O÷phoi interview by David Fabre - Via Magazine, january 2000
1 What is the meaning of O÷phoi?
- O÷phoi is the Primordial Egg, the Source of Life. In music terms, O÷phoi is to me a vibration, a sound reproducing the Breath which generated life at the beginning of the Creation.
2 When, how and why did you come to music?
- Since I was a child I've been attracted by strange, unusual sounds of the environment. I remember I've always been listening to music, from classical to rock to experimental. I've been a music collector for many years, then, suddenly, 5 years ago, I've bought a sampling keyboard to start my own adventures, just for fun. I don't know music laws, I just try to reproduce the sounds I have always in my head. These sounds are always with me, I don't know where they come from, and I'm looking for the way to extract them and transform them in music. I consider it a gift. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes not.
3 Do you have specific influences?
4 Please describe your creation process (sources of inspiration, methods, techniques, tools)
- I don't know if you can call it an influence, but my state of mind is my main source of creativity. Life itself gives many influences: the books I read, the people I meet, travels, the music I listen to. I must say that since I moved from Rome to the countryside, in this green and isolated place full of ancient and mysterious vibrations (an XVIII century farmhouse), I started to feel more inspired. I restructured my studio (The Kiva), I bought new machines and instruments and I created a sort of sacred space full of artifatcs (ethnic instruments collected during my travels, and natural instruments like stones, shells, bamboo tubes...); it's a huge stable with high wooden ceiling and stone walls with iron torches, with incredible acoustics, lot of light from big windows facing the valley and the river, many oriental carpets on the floor; it's very quiet, and it's like stepping into another world. There is an atmosphere to it. It is the meeting of the ancient and the future: natural elements and high technology. I decided to group all my equipment on one side of the Kiva so that when I sit in front of the mixing board I'm surrounded by all the machines I need; on a carpet beside the mixing board there is my monochord, 7 tibetan singing bowls, the flutes, the gathams and the bells; above my head, hanging from the ceiling, there are also several windchimes. Two gongs look at me from the other side of the Kiva. All these things put me in the right mood to start. With a concept in my mind and several sounds traveling through the neurons I start to explore different paths until I feel that I'm on the right way: this means a lot of work with different sounds and structures. Usually I record everything with no overdubs, live, trying to keep things flowing, and to do this I need to push my synthesizers to their edge: I never use the preset sounds, the factory sounds of the machines, but I transform them through several stages of editing and manipulating. I can say that my main effort is to elaborate the sounds through the digital delays and the mixing board: here is where my music comes from. I like to listen to how my sounds travel in this magical room, I like to listen to how the Kiva reacts to my music, it's really another musician, and it's a magical moment when a piece comes to light. Anyway, I've always the feeling that music has its own will: is a mystery how the things that come out from my work are more complex than I intended at the beginning of the creative process. Maybe there is a spirit guiding me in the Kiva; I can say for sure that sometimes there are ghostly voices singing in this house, and everybody can hear them! And you must know that sometimes my windchimes start to move and resonate with all the windows closed! Sometimes they even participate to our concerts.
4 Several famous artists of the ambient stage feature in the booklet of "The spirals of time" (Steve Roach, Alio Die, Dirk Serries, Mathias Grassow): how did you meet them? Did they have an influence on your style?
I'm in contact with these artists and many more because I'm a long time listener and collector, and I know many of them since their very beginnings. Since in 1993, when I started Deep Listenings with my wife Alessandra, we have had close contacts with ambient and electronic artists, bringing their music in Italy, where they were totally unknown. They are very grateful for this and so we became friends and I must say that each of them encouraged me to start my own experiments. At the beginning we exchanged letters and faxes on our activities, then Steve Roach invited us in Arizona; we traveled extensively with Steve and his wife Linda through the deserts, it was such a deep experience that we all still remember it; I consider Dirk Serries and Mathias Grassow "kindred spirits" and I love their music, while Alio Die is another story. I gave him some space in my magazine helping him to emerge and reach a wider audience; later he offered me the chance to release on his label Hic Sunt Leones my first record, "Three lights at the end of the world", a na´f collection of pieces that were documents of my first approach to the machines; he enjoyed a lot my music, so the Cd was born. Regarding the influence, I must say that though I love them all when I compose I find myself in a different world and I don't catch influences here and there. To tell the truth, I wouldn't be able to copy them. I'm glad that these artists tell me that I sound different from anything else, and original: this is also the feedback I get from the audience.
