Once describing his sound as ‘live concrète’, Palermo born artist Valerio Tricoli uses reel-to-reel tape recorders and a host of effects to collage sound manipulations on the fly. Releasing on labels such as Bill Kouligas’ PAN, Entr’acte and Bowindo, the results conjure themes of space and mysticism, making it hard to tell whether his work would be best suited 300 in the past, or 300 years in the future. Mid-last-year for example he released Clonic Earth, a work of epic scale exploring some rather lofty existential and metaphysical ideas; fractured UFO modulations intercept with sunken choral timbres and his own faded spoken word, making for some powerful moments.
Tricoli is also no stranger to collaboration. He was a founding member of avante-rock group 3/4HadBeenEliminated, additionally having released collaborative offerings with the likes of Thomas Ankersmit, Antoine Chennex and Hanno Leichtmann on the beautifully muddled ‘The Future of Discipline’.
Next week, Valerio will play alongside Kondaktor, Heith & Giulio Nocera as part of a one-off event in Milan for Greek promoters, Fasma. With the show just around the corner, we decided to catch up with Tricoli to talk musique concréte, Jérôme Noetinger and the violence of religion.
You’re playing alongside Heith & Giulio Nocera on the 18th for Fasma. Is travel a part of your work you enjoy? What’s it like having to transport reel-to-reels and other sensitive equipment around?
It’s a pain in the ass! (laughs) It’s really problematic. As much as I can I try not to travel by plane - I can fly with my Revox but every now and then it gets broken in transit. Fortunately, in all these years it’s only happened once where I’ve had to basically cancel the gig because the gear was broken. That was last year in London. It actually broke while I was playing… I was playing for like 15 minutes and the sound just disappeared on one channel. I had to stop half way through as I couldn’t tell whether it was the Revox or the mixer, or something else that was broken.
Your live shows are largely improvisational. Is this the approach you’ve always taken to gigs?
It’s totally improvised. Unless I play two gigs in a row and the night before I do something that I really like. Then maybe I would try to do it again - it’s not going to be exactly the same, but it might be similar. The form is improvised, but the actual sounds are the total opposite, as they are mostly pre-recorded and fed and manipulated with the tape machine in real time.
I’ve always worked in that way. Up until 2010 I would sometimes play with the Revox; sometimes just with the mixer with different sound sources and effects - basically another way to compose in real time some sort of concrète music, but without the tapes. Today I only play with the Revox, it’s very hard to convince promoters to let me play without it, as it became something as a trademark of my live sets.
In May I’m actually going to try and do a gig without the Revox. I have to play on a film in Gent, I don’t even know which film it is yet. It will be an experimental film, it’s at a film festival. I think i’ll compose something specific for it and perform it live with CDJs and that kind of things. But, who knows…
I saw William Basinski play in a church in East London a few years ago. I guess he has a similar kind of setup…
Yeah, but it is a very different approach. Sometimes he as a reel-to-reel, but the big difference is that he plays loops which are ready made. He has all these loops which he’s been collecting since like the ’80s. He was doing this shit since way before he made The Disintegration Loops, when he kind of made it big. He would come with these loops, some of them already fucked up in some way, mostly just by time itself, and normally play them through a reverb unit. He plays them back very slowly, one on top of the other. So it’s kind of a post-Brian Eno type of thing.
In my case, my tape loop is always new - when I start the concert it’s blank. I have sounds from a computer, which I use basically as a sampler. I have a computer keyboard with the name of the files on the keys. So I would click one sound and that’s like, for example, sounds of women. I take portions of the sounds and manipulate them and transform them while I’m recording them on the tape, so it’s a very different process. In my case, the Revox is a live sampling apparatus. In the case of Basinski, it’s a playback device of a very special nature. I’ve seen him play two or three times. I’ve also seen him playing back the loops from a computer and the difference in terms of deepness of sound was pretty big.
How did you first come across the Revox?
Through Jérôme Noetinger. I can easily describe Jérôme as probably the best ever performer on electronics of all time. If you ever in your life have the opportunity to see him then do. His discography is really small. Solo material, if I’m not mistaken there is just one record from like twenty years ago called Glorie à and some pieces on compilations and such. Essentially he’s a performer. He’s someone you should really listen to live to get the level of insane genius and ability that he has.
When somebody thinks someone like myself is good at playing the Revox, they are really mistaken! Jérôme is good at playing the Revox. His biggest project is called Cellule d’Intervention Metamkine and that’s him playing Revox’s and other electronics in front of a real time expanded cinema made with 16mm projections. An arsenal of lenses and shadows - it’s fucking amazing man. There might be something on YouTube, but live, it’s easily the best thing I’ve seen in my life.
I believe I’m right in saying you’re from Palermo, Sicily. Were you brought up there? What were your early experiences of musique concrète like?
I left Sicily when I was 18 and moved to Bologna, I went to University there. I stayed it Bologna for about 12 years, then moved to Berlin in 2007 or 2008, and then here in Munich in 2012.
My first exposure to musique concrète came from different works of the late ’90s; what was happening in experimental music around then. That was very much through labels like Metamkine and so on. Lots of newer concrète music but older concrète music too. From those records I started to dig into the history of it, but I got there through slightly more traditional music.
For Miseri Lares, you sampled text from the works of Dante, HP Lovecraft, and your own writings. How do you think these shape the narrative/mood of the album?
