infinite grain 08: ennio mazzon

ennio_mazzon_london[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 art of sound is a very special craft, scientific, mathematic, at the same time psychological, perceptive, aesthetic. When it comes to audio, the possibilities of merging the multiple technological territories with the infinite potential of the invisible technologies of listening dictate new ways of developing sonic dimensions.

Ennio Mazzon is the kind of artist who is not only able to expose their own perspectives towards the technological approach, but also to define his own appreciations of space, temporality, complexity, texture, layers and dimension. He is able to not just play in the macro scales, but also to go to the sample, the micro, introducing a complex network of surreal sonic relationships and manipulations.

Such process expands the listener into whats beneath the sonic surface, the hidden world of the micro-structures that actually create the sound, going deep inside it to float in the infinite/infinitesimal scales in which resonance is present both in the macro structures and the details towards the microsonic; even in the data realm, since the algorithmic processes present in Mazzon’s work are also the finest, letting him develop sounds and compositions often using tools actually constructed by himself, using programs like max/msp & jitter, processing, supercollider, among others, but also integrating his own explorations of physics, mathematics and aesthetics.

Here the art work is translated between languages, interconnected, selected and shaped by the artist in different stages of the production of sonic activity, dimension, place, state, communication, information, structure, dynamic, variation, etc. Mazzon’s art is one of a kind, mathematically imagined but poetically exposed, conjured as a bridge between sonic appreciations able to explain things from the experience of sound itself, thus generating a special center of listening where the artist’s appreciation of the universe, his vision of the cosmos, is what matters. Therea thousands of experiences are awaiting.

Hi Ennio, thanks for accepting this invitation. What are you listening right now?

Hi Miguel, thank you for inviting me!

At the moment I’m listening to some of my favourite albums from my archive, very heterogeneous listenings, from electronic pop to post-metal, artists and bands like Junior Boys, Labradford, Ulver, Father Murphy and Neurosis.

I haven’t listened to many new albums this year, however if I had to pick one recent release that caught my attention I would choose “No Mention” by Ezra Buchla. It is very intense and stimulating, I’m pretty sure it is my favorite album of the year.

How did you start exploring sound and what motivates you to keep on it nowadays?

All started when I realized to have a limitless potential instrument right here on my desk. To me computer music has the mysterious charm of a blank page, it is extremely fascinating because it is not linked to any physical gesture. Curiously this is also one of the most common criticism usually addressed to digitally created music. However, the absence of an actual instrumental interaction and an energetic coupling with the instrument is to me the opportunity to deeply explore the essence of sound without having to rely on predefined objects, techniques, structures or schemes. It is this abstract and complete sense of freedom that drives my creativity.

I wonder how is the relationship/importance of technology in your aesthetic pursuits and how programming in tools like Max or Processing has influenced what you seek and create? What do you find special on working with such platforms?

Technology is the core element of my works and in fact my activity is almost entirely based on the development of my own software tools and applications. Programming is essential, it gives me the sense of freedom that I need, something that I could not experience working with sequencers, with timelines and pre-packaged instruments.

What’s interests you on microsound and how that way of conceiving audio has changed how you work? It is in a way related to your process with data such as in creations like Micropony, Microfield, Typo, and other granular experimental apps?

I am extremely fascinated by sound’s particle theory but I’ve never developed anything exclusively related to microsound. I did study granular synthesis in detail and I programmed several granular effects with Max, Pure Data and Supercollider, but just for educational purposes.

However the notion of the sonic grain triggered in me the desire to experiment the effects of windowing signals in creative ways and not necessarily on a micro scale. For instance while working on Xuan, the album that was published in 2013 by Nephogram, I developed a dynamic envelope generator that, although totally unrelated to the micro scale, used a technique that I directly taken from one of my granular patch.

Contrary to what the name might suggest, Micropony and Microfield, two of my digital instruments, do not rely on microsound’s concepts, they are micro just because I consider them my tiny, cute sonic toys. However Typo, which is still a work in progress, in the end might retain some features that are granular in the strict traditional sense.


– One perfect example of this relationship both with microsound and technology is the software Cconfin you’ve developed for Farmacia901’s Quark project. Could you please tell us about that process behind its creation and also how the scientific concept of the project influenced the aesthetic ideas behind the app?

When I started working on Cconfin, the overall concept was not yet completely defined but Fabio Perletta outlined very clearly his main ideas. He conveyed to me all the insights to work with a precise aesthetic.

I developed the application with a modular structure, there are three separate modules that I called quanta. There is no interaction between the audio generated/processed by the different modules, I wanted to keep them completely independent, as three individual components that do not share any information or data. This was a precise design choice: I wanted the system to be a tool for the composition of complex sonic structures, and maintaining some sort of walls between the different modules was to me a stratagem to force the user to embrace a compositional method that relies on the exploration/tuning of the quanta rather than approaching the composition in an organic way.

The overall result is the superposition of three audio streams, with their own traits and peculiarities, that merge, collide and generate interesting, yet unpredictable, frameworks of sonic events.

In quantum physics, quantum entanglement means that multiple particles are linked together in a way such that the measurement of one particle’s quantum state determines the possible quantum states of the other particles. I wanted to create a system built upon a metaphoric quantum entanglement in the audio domain, therefore in the end the scientific concept played a fundamental role in the development.

In which ways do you think art/aesthetics is related to science/math in your creative process?

I am an Engineer, I have a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering with specialization in Robotics,  my background is entirely technical.

I’ve always had a strong fascination for physics and math and I believe in the artistic potential of such disciplines. To be honest I don’t know if it is correct to say that there’s art in science, but that’s because I’d rather avoid a pointless discussion on what is art and what is not, but surely I believe there’s beauty in numbers and equations, there’s beauty in maths and its notation, and for sure some algorithms have a complex and fascinating elegance.

