Elephants and Dragons – The Basement Sessions

Clorinde was formed in 2005 by two Italian brothers, musicians and visual artists: Simone Salvatici and Andrea Salvatici. Their compositions are based on a minimalist approach towards repetition, melodies, rhythm and sounds resulting in a beautiful and fragile balance between tight cyclic structures and free form improvisation.

Listening to The Gardens of Bomarzo, was to a revelatory experience, one of those rare occurrences where I thought, “Wow, this is something else!” Can you tell me something about your musical background, who are Clorinde and where does your sound come from?

Simone: Clorinde is essentially a project formed by Andrea and myself in Glasgow in 2005. We didn’t know exactly what we wanted to do, but we were excited with some of the music we were discovering and exposed at that time. We were gravitating around Monorail records, Mono Cafe and Stereo in Glasgow.

We were coming from punk alternative rock and noise experiences back in Italy, but at the time we were getting deeply into minimalist music by the likes of Steve Reich and Philip Glass and figures like Moondog, Glenn Branca, Arnold Dreyblatt, Fennesz… We knew we wanted to try something different from what we had done previously, but we also didn’t want to sound like everybody else. Furthermore, we didn’t want to be confined to a specific genre of music.

We started playing around with some instruments that at the time were new to us like glockenspiels, mandolins, banjos, kalimbas, accordions… without knowing exactly how to play them. Something magic happens sometimes when you play an instruments for the first time, you focus more on the sound and on other simple elements, but above all we started preparing an audio visual show for a venue in Glasgow and this is how it all started.

Andrea: That’s pretty much it! A funny thing is that we never played together when we were in Italy and we also never performed in Italy with Clorinde!

One thing I am struck by is the musical instrumentation of your albums. There’s quite an array of musical instruments, some of which could be considered as “folksy and old fashioned”, such as mandolins, banjos and glockenspiel. Indeed, you music has been described as “avant folk”. Personally I can hear the influence of Italian prog and folk from the 70s, which was perhaps more evident in your previous work, The Poetry of Charles B. Can you tell me something about your working process and the way you integrate different instruments in your tracks?

Andrea: Yeah people make reference to prog a lot when they talk about our music. Strangely enough, I don’t really listen to that kind of music at all! But it must be an indirect influence perhaps through bands and artists more linked to those genres. I did listen to a lot of ethnic and old folk music from around the world though. For me it’s difficult to say how we decide to use an instrument rather than another. Often it’s a very intuitive and not premeditated process. I often feel some kind of attraction to a particular instrument and sometimes I try everything I have got before I find something that sounds good for a song!

Simone: Yes I don’t know much about Italian prog either. Probably my love for Morricone, Tortoise and instrumental music could be seen as something closer to our music or as an indirect influence. I’ve been trough different phases, when I immersed myself into some specific musical genre, like Ethnic (African and South East Asian above all), Baroque, and Experimental.
Musical instruments are magical things. Sometimes you know right away when you’ve got the right one for a specific song. At other time, it can be more of a struggle, you need to try whatever you have got before finding what you are looking for, but it can also happen that it is a specific instrument that finds you and asks you to make a song.

The Gardens of Bomarzo, your latest double cd, is a concept album, taking inspiration from the famous “Monsters’ Grove” near Viterbo, Italy, with its many spooky sculptures, which populate it. I understand that the making of it was quite a lengthy process. Could you describe the way the album was conceived the way it developed?

Simone: Andrea had the idea of making a soundtrack for the Gardens of Bomarzo after visiting the park for the first time four years ago. We then started to discuss and develop the concept together and we thought it would have been a great challenging project to work on. We decided to make a song for each of the main statues or sculptures from the park. Each one of them has its own myth, story and concept behind it and we have tried to translate this into music. Above all, we were getting excited by the idea of recreating that complex sense of power and deterioration, imagination and reality, which is intrinsic to the park. This translated to the process we applied to the sounds: use of granulators, bit, reductions and other deconstructive effects. We were inspired by these kinds of epic ideas. We were also listening to a lot of Baroque music at that time and we used some instruments with those very sounds in mind. At the same time, we were interested in how we could process and blend them into a contemporary concept.

We didn’t expect the whole process to take so long! It has been difficult sometimes and we have been close to losing our direction on many occasions, but I'm happy with the result. I can say we have learned a lot from this experience and I'm sure I'm going to use this knowledge on future records!

Andrea: lengthy process, you can say that again! Over the years we constantly exchanged recordings, adding and taking out different parts, tidying things up, sculpting sounds like a mosaic, making a pattern as we went along.

