I first came across the work of Emanuele Porcinai through Contort: the event series and label owned by Hayley and Samuel Kerridge. His ‘Stainless’ EP under his WSR moniker followed a lineage of electro-acoustic composition, while simultaneously absorbing these sounds into the realms of contemporary electronic experimentation. Recently, I was recommended a collaborative project of his with Illian Tapes producer Sciahri, entitled Unknot.
Unknot have seen three releases since their debut in mid-2015. All have been self-released, striking an approach between the richly textured, acousmatic experiments of Porcinai, and Sciahri’s dancefloor functional signature. The first release navigated through fractured glitch and pummeling warehouse 4/4 , while the second explored crumpled half-step grooves and stuttered post-dubstep textures. The latest, entitled simply ‘Unknot03’, covers a more subtle array of sample-based dance music. From the gentle euphoria of ‘Strain’ to the muted acid-techno of ‘Corrosion’, the release has a distinctly more ‘high-definition’ feel when compared to previous Unknot releases.
With ‘Unknot03’ hitting stores in the past couple of months, Porcinai preparing for a WSR show at Krake Festival and Sciahri citing new releases on the horizon, we decided to catch up with the pair to discuss the changing face of Unknot, solo pursuits and ‘Aural Architecture’…
Hi chaps, first off can you tell us how the two of you first met? You’re both from Florence right?
Sciahri & Emanuele: Hi, yes that’s correct, we are both from Florence. We went to the same high school and met through mutual friends, since we were both interested in electronic music and production. We both learnt how to make music during those years and used to exchange drafts and tracks, giving each other constant feedback, yet developing our own individual styles. Since then, our personal tastes and output have become increasingly divergent, but we have always played a very important role in each other’s musical growth.
The third of your Unknot series has recently been released. How did you start the project to begin with and why did you decide to self-release the material?
Sciahri & Emanuele: Our project started about three years ago, when we suddenly realised that, even though we had known each other for many years, somehow we had never actually tried making music together. This was mostly due to the fact that we like different kinds of music and we’re interested in different things when it comes to writing.
However, out of pure curiosity, we sat together in front of Sciahri’s setup and tried a few things out, just to see what would happen. These first experiments sounded like something completely new to us: they felt distant from our individual output, yet we could still relate to them. We loved how they felt alien and personal at the same time. Working with the same setup and workflow, we eventually managed to put a lot of finished material together. We noticed that all of it had a very distinctive sound and character. In the end we decided to put out a series of records.
How do you think the collaboration is changing over time? From my perspective the sound seems to take a less rugged/gritty approach on this latest EP.
Emanuele: It keeps on changing indeed, as it tends to be the convergence between our individual outputs. Now, as opposed to three years ago, it’s perhaps becoming a bit more minimal. This is probably due to the fact that, at the moment, I’ve started doing things with very few elements and very little production; focusing instead on the performing/improvising part of the writing process. Sciahri is also getting more into exploring dense textures.
We’ve never wanted to force our production in any particular direction, but rather let it evolve freely. Our workflow consists in jamming with only one piece of equipment and then taking layers and elements from this one recording; trying to organise it in a way that makes sense. We think that sticking with this method means the final pieces have a strong relationship with each other. We are interested in exploring and experimenting with all genres or non-genres. Since we don’t really have any control over each other’s taste, we don’t know what the result is going to be, and this can be quite exciting.
What were your early experiences of dance/electronic music like growing up in Italy? Schiari you are based in Florence I believe; have you been to any of the Disco_nnect events there? I hear they put on some really interesting performances…
Sciahri & Emanuele: In our teenage years, we witnessed some of the first wave of minimal techno (the good stuff, like the early Minus records), which somehow managed to reach a couple of clubs in Florence. Apart from this and some other rare exceptions, not much else has been happening in that city, bearing the burden of centuries of historical and artistic heritage and thus a sort of ‘golden cage’ with plenty of barriers and limitations when it comes to bringing new ideas and setting up events. Neither of us has ever been that much of a raver either, however, sometimes we would migrate to neighbouring cities, like Bologna, where things were a bit more exciting.
Sciahri: As far as Disco_nnect is concerned, I know that they’ve organised a few events featuring very good artists. One of their residents is Herva: a very good friend of mine as well as a great musician whom I really respect. Apart from this, I don’t have much to say to be honest, I don’t really feel part of what happens in this city music-wise.
Sciahri DJing at TAG Club, Venezia.
Can you tell us a bit about each of your solo work? Schiari, how did you first get involved with Dario and Marco of Illian Tape?