However, even if loosely inspired by a scientific approach, my creative process is driven by a pure and simple desire of experimenting with software and sounds.

You often use to work in a multimedia output, for example making reactions between graphic and sound generation, as you did in your latest release Ceriselcicles. How important is that link for you and in which specific ways your visual process affects the sonic ones and vice versa? How was that present in the mentioned album?

I like to work with images and sounds, they are both suitable for doing strange things with software.

However I do not consider audio-visual interaction a fundamental element of my work, at least for the time being. CeriseIcicles is my first accomplished project that makes use of an extended setup explicitly designed to create a link between the two domains, sounds and images.

When I started working on it I just wanted to use an enormous amount of digital distortion to deconstruct and transfigure some short “pop” tracks that I recorded throughout the years. I wanted to give new perspectives to some abandoned audio files, it was a way to recycle my own scraps and to see where the process would have brought me.

Gradually I started incorporating audio-reactive visuals using Processing, I included other sound sources (field recordings) and after a couple of months of adjustments I suddenly realized I had a fully functional digital platform for audio-visual improvisation.

I performed live with such setup just once, last March in Rome during the “TERRACAVA” festival, but I used the audio part of the application quite extensively for recording several improvisations. One of them became CeriseIcicles.

I find an interesting process happening between the material appearance of your works and transformation in terms of morphology, often intimately related to an improvisational structure. I wonder how is the balance between those real-time processes and compositional activities (such as arranging or editing) in your workflow and how are your ideas towards shaping the materials you get?

Arranging and editing are activities that are pretty much vanished from my workflow. I do not exaggerate when I say that I almost forgot how to use Logic or Ableton.

The live interaction with my software is the only relevant process in the development of my works.

Xuan and CeriseIcicles are entirely improvised and I feel they have a lot in common, from a structural point of view but also for what concerns the processes and methods that I used. Azure Allochiria, my first solo record, is perhaps the only album where editing and post-processing are strongly present.

I think I have replaced the traditional compositional activities with a deep understanding of my digital tools that allows me to compose on the fly.

When I perform live I think in terms of macro sections and such sections create a map in my mind. My role is to develop the connections, to materialize the paths that take me to point A to point B, that allow me to explore the sonic scenery outlined in the map. The interesting aspect is that the map is dynamic and it is likely to change during the performance, but this does not prevent me to maintain the control of the composition, on the contrary it stimulates me to explore new solutions and to develop less obvious sequences. It is like having every time new problems to solve, and this is something that I find exceptionally exciting.

“Every live is problem solving” is a really cool album by Claudio Rocchetti, but it is also my main philosophy.

In that sense, I wonder how do you approach both simplicity and complexity in your reading of time scales and spatial development. I’ve noticed that in several of your pieces you actually play with this relationship between grain dimensions and massive structures of audio, resulting in very interesting journeys across sonic time scales and the territorial perception. Is that intentional? What do you think on that side?

The constant modulation of the spatial perception is a crucial element in my work. My pieces have a multilayered structure that I use to create a concrete sense of motion.

I like the idea of developing apparently chaotic passages, where the sound sources interweave one another, creating a sense of contraction and dilatation of the distances.

It’s like playing with the zoom of a digital camera, things are continuously brought in and out of focus, the boundaries assumes new meanings and sometime they just disappear.

Taking my last two albums as an example, I think that even the choice of releasing them as long single tracks contributes to give the listener a more acute perception of time which amplifies the subtle link with spatial movements created by the sounds.

It is interesting that in the progression of your work you’ve moved from a field recording based approach to a wider perspective that although including field recordings, also merges them with electronic sounds. What’s behind that decision?

At the very beginning (2008-2009) the choice of working with field recordings was dictated by a lack of experience in developing my own customized programs.

It was already clear to me that I didn’t want to stick with standard musical production techniques but at the same time I didn’t have the required confidence to build reliable digital instruments.

Therefore I started making collages of natural sounds in order to move away from any sort of musical structure. In hindsight it was the first step towards the destructuration of sounds, which has become afterwards the focal point around which my music develops.

I worked with field recordings approximately from 2008 to 2010 but in parallel I studied computer music and I honed my programming skills.

There are at least a couple of books that I consider fundamental in my education and that I feel are important to mention: “Computer Music: Synthesis, Composition, and Performance” by Charles Dodge and Thomas A. Jerse and “The Theory and Technique of Electronic Music” by Miller Puckette.

Starting from 2010 onwards I gradually abandoned the collage technique and I almost exclusively used my own programs to make music. The results have become even more abstract and field recordings passed in the background.

Field recordings remain an important part of my work, but from a functional standpoint they are now just an organic element that enriches the digital sceneries of my pieces.

I wonder if you have a preference towards listening and if there’s a specific way you think your work is better appreciated in terms of the listening act.

On a very personal level I enjoy headphone listening. Regardless of the music genre, I think it is by far the best way to assimilate music.

For what concerns the support I do not have any preference. I don’t mind if people prefer to listen to audio files rather that CDs, vinyls or whatever. I do like high quality audio files and I’m ok with that.

Is there a way silence is ‘present’ or important in your work? What is your conception of it or your relationship with it?

My works are very dense and noisy, there’s no much space for silence. However this doesn’t mean that I do not appreciate silence.

Silence identifies the temporal limits of sound, there is a start and there’s an end, and there you’ll find silence. It is very important to appreciate such barriers, there’s no point to be afraid of them.

Interview conducted by Miguel Isaza in December, 2014.

Miguel Isaza M

Listener, speaker.