You release your albums on your own label Etruscan Records. Is that out of choice or necessity? Also, what are the main challenges you’ve had to face in terms of promotion and distribution by taking this DIY approach?

Andrea: It’s 100% out of necessity. We’ve spent quite some time looking for labels interested in what we do, but you could potentially wait forever! There’s a point when you need to make do with what you’ve got. We’ve had to learn a lot about the music business. Nowadays, distribution is easy, you can easily get digital distribution and get in touch with shops and offer a deal that it’s advantageous to them. Promotion, though, is a different beast. You need money, a good network and be willing to do a lot of work! It’s our weakness, with our limited resources we can only stay local.

Simone: We have been thinking that one day we could start producing other people’s music as well under Etruscan Records. Who knows, maybe in the future… would you like to get involved?

Thanks for the offer, Simone, I’ll think about it.

You are originally from Tuscany but you both moved to the UK about 10 years ago eventually settling in London. What is your relationship with the Italian electro-acoustic scene and what are the advantages and disadvantages of living in a city like London?

Andrea: I don’t know anything about the Italian scene I’m afraid… Maybe one of the disadvantages of London is that it’s a very individualistic city, we’ve tried hard to build relationships with other bands but we have rarely succeeded. An advantage? Anything is possible here, London makes you dream.

Simone: Yes, we don’t have any contact with the Italian scene apart from some of the friends, musicians and artists that helped us with the album such as Paolo Moretti and the brothers Lorenzo and Tommaso Taviani. They are amazing musicians and have amazing projects.

There are some bands I personally admire a lot, but they often do music quite a lot different from ours, bands such as ZU, Flora and Fauna, Madrigali Magri, Uzeda, Pentolinos Orchestra, Disquited by, Al Doum and the Faryds and many others that I don’t remember now, but, as Andrea said, we don’t have any relationship with them, and that’s a shame. I would like to go and play in Italy, I know it would be great. It sounds absurd that we haven’t done it yet!

London is a fantastic city and you get really inspired by great events, people, ideas, and have the opportunity to confront with real great musicians! On the other hand it is hard to keep in touch, to collaborate, and to find the time and space to be able to do so. Also, there is a hell of a lot of competition…

Can you tell me something specific about the two tracks Hannibal’s Elephant and The Dragon that you were kind enough to play live in your basement especially for Fluid Radio?

Simone: Yes. In Hannibal’s Elephant we wanted to recreate that power and lightness that could be found in the image of elephants crossing the Alps! When I try and picture that, I end up imagining a heavy, gigantic and monstrous elephant that at certain point starts flying over the Alps.

This is how I see the song: you have got the heaviness of the Mbira and the wooden Xylophone, the guitar riff and some of the low percussions, like the low frame drums and the floor tom that give that sense of heaviness keeping the song grounded. At the same time there are the little kalimbas and the airy sounds, as well as the snare played with brushes that make the magic happen, they carry the elephants over the Alps!

In the Dragon we have employed tons of little percussions in a style that could recall a bit the ceremonial music from Southeast Asia. We wanted to make it playful but also strong, so the mandolin is struck with a chopstick and there is that exotic melodic line. The Dragon is a fascinating creature, both good and evil, beautiful and repugnant full of contrasts like that guitar that creeps into the song towards the end changing the point of view anticipating that final disastrous killer bass riff.

Andrea: Yes it’s all very visual when it comes to our music. A very curious thing is that one day I went through a videotape of an old camera I was experimenting with after we moved to London and in the background it was Simone improvising on his new mandolin. Guess where the mandolin parts of The Dragon come from! I loved that sound and I convinced Simone to re-work that music.

You play most of the instruments on you albums yourselves, with occasional guest appearances by Lorenzo Taviani and Keiko Kitamura amongst others, but you have now seem to have been joined by David Harries and Derek Yau, which, I suspect, makes it easier in a live setting. Is this the configuration you will be playing as on future albums and are you actually currently working on new material?

Andrea: Good question… We’re not working on anything together at the moment although Simone and I are making some music for an interesting documentary about architecture in London. David and Derek so far have been helping with reproducing our music for live shows, which would be impossible if it was just the two of us. I would like to find the time to make something all together, working as a conventional band, developing our improv skills as well, we’ll see.
Simone: Yes, it would definitely be great to have more space for jamming and to share more inputs and ideas in the creative process. Who knows… we are always in permutations!

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