Cristiano Luciani is an improviser, sound and visual artist; he works and lives in Rome (Italy) and Berlin (Germany). His visual and sound work has been exhibited in different contexts throughout Europe, United Kingdom, Japan, China and South America. In the 2010 he created the experimental label CX Records.
You are part of the band Lendormin but as a solo artist you seem to favour collaborations with Japanese artists, such as KK Null and Merzbow. What can you tell me about the Italian electro-acoustic scene and do you have any collaboration with Italian musicians in the pipeline?
I am very curious by nature, which has brought me to listen to the majority of albums by Italian artists who operate within this field. I have also played with a lot of musicians from Italy.
I started a collaboration with Cristiano Deison, a musician from Udine who’s worked with Theo Teardo, amongst others, before embarking on his own solo project. He also released a split 7” with Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth in the past and more recently a great CD with KK Null, with whom I also collaborated. Furthermore, Deison bought one of my albums, and that is something I always appreciate, when a fellow musician buys a physical copy from you rather than ask for a freebie.
I also find Pietro Riparbelli’s Cathedrals project very interesting and inspiring and I will be taking field recordings inside Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome; another work I rate highly is the one by Mario Gabola and Mimmo Napolitano, from Naples, who record under the monikers Aspec(t) and _SEC.
In addition, I have been in touch with Gianluca Becuzzi. For the time being, though, there is nothing definite as yet.
There are many Italian artists with whom I would like to collaborate, people like Stefano Pilia, for instance. He has an introspective approach and one can tell that what he does comes from somewhere deep inside.
I have a lot of respect for many of the underground labels that put so much passion in their work in spite of our country’s hostile and conformist environment. I am thinking for instance of the excellent archive work carried out by the Milan based label Die Schachtel: amongst my all time favourite albums are their boxset by Gruppo di improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza and Luciano Cilio’s Dell’ Universo Assente.
What made you choose Maurizio Bianchi specifically for your first split solo release on your label CX Records?
I chose Maurizio for two reasons. First of all because although I discovered him quite late, I consider his early works, such as Symphony For Genocide and Regel – among others – to be seminal albums and I was listening to them quite a lot when I first started working on my solo stuff. Also, it was my attempt to try and revive the traditional culture of apprenticeship, which I feel has become lost. I consider Maurizio to be a master and I was keen to establish a link. Nowadays, I feel that with the speed with which data is accessed on the net, many cultural references tend to get lost within this information overload with context and timeframe specs falling by the wayside.
On a subconscious level, with my all of my split releases I have also gone for father figures, in a way. Maurizio Bianchi and Merzbow are both regarded as real pillars within the scene. Their work not only means a lot to me on a personal level, but is also considered a milestone within the genre. ?Also, I have loved KK Null’s work for a long time, and to collaborate with him on an album as well as playing live with him has been a great honour and a truly great experience.
I also have to say that having big names on the label has also meant that I have been able to keep afloat especially considering I release vinyl.
How many copies of each album do you press?
The first couple of split vinyls had a run of 300 copies, with the Merzbow split on white vinyl. The third album, the one with KK Null came out in a limited edition of 200 even though I pressed a further 150 copies on CD. There’s also a digital download available on my Bandcamp site.
However, the format I prefer is without a doubt vinyl, which I consider as an artistic object in itself.??I am very particular about this and I also pay great attention to detail when it comes to the artwork, with its deliberately minimalist design.
Having said that, I also asked Kazuyuki Kishino (KK Null) to send me some images for the inner sleeve, as he’s a great photographer. ?I come from the visual arts, and artwork is something I pay attention to.
Why did you go for a split with Maurizio Bianchi and not for a collaboration?
To be honest, the album was originally intended to be a collaboration, but when I got in touch with Maurizio, he told me he had already unofficially stopped making music. I sent him some of my stuff anyway which he liked very much, so we decided to do a split with material from unreleased tracks he already had and which he entrusted me with editing as I saw fit. Luckily he was happy with the result. It is a very stripped back album, with a dark feel to it, but it is also homogeneous and organic in its development.
Maurizio is a very sincere person who radiates a strong energy. I might not share his religious beliefs, but I do have a lot of respect for him. Personally I come from a different background and if anything, I would say I feel closer to Eastern philosophy, as I have studied Buddhism.
Many of Maurizio’s albums, on the other hand, have been influenced by the Bible, even though he has remained faithful to his “punk” and radical approach to sound. It is rare to come across someone who’s always remained true to himself without ever adopting any fashionable musical trend.
Aside from Maurizio Bianchi, one can also hear to influence of a composer such as Giacinto Scelsi in your work.
I came to Giacinto Scelsi rather late. When I was in my twenties, I used to listen to punk rock and impro stuff (especially Derek Bailey and AMM). I was also in love with French concrete music from the 50s and people like the great composer Pierre Shaffer.?Thanks to my background in the visual arts I also discovered Luigi Nono, as he worked with the painter Emilio Vedova. I only got to know Giacinto Scelsi’s music about three years ago, through the composer and pianist Luca Miti. Luca has often worked with the singer Michiko Hirayama, who recorded Scelsi’s Canti del Capricorno and knew the composer well. I consider Scelsi to be closer to noise and drone musicians rather than classical contemporary composers with his microtonal approach. Eventually, last year, we ended up playing together at the Forte Fanfulla in Rome as a quartet with Michiko Hirayama, voice, Luca Miti on piano, Gene Coleman on bass clarinet and myself on percussions and electronics. It has been an incredible powerful and moving experience and at the end I was quite tearful. Michiko is now in her 90s, she lives in the Monteverde district of Rome and her flat is full of memorabilia from Giacinto Scelsi. She talks a lot about him and about his working method and the fact that he used to used to improvise on the piano with his assistants eventually transcribing the music.
