[infinite grain is a series of interviews inspired on microsound procedures, exploring a wide variety of topics in dialogue with artists who work with sound on installation, composition and improvisation]
The possibility of experimenting with microsound realms opens space for new forms of expression with both the audible and inaudible elements of composition, revealing new worlds that use to be hidden in the infinite sonic ocean. Nowadays, there are powerful tools for creating, synthesizing, deconstructing and shaping sound in different time scales, being possible to go deep inside the detailed and the meticulous art of organizing microelements, objects, and soundscapes right in the extremes of time, frequency and amplitude.
And although the ‘micro’ range is actually present in other scales just as atoms are in larger bodies, there’s a way of operating specifically on these invisible, quiet, and quantum-alike dimensions: grain by grain, frequency by frequency, ‘quark by quark’, as Italian artist Fabio Perletta use to work, by exploring the atomic scaffolding of sound in order to reveal delicate relationships in which an imminent bridge between what’s sounding and what’s not, gets widely evident, with that making a call to mysterious sites of the cosmos that suggest a rule of invisibility, intangibility and subtlety.
This microsonic fascination has lead him to develop surgical and precise ways of shaping challenging but rewarding experiences that place him as a faithful example of how to open traces between the infinite and the infinitesimal, complexity and simplicity; manifesting morphology in sharp and molecular process able to make the ears navigate through intricate realms of sound, taking roots from a silent contemplative activity that is perceived not just in the artist’s invisible landscapes, but also in his explorations of light, algorithms and installations, where there’s a question of silence and space that is constantly making a call for an attentive listening, not just of audible grains and frequencies, but also the spaces within what’s heard.
Such exploration has made Fabio expand his creative vision around sonic minimalism in order to build one of the most fine labels in the topic, Farmacia901, which is also the home of the outstanding Quark project that explores the poetics and aesthetics of microsound by actually taking inspiration from theoretical physics, questions about perception, and something that is present in the whole F901 project: a call for (micro)sonic awareness, as he talks in the interview below dedicated to know a bit more about what’s behind such ideas.
Fabio, I’m glad you agreed to answer this interview. So many thanks for taking your time on this. What are you listening right now?
You are welcome Miguel, thanks for inviting me. I have been listening to different kind of music recently, ranging from experimental electronics to pop and traditional music. I am a huge music collector and lover, and I usually focus into specific field/genre for a long time before switching into another. Anyway, trying to sum up, I can say I have been recently loving Tim Hecker’s Dropped Pianos, an outstanding debut album from my friend Marta De Pascalis titled Quitratue, some pieces for Japanese Koto, Lee Gamble’s Koch, Ichiko Aoba’s Utabiko, my friend Drøp’s Vasundhara EP which is a gem, Jean-Claude Risset’s Music From Computer, Mark Fell & SND, various Asmus Tietchens’ albums including Flächen Mit Figuren and Soirée. I am also totally into Pinkcourtesyphone albums, his music reminds me something fascinating yet blurry from my childhood that I am still not able to recognize. You also find other artists in my monthly playlist such as Asuna + Minoru Sato, Matmos, Ryoji Ikeda, Dadub, ECM label, Akira Rabelais, Mouse On Mars, Yann Novak, Giuseppe Ielasi, Hisato Higuchi, Pitreleh, Lovisoni/Messina, Vladislav Delay, France Jobin, Franz Rosati, Fourcolor, Taylor Deupree, Mika Vainio, Boards Of Canada, Asher, Seth Cluett, William Basinski, AGF and many more.
I wonder how’s your relationship with sound and what led you to explore it?
Music has always been present in my life since I was a baby. As a music lover, my father used to surround his days with music. Let’s say I grew up with music and I still don’t remember a day without it. Music is a powerful tool that enhances the beauty of life and makes it an intense and unique experience. My interest for electronics begun when I was attending high school in 2004 approximately, and increased under the influence of ’70 Kraut/Kosmische music. Tangerine Dream’s Zeit was (and still is) one of my favorite album ever. Anyway, my background is more into science and visual arts rather than into music. The logical progression of that leds me to explore different yet similar languages such as electronic sound in its abstract and conceptual aspects.
How your graphic design/art background interacts with the way you work with sound? That relationship is evident in the way you approach the appearance of Farmacia901, for example.
I am always looking for relationships between different areas of interest. Graphic design helps me a lot to find new stimuli. Even though sound looks to be ephemeral, it has its own physicality, thus it can be captured, measured and displayed. I use to think and visualize the sound before creating it from scratch. It’s just like to take inspiration from non-musical things. For the first few years I run the label really slowly, and didn’t have any specific direction, besides me wanting to start my own project. During years I gave the label a unifying look, which is very important to me. Every constitutive aspect of the label should be well-crafted.
Could you please tell us what led you to start Farmacia901? I also wonder if the word “farmacia” is chosen for a specific reason, as if seems like its creations are some kind of “antidotes”.