5Bis Why do you interest yourself in Tibet? How do you integrate it in your music?
I like tibetan culture and ritual music and I'm very concerned about the struggle of tibetan people against the chinese invasion, that nearly destroyed their culture. Since I compose ritual/ambient music I find that the voices of tibetan monks fit perfectly in certain structures, because of their timbre, and they give music an aura of sacredness.
6 A hard question: how do you define your music?
Since my music reflects my mood I can say that there is no way to define it. Technically, is ambient music but with a concept behind it, it isn't wallpaper music as that of new age artists. It is very difficult to listen to it while you do something else, it requests a deep listening. In this way you can appreciate and recognize different layers of sound and microarchitectures.
7 Your music is very meditative, close to nature and elements with a light ritual touch. Can we talk about introspection? What do you try to do through your music? In that way you seem to be very close to Alio Die. Are you? What do you think about his works and his evolution? Can we expect a collaboration Cd?
Yes, you caught the main ingredients of my music: Nature is always in my music, I often use voices of nature like wind, birds, sea waves, wolves, all treated with my machines to fit in the mixture, especially in my first two Cds, "Three lights at the end of the world" and "The spirals of time". My aim is to induce dream-like states in the listener and to guide him through different levels of perception, from light to deep sleeping, from visualizations to psychedelic-like experiences, from floating states to awakenings, and this is what happens during my concerts: I get usually incredible feedback and reactions from the audience at the end of my concerts. Alio Die's music is very different. I mean, it is meditative, it has nature elements in it, and it is introspective, but I see also many differences. I like long developing atmospheres while Alio Die prefers to focus on shorter tracks, his music comes from samplers while I use synthesizers and live loops from acoustic instruments and I use very little sampling machines. Anyway, we both compose "mood music" but our results are different. I like Alio Die, he created a new way of doing music but I can also feel that he's changing directions these days, trying to explore different worlds. He is looking for new collaborators, but I don't think we will join in a common project. As I told you, we work in different ways. To tell the truth, when he decided to produce my first Cd, he added some textures at the end of one of my tracks, a few seconds of low frequencies coming from a waterfall, and this is our first and probably last collaboration. We are friends and in close contact, because I gave him some help with my magazine Deep Listenings at the beginning of his artistic adventure, creating an audience for his music. I must say that Raffaele Serra invited me to join the project of 5000 Spirits, but I never received an official offer from Alio Die (he's part of this project). Anyway, who knows, maybe in the future...
8 Alio Die and you are the two main italian artists with the common link of an environmental approach to music. Can we see a particular meaning, an italian touch?
No italian touch, really, this is a coincidence. I don't know of other italian artists active in our same field. Music comes from what you have inside, so your country is not important.
9 The two thirds of your discography are live recordings, why?
This is how my music comes up. I usually play live even when I'm in the studio, no multitrack recorders, no dubbings, no overdubs: this is mainly because I can't afford a digital multitrack recorder. So I had to develop a special playing-and-recording technique, much more difficult (you can't make mistakes!) but much more creative and funny! When I play live or record a piece of music I know that I have some rough materials inside the machines and some sounds programmed inside the synthesizers: I start with an atmosphere, then I add some textures and start some live modifications and processing of the sound (equalization, reverberation, delay, loops). This is a "living process", music can breath and spread nearly indipendently, with me "conducting". "The spirals of time" and "Night currents" came out as live performances and they were not intended to be released on Cd, but the reactions from the audiences were so enthusiastic that I've been forced to transform them in Cds: the first came out as a double Cd on Aurora label and it's been an unexpected success. I received incredible feedback from all over the world, from big artists and common listeners. So I was pushed to print "Night currents" on a CdR as a private release of 100 copies: I sold all the copies in a short time and now I've received an offer from a small italian label to re-print it as an official release. We'll see.
