Photo by Luca Caciagli
The latest from SM-LL’s Batch series comes from Andrea Taeggi, better known to some as one half of electro-acoustic industrialists Lumisokea. The Batch series itself is somewhat enigmatic. Every run is limited to only 20 copies or less, cut to a beautiful translucent lathe. Typical of the heterodox minimalist approach SM-LL are known for.
Both his solo work and his collaborations under Lumisokea seem to have an obsession with space: the location in which a sound exists, its environment, its placement. Take Lumisokea’s breathtaking Eavesdropping on Pianists, made using the Vladimir Popov’s ‘Noise Machines’ from 1920’s Russia. Popov’s machines were designed to represent the sounds of the coming industrial era, but the world Taeggi represents is still yet to come. To celebrate this new release, we spoke to Andrea Taeggi about minimalism, piano tuning and La Monte Young.
Can you tell us a little bit about your new release and how it came about?
For me, it was just a continuation of the debut solo album under my name, Mama Matrix Most Mysterious. It’s a continuation in the sense of how I think about rhythm and the importance of stripping down the sound. I don’t know if this release is ‘more minimal’ for being on SM-LL, but while making it I decided to draw my attention to using very few elements.
Yeah it seems, like a lot of your work, to be focused on the space of sound. The input is often very small (pops, clicks and so on), and placing them in huge cavernous reverbs, with very precise stereo-field mapping. It’s like a kind of interior design.
One of the most fun parts of making music for me is creating a space for the music to exist in. It’s funny – when you use synthetic sounds, they don’t really have a placement in the real life. They are kind of fictional. So you give them a space, because they don’t have one, in and of themselves. Not a resonant space anyway. You are always playing with this fictionality in recorded music. Similarly, a microphone doesn’t hear what you hear, so you have to invent a home for it.
I like how reverb is able to do that – to turn some tiny sound into this huge boom.
Yeah I’ve always been impressed by musicians who are able to come up with strong material by using few elements – like with dub music, for example. Dub has this very special trick of being able to make music sound rich with the most simple of elements. This is something that still intrigues me. I don’t think there’s any real answer or procedure for how to do this. Sometimes it works and sometimes not – this is what interests me. It’s a kind of magic.
I read that you were recently learning a piece of La Monte Young’s music. He’s the master of that trick, right?
Well… yeah (laughs). For sure, especially ‘The Well-Tuned Piano’, it’s just genius. Much of that work rests on the tuning that he used. The sound of the strings just completely transforms because of that. You’re not hearing a piano anymore, just because of how he tuned it. So yeah, this ability - to make complex music from simple elements, which sound special in and of themselves - is something which inspired in me a general fascination with minimalism.
Did you ever finish learning ‘The Well-Tuned Piano?’
I learned the first two hours (laughs). It’s five hours long and at some point I had to stop for a number of practical reasons. I may pick it up in a few years, so it’s not completely abandoned. But it was a great process, if only to learn how to tune pianos which has come in handy. But it also taught me a lot about the mathematics behind the fractionary system he used to tune intervals and on how harmonies work in nature.
Your background is in acoustic instrumentation, isn’t it?
Yeah I am a pianist – specifically from a jazz background, and I did a lot of improvised music when I was living in Amsterdam. In Holland, they are quite rooted in a radical improvisation background, since the 1950s really. For quite a few years I was mainly playing prepared piano. By the way, the new work I’m composing is mostly prepared piano, so I’m going back to my origins.
Can you tell us a little bit more about this project?
This new work will be largely based on recordings of the inside part of the piano. What fascinates me is its great wealth of timbres and textures. On top of that I’m a big fan of the sound of wooden and metallic objects in general. Having received a formal piano education, I grew tired of the sort of ‘stiffness’ that piano has, when you compare it to other instruments: there’s nothing in between two notes (it’s either C or C#) and you are not obliged to prepare before making a sound (unlike trumpet or cello players who are constantly tuning their notes as they play), you simply press the key and there is your sound. With my new work I would also like to show how closely related prepared piano and certain electronic sounds actually are. The other challenge will be to bring those sounds I discovered during my free improv years into the territory of composed music.
Since you come from a jazz background, do you use improvisation in your music?
The way jazz musicians typically improvise is in referring to a kind of language. So there is like an idiom they use to refer to. As far as I’m aware I don’t make reference to a kind of idiom or language that belongs to an era. Whereas if you’re a jazz musician, the tendency is to imitate and reproduce the sound of your favourite players. In my music, I don’t use somebody else’s language to reproduce a kind of idiom - at least not intentionally. But I do ‘improvise’ – a lot of the Lumisokea stuff for example is improvised – and then later edited. But it’s not like improvisation in the sense that jazz musicians do it.
So how did you move form acoustic music to your current interests?
I became increasingly interested in electro-acoustic sounds. In fact, I would still define myself as an electro-acoustic musician. And when I was in Amsterdam I became gradually interested in electronic music – it changed my whole perspective of what is actually possible with sound. My very first encounters were around the early dubstep records. I was very shocked (laughs). But it shocked me in a positive way. Also Alva Noto with Ryuichi Sakamoto of course. This music helped me to make a transition, in the sense that I saw how to integrate the piano into electronic music.
And I guess your Gondwana project is one step even further away from those acoustic roots.
Very much so. Stephen from Opal Tapes gave me some hints about what I could try and develop within that project. So the latest Gondwana is based from a few hints I was given after a live show a while back. It was fun to really push that electronic stuff into a territory that was relatively new to me.
Are there other, stylistic or philosophical differences between the Gondwana project and the music you make under your own name?
I find the music that I make under my own name to be a little more empty than say the Gondwana project. That’s partly because of the way that music came out – Mama Matrix Most Mysterious was the result of a residency I did at EMS studios, where I had no idea how to use those machines. And similarly, this new release is the result of playing around in a studio in Holland, where I also did not know how to use those machines. I was curious and motivated to learn. So in that sense, those records are more of a shot in the dark.
I was interested to read about your approach to the gear at EMS – you said that learning the Buchla is more about adaption than mastery.
Oh yeah the Buchla is a total monster. It’s quite inspiring because you’re suddenly confronted by your own limitations. It’s actually your limitations that shape the path you walk down. And that’s not a bad thing, it can be an advantage; it forces you to be creative because you can’t rely on your old habits. When you have very few elements to work with, things seem to evolve faster. It’s like the idea of the bottleneck in evolutionary theory – the constraints help to push things along faster.
Yeah I have the seem feeling towards digital music, it’s almost as if there are too many available avenues to go down sonically.
Sometimes it feels as though we are overwhelmed by possibilities and this can inhibit your process in a way. When you have an infinite amount of VSTs, where do you start? Whereas the physical constraints of, say, a piano, forces you to use odd tunings, preparations, manipulate the sound, circumvent tradition, pushing its cultural and sonic borders…
Andrea Taeggi’s new EP is available to buy here.