Disrupted Songs: experimentation and timbric research
di Giovanni Panetta
Interview with Simon Balestrazzi and Paolo Sanna. A path through their release produced by Dissipatio and other works, the new ones and any records of a near past ('10 years).
Disrupted Songs

Cover of Disrupted Songs (2021).

In September 10 2021 was released by Dissipatio label Disrupted Songs, a record by the electronic artist Simon Balestrazzi and percussionist Paolo Sanna. This record represents another important stage for two Sardinian avant/noise musicians, through harsh sonorities between urban field recordings and percussive, aleatory and abstract sounds, and where the total concept, for its characteristic ambivalence, is conducted by an obscure day-to-day living.

We interviewed these two main characters of exp music (in a certain way very different between them) about Disrupted Songs and their recent musical past. It will analyse a part of the nearest production of Simon Balestrazzi, but it’s important to note his historical period (especially ’80) with Tomografia Assiale Computerizzata, a perfect example of fervid free music in a post-punk form. Senza Titolo, TAC first album of 1982, flows through original and surprising sounds in a catchy way (from the point of view of musical syntactics).Moreover a clear point of convergence between experimental punk and prog culture which characterised that crucial time.

Paolo Sanna is a percussionist who collaborated many times with his frequent sonic mate and important free-improviser artist Giacomo Salis. Talking about the last one, the percussionist from San Sperate, Sardinia (that is just Salis) published this January (2021) his last solo work, titled Naghol. This record navigates in avantgarde experimenting a tactilism characterised from friction with iron and not homogeneous materials, expressing a warm game between a non-verbal realism/naturalism and dynamic abstractlist noise music. A contribution in addition to the other releases of Salis/Sanna spectrum, signed by different sonic patterns which raise a noisy percussionism to a special added value in music.

The following part is our conversation to the protagonists of Disrupted Songs.

Let’s begin to talk about Disrupted Songs, the third release of the Dissipatio label; how were this concept and its spatial and tactilist idea of music born? What are your roles in this experimenting instance?

Paolo Sanna: “Everything happened in an essential way as it can happen in an encounter between artists which made this experimentation and timbric research into an accurate choice, and we could say logic too in my case, to create music.”

Sanna & Balestrazzi

Paolo Sanna (left) & Simon Balestrazzi (right).

Your attitude to spring heterodox sounds is balanced to that realistic situation, in terms of metallic timbres of day-to-day living, and familiar images which that concrete, distorted, sonic lines evoke. It seems a lysergic and Lovecraftian imaginary (which is expressed by electronic corroborations) invades that terrean reality, through an even more increasing atmospheric volume. Indeed, in this sense, the release is divided in two parts: a most dominant silence which pervades that aleatoric context, and a chaotic, noisy fury to the last two tracks. This record appears to be a manifestation of a music impulse, or, in other words, a development in the name of a physic principle (what could a Poisson function describe this music course in a subconscious way?). Anyway, my question is: what are the platonic ideas which your meditated music plan refers to? How much does aleatority dominate?

Simon Balestrazzi: “This is an easy one: on Distrupted Songs alea rules, indeed! It definitely is a free improv work and we share a long time involvement in non-idiomatic radical improv. I was fascinated by it almost 20 years ago after meeting and working with musicians-improvisers such as Tim Hodgkinson and Victor Nubla. After that I happened to perform and record also with other great improvisers: Ikue Mori, Maja Ratkje, Sylvie Courvoisier, Max Eastley just to name a few. For several years me and Paolo were members of MOEX ensemble. For us it was just time to do something as a duo.”

Paolo Sanna: “I’m myself everytime and I’m involved or involve other musicians in various recording sessions or performances. The final result, as I said in my previous answer, emerges from sensations, mutual listening, my own experience, ability and then reaction, which can be different every time, because it is properly a reaction. I shouldn’t know, but I remember a little time ago that a musician was ironic about Cage‘s 4’33”, but it remains for me one of most interesting things which was achieved in music, because in 4’33” there are many important elements from my point of view.”

Field recordings are interesting in Disrupted Songs; human/inhuman dichotomy prevail in the first track (Song #1), where metallic noises, electronic squeaks and Italian voices of common people fade in and out through an oblique and anxiety collage. Human voices disappear from the rest of the record, appealing to an experimentalism which takes on a life to them. How was this particular idea born in the name of a creative inhomogeneity, and how did its relation with this work happen?