What is your own working method?
I am not a musician in the traditional sense. I work with different synthesizers, organ and a slide guitar, with or without effects, cymbals and percussions with a bow or mallets, and contact microphones, samples, tapes, and turntable amongst other things. I then assemble all the sounds I create as if I was working on a painting or a film. At times what I do is very similar to one long take shots. I tend to think of shapes and colours in terms of sounds. For a number of years I was also doing paintings and engravings, which has given me an awareness for opacity and brightness, something I’ve since adopted in my music.
It is important to me to ascertain whether a sound is sculpted onto smooth or rough surfaces. I try to create textures combining several different elements in order to achieve an internal tension that is at the core of any musical structure I might eventually construct. ?I would say I am very influenced by filmmakers and visual artists such as Kurt Schwitters. ?It is not by accident that my second split release was with Merzbow who is very much into Schwitters.
?Is there any room for digital sounds in your work?
I do use digital synths, but I don’t create digital sounds from scratch. I always start from some kind of source. What I am interested in is timbre, which means I can use all sorts of different original sounds but I am also interested in effects and in transforming these sounds. I can use field recordings, both naked and processed. I consider my Zoom to be an instrument. To be honest, though, field recordings up until recently didn’t fulfil any conceptual or aesthetic function. I wanted my sound to be traversed by “reality”. Sometimes I also used cheap tape recorders, as I was interested in the hiss of tapes. I wanted that to be tangible. I have even dug out stuff I’d recorded 15 years ago…
You were already carrying a tape recorder with you 15 years ago?
I can be quite obsessive… I had a Sony tape recorder with blank tapes and for two three years, I always recorded some sounds during the day, without any creative idea behind it. It was more out of a form of compulsion, a kind of obsession, in a way. I felt compelled to capture little snippets of reality. Listening back to that material always triggers strong feelings in me.
Daniel Barenboim says that hearing, rather than sight, is the memory sense, would you agree?
I work both with sight and sound, so I would say both. When I was 25 I used to film everything with a video camera. Once again, snippets of life. My travels, sex, conversations with friends, gigs, landscapes… ?The best thing about it was that when I digitised the material I was struck by how everything seemed natural. My friends (and unknown people) were so used to seeing me with a camera that they never appear to be self-conscious. This direct approach has influenced my work ever since. ?My reference points in this respect were La Jetée by Chris Marker -with its striking idea of time- and Jonas Mekas’ video diaries as well as Derek Jarman’s Super8 films. I would also add Herzog, his movies and documentaries are really amazing! This is something I have applied both in my music and in my video work.
?Another strong influence in your work is that of Gilles Deleuze.
I found The Logic of Sensation, his text on Francis Bacon, absolutely fascinating. It’s an incredible text, which opens up one’s mind even if one is not a fan of Bacon. In the volume Noise & Capitalism, Deleuze is referred to as the first “Noise Philosopher” and I was keen to investigate this aspect of his work.
Generally speaking, I do tend to read a variety of different things on philosophy and psychology.
If your album with KK Null were a film, which film would it be?
That’s a tough question to answer, as it is a collaboration…maybe a dark and strong sci-fi movie…
What about the split album with Maurizio Bianchi, then?
God, that’s really hard…I could tell you what film my split album with Merzbow could be and that is Funeral Parade of Roses from 1969 by Toshio Matsumoto….and probably even some of Shinja Tsukamoto’s films.
I could easily tell you what the next album could be, though. I recently saw “Enter the Void” by Gaspar Noé, and found it mesmerising. I am amazed that he was given the funds to make it. ?Noé has an existentialist approach to reality, which is very raw and violent but at the same time he is a visionary and mixes psychedelic images with ideas on reincarnation culled from The Tibetan Book of the Dead. I would like to try and achieve his intensity both in content and form.
Will you be releasing only your own material on your label?
My original intention is to release only my stuff and collaborative work. Having said that, as I am currently working on new video and audio material I have decided to release a DVD with Japanese artists in the meantime.
When I went to Tokyo for the first time, a friend of mine found a videotape from CCCC with Hiroshi Hasegawa and Mayuko Hino, which is a bondage film with Hasegawa playing that was so visceral and raw that is reset my musical parameters. It was only ever released on VHS in the 80s and I wanted to rerelease it. When we eventually became friends I asked them to send me more material for a DVD that will include a live performance and some of Hasegawa’s stuff as Astro and DFH-M3 (the noise project of Mayuko Hino with Junko from Hijo Kaidan band).
You have toured a lot in Japan, how did this come about?
The first gigs I did in China and Japan were organised by Junky from Torturing Nurse, and Hiroshi Hasegawa (aka Astro). Subsequently, I met other musicians with whom I played who arranged a few dates for me over there. I then returned the favour and set up several concerts for Japanese musicians here in Rome, such as KK Null, Astro, Keiko Higuchi, and Yoko Higashi.?I love playing in Asia, as the audience there is attentive and sensitive.
Also, in the next few months, Sachiko Fukuoka’s label Musik Atlak should be releasing my new album together with Keiko Higuchi.