10 About your live performances: what is the attitude of your public? Is there a specific environment and decorum in your concerts? What kind of feeling, atmosphere, do you want to create?
When we moved in this old farmhouse we wanted to create a specific space for music, a space in the house with great acoustics and big enough for our hifi equipment, for our collection of records and for all the instruments. So we restructured the old stable, as I already told you, thinking that the environment is a fundamental part in the listening process: we light it with small candles and big medieval torches on the wall, so that the atmosphere is that of an ancient and mysterious castle. The concert starts at night-time (usually 10 PM), in absolute silence, people enter the Kiva with no shoes and with a cover, they take place laying down on the carpets facing the artist, who is on one side of the room, completely surrounded by the equipment. These are private concerts, for small audiences (from 5 to 20 people maximum): this is very important to concentrate on music, on yourself and on your inner worlds. The overall atmosphere is that of a sacred place, lost in time and space, and people usually get this feeling. Even the artists are shocked by our organization and all of them enjoyed the space and playing inside of it: they say that this is a unique place, a sacred church for ambient music, the best place to perform in and a kind of a circle of true connoisseurs. At the end of the concert we gather in the obscurity to exchange feelings, visions, dreams and reactions: everybody has the chance to express his deepest thoughts about the concert, and to ask the artist some questions. In this way the artist gets an immediate feedback from his public, which is very important to him. In this way the group grows. It is beautiful to see that many participants become friends and now contact each other even in the outside world. We are all adults (kids are not allowed here) and you know how difficult it is nowadays to start real friendships. We started with Vidna Obmana, then we had Klaus Wiese twice with his Nono Orchestra, Alio Die, Al Gromer Khan, Steve Roach, Amelia Cuni & Werner Durand, Mathias Grassow and Amir Baghiri, some other italian artists. We plan to invite Tuu, Robert Rich and in august 2000 there will be the Millennium Gathering with Steve Roach and Vidna Obmana together on stage. The word has spread now, and we are contacted by artists who ask to join this project. Sadly, we can't afford more than a couple of concerts a year: the organization has high costs since we have to share the expenses with few participants. In time a circle of people is born: they are all subscribers of our music magazine Deep Listenings and they love this place because they have understood our aim, they come here for 4 days of relax to meet the artist, to know him deeply, to ask him questions, to live with him in the same place for days, to meet the people behind the magazine, to share experiences about music with people who can understand and "speak the same language". There is no TV, no radio, no newspapers, no links with outside world. We all dive into music. This is the only organization all over the world for this kind of things, as all the artists told me.
11 Which artists do you prefer? What are the last productions that most impressed you?
I'm 41, so I have a big knowledge in music. I started in the late 60's with the Beatles and Byrds, then I turned to the european progressive scene, then I discovered the first experimentalists (Terry Riley and the minimalists, Walter Carlos, ), but I have to say that the "turning point" was the cosmic music from Germany at the beginning of the 70's: Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Popol Vuh, Ash Ra Tempel and Can are maybe my top artists of all times (well, not the Tangerine Dream of these days!!!). In today's scene, Steve Roach, Michael Stearns, Robert Rich, Brian Eno, Klaus Wiese, Al Gromer Khan, Mathias Grassow, Suso Saiz, Jorge Reyes, Lustmord, Propeller Island, Voice of Eye, Robert Rutman, Paul Schutze, Zoviet France, Rapoon, Thomas Koner, Vidna Obmana, Coyote Oldman, Ellen Fullman, Eliane Radigue, Lightwave, Christian Bollmann, Alan Lamb, Lull, Martyn Bates, Mauve Sideshow, Jack or Jive, Deep Listening Band, to mention just a few... Regarding the last productions and the "new hopes", I've been impressed by all the Hypnos artists, Tony Gerber's Spacecraft, Radio Massacre International, Bill Polits, Jim Cole & Spectral Voices, Biff Johnson, Vir Unis, Glenn Deardorff, Jeff Pearce, Rajina. And I listen to a lot of medieval music.