Sciahri: The first EP I did on Ilian Tape was the beginning of it all. Those old tracks definitely have some sort of ‘classical’ techno elements, which I was trying to bring in a personal context. The EP on Opal Tapes is more recent and I think with that material, I decided to get those recognisable techno elements out of me, since 95% of the elements originated from analog synthesisers. My latest track, released on Mord Records, is also characterised by this approach, perhaps to an even greater extent, as it was picked from a collection of tracks produced with a modular set-up that I recently put together. I am interested in experimenting within techno frameworks, but only with my own, personally-crafted ingredients.
The story behind the Ilian Tape release itself is actually quite short: I sent them an email with some music more or less a year before the first release, and about a month later Dario got back to me saying that he wanted to hear more, so we started working from then.
Emanuele, I was a big fan of your Contort EP. The sounds for that were sourced between Florence/Manchester and featured live instrumentation. Were these recordings created specifically for the release or just material you ended up sampling? Do you plan to work with the same musicians (Thomas Griffiths, Niccolò Noli) on future releases?
Emanuele: Thanks! The release was actually compiled last year by Sam Kerridge, picked from material that I had been putting together in the previous two years, a lot of which is still unreleased. I tend to work at different stages: I am almost never the kind of producer who sits down at the table with a computer and starts writing. I need to have different stimuli and often to get my hands on physical objects to get inspired, so sometimes I have some kind of instrumental sessions with other instrumental musicians, where I bring ideas that are only drafted or partially finished. These then take a more defined shape when I put them together with electronics.
Tom Griffiths was one of my university classmates while I was studying sound in Manchester, he is a brilliant double-bass and cello player and he is the first person I worked with since I started to get interested in using strings. Niccolò is an old friend of mine from Florence who wrote and played the bass parts for ‘Inner Oceans’ from that EP. What I love about him is that he always has a lot of cool ideas but, since he isn’t a professional bass player, he doesn’t really know what’s technically ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. He is an extremely inspiring musician to work with and we focus a lot on mistakes and on how to preserve the ones that make things exciting. It’s hard to say what’s going to end up on future releases, but I actually started to build some string instruments to perform with and play my own strings parts. These are now very minimal and a bit more focused on the textural potential of strings rather than the melodic one.
WSR alongside Koenraad Ecker, Atonal 2015.
You graduated from Manchester School of Sound Recording a year or two ago as well. Can you tell us a bit more about your experiments with what is termed ‘Aural Architecture’ in the ‘Stainless’ press release?
With great pleasure. ‘Aural Architecture’ is a kind of fancy definition to describe the auditive feature of architectural spaces, the way buildings reverberate and sound. The people who defined this term (Barry Blesser and Linda-Ruth Salter) wrote a lot of interesting stuff about this topic. I started to get interested in this kind of thing while studying Acoustics at university, particularly in how the physics behind the phenomenon of reverberation works; the way it can be affected by humans and vice versa, especially when musical events occur.
I started to become, and still am, obsessed with the concept of writing and recording music within a space, rather than just recording instruments from very close and then taking them in this abstract non-place, which is so often the case nowadays. While still at university, I started to do stuff like using the entire top floor and toilets of the school as a reverb chamber to process sounds. I also did something similar in a few industrial spaces around Manchester, which I was able to access to do research for my dissertation project (which was also to do with aural architecture). Some of the material for the Contort EP took shape there.
Are you still based in Manchester? How have you felt about the political confusion we have seen in the UK recently?
I have actually been living in Berlin for the past year and haven’t been to Manchester for a while, so I could only witness it all from a distance and through the personal experiences of friends who live there. What happened is very unsettling and it definitely feels like going backward. As far as I’m concerned, I lived and studied in the UK for four years, and as a EU student, I was able to access domestic fees (about a third of the international fee) and to take out a student loan to pay my university fee. I consider myself lucky as I’m not sure whether this will still be possible for people like me who want to do a similar thing in the future.
However, I think and hope that, in the long run, things will somehow work. In fact, regardless of the vast regressive and self-destructive moves politics has recently made - which don’t really look like originating from a clear and concrete plan of what to do with the future - there are still a lot of people whose work and life relies on EU-regulated infrastructures, and I don’t believe they will let it all collapse so easily.
Finally what’s next for yourselves? Can we expect an album length release from Unknot at any point in the future?
Sciahri: For what concerns future projects, I have an important EP to be released in the next months…
Emanuele: I’m working on a new solo record, but I can’t say much at the moment. Regarding an Unknot album release, it would be pretty difficult to realise at the moment - mainly because we live in different countries and we manage to meet only occasionally - but it’s definitely something that we have in mind and would like to try out at some point.
‘Unknot03’ is available now.