This is the thing, when I start to work on a record I don’t really have an idea what the concept is going to be. So, let’s say I start making some music, then I start understanding what the record is going to be. I start eliminating all the stuff that doesn’t fit, and produce new sound materials which are strongly related with the concept that materialised in my mind.
When I got the narrative for Miseri Lares I enhanced it using literary quotes that would reflect the character of the music itself. In the case of Miseri Lares, Lovecraft, and Italian poet Guido Ceronetti for example. It’s interesting with Miseri Lares because a lot of it uses poems in which the boundaries between bodies and houses and living spaces are actually disappearing, for example.
All these texts, I spoke them so that the content would not be easily understandable. At the same time, I have the feeling that it is there in a more subtle, subconscious way to understand. In the case of Miseri Lares, and also Clonic Earth, I used texts which have this kind of oracular feel, texts which I would not be ready to listen to myself. It’s a way to say: here is the truth (or the so-called truth) but you’re not going to grasp it easily, or you don’t have to grasp it at all because it’s dangerous. To a certain extent it’s also a subtle trick to add suspense to the music.
How did Clonic Earth develop out of Miseri Lares?
With Miseri Lares, I started with simple sounds. Like small bricks, one after the other - really precise sounds that don’t have any history. So I composed it in a very intellectual way. Clonic Earth, instead, is based on semi-random tape compositions. The reel, the proto-compositions so to say, are then recorded into Pro Tools, and that’s how I get the initial structure, the skeleton of every piece.
In this way, I suppose I can achieve a different kind of organism, maybe less artificial. But ultimately I think Clonic Earth is a more intellectual album than Miseri Lares. They are very much linked but I would say Miseri Lares is more terrestrial, whereas Clonic Earth is more abstract or spiritual. Clonic Earth is more about being lost in the mind, so to say.
It seems like you come back to themes like religion, philosophy and the metaphysical quite a lot. Where does that come from? Does religion play into your music?
Of course, I am Italian, so it goes with saying that religion played a part in my childhood. At my schools there would be nuns and priests, we would go to church and so on. When I grew up I rejected these kind of influences, but following experiences in later life, experiences which we could describe as entheogenic, well, I rediscovered an interest in the spiritual.
I’ve spent a bit of time in Italy around Florence and Tuscany, and whether you are religious or not there is definitely a social and cultural weight to it.
It’s everywhere. In Sicily where I grew up, religion is not just a matter of simple belief, it’s everywhere. It’s the culture. All those kind of weird processions, people beating themselves, crypts with mummified priest and so on…
I was having this conversation with the grandmother of my son who is very religious. She’s German but she’s lived in Palermo for a long time. I bought a t-shirt for my son, black, with a jolly roger. We were at her house and she was like “how could you buy this, it’s so grim. Why should a child have to look at a skull?” I couldn’t resist pointing at the crucifix in the room we were sitting in: a dying, tortured man with blood coming out of his head, his hands, his feet, his chest… You can understand what I said after!
As kids in Palermo we were supposed to behave in a religious manner all the time. This probably made me initially understand spirituality in a very un-steinerian way. A very earthly spirituality. My family weren’t very religious at all but nevertheless you couldn’t escape it.
Dante’s Inferno is all about this idea of hell being in nine stages. That also feeds into this aspect of religion which is quite violent and oppressive.
It is. The religions we are exposed to - they are all, to a certain extent violent. You have to renounce to something to be part of that religion. You have to renounce a big part of humankind to be part of it.
Nevertheless, I wouldn’t call myself an atheist, but I struggle with the idea of defining myself as religious, even though I really love to read the gospels, and I do, maybe not everyday, but most days.
You’ve released with PAN a number of times, and worked on a split cassette with Bill Kouligas too. How did the two of you first meet?
We were both living in Berlin, he had just started the label. In the very beginning I sent him the record I made with Thomas Ankersmit, Forma II, with the possibility that Bill would release it on his label. He really liked it and in the meantime we became friends. Now I think of Bill as my friend rather than my label contact. Whenever I do another record and he would like to release it, good. But if not, we’re still going to go and eat somewhere together soon!
What do you think of the rest of the output on PAN? In some ways they’ve become known for this kind of trance-y style and I was wondering how connected you are with that kind of culture.
Some of it I like, some of it I don’t. I guess that the very first records on PAN in these kind of genres are Lee Gamble’s ones. Those for instance, I like. I think it has a deepness in the sound - it has this kind of MDMA quality to it, it feels like the music is sweating MDMA itself. Lee Gamble’s music resonates with me, and with experiences of my past, and present alike.
How did you become involved in 3/4HadBeenEliminated and how has the experience informed your solo work?
We all live in different cities since a long time so it’s very hard to get us all together to make a new record. It’s very slow and kind of an annoying process to work together in this way where we have to send lots of parts by file-sharing. This kind of we-transfer composition process ultimately sucks. It’s on my mind that we should find a week to sit together in the same room with instruments and record a lot, then take it from there.
Finally, what’s next for yourself? Any further projects coming up?
I’m working as usual on new pieces but I don’t have anything to say about them as I don’t know what they are yet!
Do you know Pan Daijing? I’m doing something with Werner Dafeldecker and her. It’s called The Speaker and it’s going to be a live performance with multiple channels - three to eight depending on the size of the room. Mostly, electronics (me and Werner) and spoken words (Pan). It’s going to be a live performance and a radio thing. The first gig is going to be in Berlin in September, it’s not finished but I like it already.