12 You worked with HSL and now with Aurora. What is your opinion on the respective works of Stefano Musso and Stefano Gentile? How and why did you get in contact with them?
As I told you, I got in contact with Stefano Musso in 1993 because of my magazine; I wanted to review his works in Deep Listenings so we met in Milan becoming friends. When I recorded some material he invited me in his studio: we spent two days together listening to the tracks I had composed and he offered me the chance to release my first Cd "Three lights at the end of the world". I was very happy, HSL was at that time an indipendent label with a good catalog of artists and that was a good way to start. HSL has been very important for creating an italian scene for ambient and obscure music, even if now Musso decided to slow down and to release only one or two Cds a year. Stefano Gentile got in contact with me in 1994 again because of Deep Listenings: he was a Dj in a local radio station and wanted to know more about us and about the ambient music scene, asking some suggestions for his new label Amplexus. We became friends and once again I gave him some help with the distribution of his Cds and with articles and reviews about his productions. We can say that while Musso decided to keep a low, undreground profile, Gentile, with his incredible artworks, with his prestigious catalog full of big names, with a wordlwide distribution, has become a big name in our field.
13 Musica Maxima Magnetica, Hic Sunt Leones, Eibon and now the galaxy Amplexus. How could you explain this growing impact of ambient music in Italy? What kind of contact did you create with these labels?
Yes, there are many labels here in Italy ready to release this kind of music, but I know also many many small labels in other countries doing the same underground work. There is a small but strong circle of connoisseurs in Italy, born after the birth of Deep Listenings magazine. A magazine entirely devoted to new music is very important because it brings to the people news and articles about unknown, isolated artists. So I can say that maybe Deep Listenings started a whole new scene here and created a market for this kind of music. We are in contact with all these labels in Italy and abroad and they appreciate our work and our efforts.
14 Can you tell us the story of Deep Listenings? Why did you create this organization?
As a collector and avid listener of strange music I always felt the lack of a good magazine here in Italy, completely devoted to the true alternative scene. And I have to say that even abroad (UK, USA, France) the music magazines prefer to focus on the "same names", avoiding explorations of the world that lies under the "official surface". In this way many many artists remain in the obscurity, while they deserve all the attention of the serious listeners. That's why I decided, in 1993, to create Deep Listenings, an indipendent magazine/organization. Me and my wife put some money to buy the computer and we started the adventure. I gathered some friends and we started with a first experimental issue. The feedback was immediately great, so we decided to go on and we became one of the most respected new music magazine in the world. Many many artists ask for an english edition of Deep Listenings, which we can't afford because of our financial situation; moreover, we all have our regular jobs, so it's really impossible to think about another edition. Beside the magazine we started also a small mail order service to bring the people the Cds from obscure artists; so Deep Listenings is now a link between the listeners and the artists. In this way, we helped a lot of unknown musicians to sell their records, jumping all the distributors working with just the "same names". Our mail order is today a resource for hard-to-find recordings. Then we added the concert organization, to bring here in our farmhouse, in the Deep Listenings headquarters, the artists we love and the subscribers of the magazine, for the deep weekends and private concerts I told you above. After 7 years of hard work I can say that this organization is appreciated all over the world.