I just wanted to give a voice to my and other sound artists’ music through my ideas and instinct. My label reflects my own vision in terms of sound aesthetics, design. In addition at that time I cannot find a label supporting my work, so the label came about also from being a bit frustrated of that situation. The name came out for fun to be honest, even though I’ve always been fascinated by pills, medicines and I still find the graphic design of the packaging marvelous. There is an interesting connection between active ingredients and music in the sense that sound has a specific “effect” on listeners.
The idea behind the Quark project is very interesting, how was it developed? I wonder what do you think about the invisible and what is the role sound plays in there? What led you to explore that frontier?
I remember being very interested in science from an early age. A series of books by Isaac Asimov about astronomy for kids were my first contact with science. Since then, the invisible has been having a massive influence on me, even in my vision of life. For this project the idea has always been sharing this concept with other sound artists and creating a multimedia platform of sound related to invisible. As I stated “an attempt at quantum sound in a not-visible yet perceptible world”, a way to push further our perceptive faculties and think sound by breaking it up into its smaller components. As soon as I realized I wanted to create a project around this concept I emailed Ennio Mazzon who immediately showed me his enthusiasm and interest. I started discussing with him about the software and gave him some brief guidelines, but Cconfin is his own creation. He was very able to understand my feelings about the invisible. The role that sound plays here is just like a way for exploring the world around us with a microscope. The more one goes deeper into things, the more one gets fascinated by how things have been created in my opinion.
How do you deal with inaudible and audible sound? Your pieces often get pretty “silent”, leaving only just a few grains over the “vacuum”. I wonder about that relationship…
After spending years of making ambient music I came to a point in my career where I felt not completely satisfied and I decided to start exploring the notion of pause in music. A that time I was hit by the idea of a gigantic zoom in on the sound matter, which is the main inspirational element behind Interstitial Spaces. In my performance I invite audience to pay attention on details and the space in-between tiny sounds became a moment to focus on breath and ambience noises. I am interested to put many apparently non-significant aspects of everyday life into the musical context. This makes audience more aware of being in a specific space-time.
A cross-pollination of disciplines is present in your sound work, visually, scientifically, or technically. I wonder how do you relate those conceptual backgrounds in terms of aesthetics and sound sculpting. How, for example theoretical physics influence the way you conceive and transform sound.
There is not a direct relation to scientific theories or sort of mathematical/algorithmic correlation to physics in my music. I just love to take inspiration from science in order to draw sounds in its constitutive elements: movement, duration, timbre. This helps me a lot to design sound in terms of stasis, velocity, path and diffusion in space, elusiveness, heaviness and lightness, color.
What tools do you like to use for refining sounds and extracting such delicate and minimal textures, grains, clouds, etc. Could you please talk us a bit about the way you like to transform and compose sound?
My process is quite simple, I mainly use common tools such as equalizers, reverbs and various self-built sound generators. For my textures I usually sample my own synthetic loops and refine them with spectral tools. It’s an ongoing process of recycling and transformation since new frequencies emerge. I love playing with granulators from time to time but that is very rare actually. My process for creating microsounds is cut and cut and cut, I would say very manual… I built my own software called Seijaku (Japanese: silence) which is basically a Max/MSP patch made up of modules described above with the add of a tool for spatialization when venues are equipped with quadraphonic system. The software is very simple and straightforward and allows me to concentrate on sound, avoiding to be distracted by the lots of buttons of common softwares.
Do you think materiality in terms of sound? How is the concept of form, space, time or mass present in that way of dealing with “sonic substances”?
Form, space, time, mass are all very connected to each other in my music. The concept of space is strictly related the notion of presence in a specific space-time, which is sculpted in a sound form: our emotions exist in a space-time and have a shape. My mission in that sense is to guide listeners to their awareness.
What are your preferences towards performance and how it relates to the work you do in the studio? What do you think are the proper way of listening on both scenarios?
My performance and studio work are quite the same, in both I focus on creating an immersive listening and sensory experience. When I am in the studio my work tends to be more meticulous, whereas during my performances I can be more quieter or slightly aggressive, it very much depends on locations, people, seasons, climate… I have to admit I am very moody. By the way, in both circumstances I need silence and concentration. My studio work is more into composition, and starts with a concept or a word to follow to. I usually let the sounds rest in my HD before deciding I am fine with them. There is a preliminary step of collecting sounds and a second one, usually after a couple of months, when I simply juxtapose them and see what happens. The period I call ageing is quite important for me as it is a way for the sound to deal with the passing of time.
What do you find special in microsound? Is there a reason behind your preference towards the exploration of this minimalist way of audio?
Microscopic and invisible things have always been fascinated me. Minimalism does not represent a genre in my opinion, but rather a way of experience world. Zen culture has an important influence on me, even in my work as sound artist. Minimalism means essence, discovering beauty into little things and daily life. And it is an ongoing research, since reaching simplicity is a very difficult path.
Finally, could you please tell me what would be your notion of silence and how is it “present” in your work/life?
To quote Hongzhi Zhengjue – a Chinese Chan Buddhist monk – the silent illumination was the most authentic expression of Buddhism. In a state of silence, those who forget words, know the truth and see their real face. When one experiences silence, one comes back to magnificence.
Interview conducted by Miguel Isaza, December 2014.