite close to each other, which means we can easily take things a step further after having develop things with the band. In the case of Reverie, for instance, we worked together on the mixing of the album, which is coming out on Bocian Records.
Talking about Luminance Ratio, Andrea Ics Ferraris stated that: “The project has evolved naturally into something more psychedelic, more retro, than what we originally set out to do, but with a good amount of electronics, and electro-acoustic instruments. We are music freaks and we throw into the mix anything and everything we consider suitable for a specific project.” The new album Reverie is coming out in Spring on the Polish label Bocian. What would you say were the new elements that you have thrown into the mix of Reverie?
Reverie has been in the works for about a year. We selected and processed hours and hours of recorded material, which we then assembled and integrated with acoustic parts on cello, sax, baritone clarinet, and double bass courtesy of a number of fellow musicians. We worked in a different way from our first album, which was built upon material composed by Eugenio Maggi (aka Cria Cuervos). In that case we arranged and added new material on an already present structure.
The sound of both albums, Like Little Garrisons Besieged and Reverie is stripped back and deceptively minimal, which is even more surprising considering the penchant you all seem to have for a noisier and heavier sound. How did you achieve this sparseness while maintaining a certain rougher edge?
I am very proud of these albums: Like Little Garrisons Besieged because I can still listen to it three years later and find it fresh and Reverie because it was developed as if the music was especially composed for a small ensamble. I worked a lot on the sound’s “form”, making it, as you say, rough but well defined, and dislocating it in a very precise way within space.
At present, I would like to treat the new material we are currently working on in a different way taking a bigger and more magmatic sound similar to that of some of our live sets as a starting point. I like to approach the same sound source in different ways and to “mould” it at a later stage. The main problem, though, is that the time and concentration required to work on such projects is always far greater than the amount of free time I have at my disposal. Unfortunately I cannot get by simply through music and therefore I can only devote my spare time to it, even though my mind is always busy working on musical ideas.
You have considerable experience of organising live events, including Tagofest, the celebrated independent music labels festival in Italy. What have you learnt from this experience and what teachings have you been able to apply within Fratto9?
The Tagofest grew very rapidly to the point that the resources we had weren’t enough to keep the festival going. This made me understand the limits of this particular music scene and its social value. Many of the labels that took part in the festival over the years are no longer around, same thing with some of the bands, and this is highly significant. Nowadays, I believe there are too many labels and bands practicing this type of music considering the small audience here in Italy.
As a label-head you seem to take good care of your artists and know them all personally. What are the biggest challenges in promoting “young” Italian artists both on the Italian and the International scene?
I love dealing with the artists I produce. Often, they even ask me to contribute in some way to their material. This is what happened with the split release by Luca Sigurtà / Panicsville where I played on Luca’s track and mixed the 12”. The same happened with Alberto Boccardi’s split vinyl with Lawrence English where we recorded together and remixed a section of Alberto’s track. Furthermore, I am also currently working on Alberto’s new album together with Luca Sigurtà. I believe this to be something very interesting for a label, to create connections between different musicians, in order to develop new outcomes.
In terms of promoting “young” artists, the biggest challenge is to gain a certain visibility amongst the multitude of new releases that flood the Internet and the independent market on a daily basis. For sure, playing live is still crucial for the still unknown artists working within this genre. Also, the artists and the label must develop a synergy, which is what both Boccardi and Sigurtà were able to achieve. They both devoted a lot of time and energy touring their work abroad and this optimized all the press and promotional work I did.
What would you say is the secret of longevity for a label and what would your advise be to anyone wanting to set up their own label?
One has to bite the bullet and persevere even in the face of the number of unsold copies of the first few releases that might pile up in the basement.
Also, one needs to have enough funds set aside to avoid emptying the coffers with the second or third release. The secret is to aim carefully, hoping that the target would stand still, before shooting.
As I was saying earlier, I believe that the market has radically changed from what it used to be 10 years ago and therefore it is very difficult to figure out what is the right direction to take, especially considering the disproportionate number of releases and the increasing difficult in achieving visibility, especially when it comes to up and coming artists.
Having a long-term plan and releasing albums of a high standard is indeed crucial.
You were based in Pavia until quite recently. How supportive has the scene been like both in Pavia and more generally in Lombardy with regards to Fratto9 and the artists on your label?
I played in Pavia for a number of years and I know all the bands and musicians operating on the scene. I have worked with some of them as a sound technician in the past and I am still in touch with some of them even if their music is quite removed from my style and taste. None of the musicians based in Pavia has worked with my label to date, which is not the case for other musicians from Lombardy. Having said that the geographical boundaries are not that well defined.
What have you got in store for 2013 and are there any new signings in the pipeline?
2013 could be the turning point both for the label and for my musical projects, or at least that is what I am hoping for. My band Pipeline both as a trio and as a quintet should release a double album before the end of the year, with a small Italian label, which will come out with a book of photography. This represents a considerable investment on the part of the label, but it is something we are very excited about.
In terms of fRaTto9, I would like to target more carefully my investments and to devote more time and care to the promotional side of things including all aspects related to the albums’ artwork. In order to do so, I will probably take someone else on board to run the label on a day to day basis.
These are the next releases scheduled for 2013: Luca Sigurtà/Panicsville (split 12″ one sided – handmade screenprinted -ltd ed.100 copies Artwork by SANAIR); Luminance Ratio/Oren Ambarchi (coloured split 7″-ltd 200); Alberto Boccardi/Lawrence English (split LP 12″); Luca Sigurtà/Francisco Lopez (split CD); Airchamber 3 (CD); Andrea Ferraris/John Russel (split LP 12″ one sided-handmade screenprinted); Machinefabriek and Sergio Sorrentino (CD).
Plus, there’s the PIARS – International Sonic Arts Award, aimed at the production and promotion of sonic arts on an international level ( HYPERLINK “http://www.piars.org/”www.piars.org ) which will see me choose one of the works up for the prize to release with fratto9. As I know the standard of the submitted works is always very high, I am very pleased to have offered this as an extra award.
Finally, to quote the title of one of your tracks, “can you pass the acid test”?
Ultraviolet Makes Me Sick have slowed down considerably, both because I no longer live in Pavia, which makes meeting up more difficult, and because not everyone in the band has been able to sustain the same level of excitement and commitment on the long run. Also, unfortunately, the inevitable constraints of the working life often take precedence over any artistic venture one may embark on. Having said that, we are slowly working on new material. I have many ideas, which I hope will come to fruition. It’s a shame we weren’t brave enough to ride post-rock wave when it reached Italy, because we could’ve gotten somewhere. Still, we did achieve a few results to be proud of. We released two albums with the Australian cult label Camera Obscura and we even came to the late John Peel’s attention.