15 With Deep Listenings you write a magazine and you organize concerts. Do you think to create a label?
Oh, I forgot to tell you the story of my old label, Totem. In 1995 me and my wife, with some friends, tried to create a label. Our aim was to release a few Cds every year and help some musicians. I was in close contact with great obscure artists and I had many ideas. We decided to start with two of my favorite artists, Klaus Wiese and Mathias Grassow, we payed all the bills and we released two Cds: "Ambience" by Mathias Grassow and "Monsoon" by Klaus Wiese. We released two limited editions of 500 copies and they went sold out quickly. Two great discs, really. Sadly, due to some problems with those friends we had to abandon the project. Totem doesn't exist anymore. Maybe you want to know if in the future I'll decide to start another label... well, no, I can't, really, my job, the magazine, my music, the farmhouse, and all my activities absorb all my time, sometimes I have to work till night to end an article, or to write a review, or to play my music. I have a lot of energy, but I'm not an alien!
16 Can you please explain us the concept of the festivals and concerts of Due Acque?
"Due Acque" ("Two Waters") is the name of the farmhouse, that faces the confluence of two rivers in the valley below. So we gave to our festivals and concerts the name Due Acque. As I told you, the concept behind these meetings is to gather connoisseurs and artists in one place, the Deep Listenings headquarters, far from the cities, the noise of everyday life, the traffic, the Tv. In 4 days of holiday you live in the same house, sharing the same space and the same experiences: relaxing walks in the woods, natural meals, workshops about ambient and electronic music, thematic listening sessions through a state-of-the-art hifi equipment, and the special private concert on saturday night. These days are really unforgettable for all the participants. We have reservations from year to year.
17 What do you think about the international ambient scene? According to you, who are the most important and interesting characters and actors?
Beside the great Steve Roach, who's the leading light in this field, and Vidna Obmana, who never ceases to explore new paths, the ambient scene is alive and kicking. There are many new artists who deserve all our attention. I think that Jeff Pearce is one of the best ambient musicians of these days. Mike Griffin, founder of the Hypnos label and musician himself, is doing great things: I love all his releases and I think that Hypnos will be the leading label in the coming years. Another great artist is Biff Johnson, who's working in the field of tribal/ritual ambient with incredible results: his two Cds are among my favorite listening. There is another incredible group, Spacecraft, they are able to play space, ambient, cosmic, avantgarde: they are fantastic. And the Mauve Sideshow, with their haunting music based on psych voices and mellotrons. I can't forget Klaus Wiese, Bill Polits, Jim Cole, Mathias Grassow, Martyn Bates, Thomas Koner, Al Gromer Khan, Lull and Alan Lamb: these are the names of the future.
18 What next for O÷phoi and Deep Listenings?
I've just finished the recordings of my new Cd, "Wouivre", a collaboration with Klaus Wiese. It's a new direction for me: Klaus played his fantastic sound sculptures (the huge metallic sheets invented by Robert Rutman) while I was behind my machines adding slowly unfolding textures, atmospheres, loops and drones using gongs, flutes, water, monochord, bells and synths. It is the darker side of my music and, again, is a long piece of 74 minutes. The concept behind the music is that of the sacredness of the waters running deep through the underworld, the so-called telluric currents. After reading the wonderful book written by Louis Charpentier "Les mystŔres de la cathÚdrale de Chartres" I decided to compose a music that would reflect the flowing of these waters and the mysteries of the Chartres cathedral. The Cd will be released again on Aurora in a packaging similar to that of "The spirals of time". There are several projects in my head but I need time! Since last year Mathias Grassow is asking to collaborate with me; we'll meet here soon to discuss this project, then we'll start to record something. There are two other projects in my head, "Upuaut" and "Behind the wall of sleep", but I don't know if they will ever see the light of day. I also received an offer for the official re-print of "Night currents". On the Deep Listenings side now: the magazine will continue to exist until we have money and energies and so the concerts. We plan to invite Robert Rich in march 2000, then we'll have the Millennium Gathering. I think it's enough for such a small organization.
Thanks for giving me the chance to be interviewed: this is my first interview ever. I wish you all the best with Via and your radio program.