Simon Balestrazzi: “We’re both very interested in field recording and those voices, collected two decades ago in a local market, were just on hand while recording so they became part of our palette of available sounds.”

Paolo Sanna: “I have studied soundscape constantly, recording or focusing on more different places, and listening with much attention to every thing which happens further or nearer from me. All of this brings me to develop ideas related with organic drumming and inner drumming, that are two terms which was coined by two percussionists/musicians Bob Moses and George Marsh to explain their freer approach, [and] I have studied their texts.”

Let’s talk about other releases. Simon, a live recording of your concert in November 25th 2016 with Claudio Rocchetti, at Monastero Santa Chiara of Castellaneta (in Province of Taranto, Apulia, Italy), was published this year (2021) by Ambiente H, a label from territory of Taranto and titled “Simon Balestrazzi & Claudio Rocchetti playing to LEKTIONEN IN FINSTERNIS”. Indeed that music event was a live performance to the screening of Werner Herzog’s documentary Lektionen In Finsternis, about Gulf War in Kuwait and its disastrous consequences, with a hieratic and minimal poetry. A synthetic sound in an elastic and spectral form, which is baroque in its lysergic variety, encounters the visual themes through a peculiar sensibility. How did this dark, multiformed, non-euclidean psychedelia happened in that form and context? How was the occasion of releasing the recording born after different years?

Simon Balestrazzi: “That soundtrack was completely improvised. After we received the commission Claudio and I only met in Bologna, on the train taking us to Apulia. Despite the long trip we just discussed some basic guidelines and we agreed on the fact that we wanted the performance to be fresh and unmediated. Each one of us had is own palette of sounds and gestures. We both knew very well the movie and decided to do something in between free form radical improv and instant composition. To release it on tape was a decision of Ambiente H, no idea why after some years. Since our performance was pretty cool we just agreed.”

Your last solo work, that is a record titled Cautionary Tales released in 2020 for St.An.Da. (a label from Veneto), was in the sign of distorted and mechanical noises, a potential choice for avant visual artists or heterodox cinema, for your probably subconscious intention to communicate something abstract or ethereal with terrean elements. Indeed, this effort combines physic sounds, which speak through a tactilism with several and different metal items and materials, a bowed string, field recordings, analog and digital electronics, with an organic work of re-elaboration of those sessions. How did this concept develop? Do you think Cautionary Tales could be a sonic support for abstractist cinema which plays with naturalistic archetypes (or a imaginary of an anthropomorphized nature)?

Simon Balestrazzi: “The concept about Cautionary Tales started a very long time ago. Every track conceals an untold story or, better said, a set of visions, somehow in a surrealist vein. I usually quote Max Ernst’s Una Semaine De Bonté as a blueprint of sorts for Cautionary Tales: eerie atmospheres, weird disjointed narration and collagist approach are all there. My plan was to compose a new track every now and then, as a new “story” would came to my mind. So, in the end, it really took years to complete, Maybe it was even not meant to be completed… Then, when after a long hiatus I recorded the last song, it all made sense again. I don’t think it would fit visuals, I mean it could and quite easily indeed but these songs were really conceived, title and narrative structure, to stand per se, to create a virtual visual narrative themselves.”

Simon, talking about your past sonic path, your collaboration with the US avant artist z’ev, that is Reverbalizations, which was released for the Italian occultly psychedelic label Boring Machine, is a lighting example of a distorted e reverbated percussionism, which recalls Disrupted Songs in a certain sense. The context is more majestic and titanic, and in which it is performed a marriage between powerful analog sound and digital idiosyncrasies, with an evident in-depth research of sound. Can I tell you what this sonic maximalism derives from? Were you inspired by the engaging context, between the associated formation, and label too?

Simon Balestrazzi: “z’ev sounds always maximalist even if I would not call his music so: titanic is the right word indeed. We were friends since the late 80s and some years ago we had already recorded an album together, “Floating Signal”, along with Max Eastley and my friend Alessandro Olla. In fact “Reverbalization” was born almost by accident… I had this live recording of a concert in Cagliari, marred by audience noises and when z’ev was forced by a bad knee injury to spend almost one month at my old place in Parma we were just thinking how to restore it. One day I started to play around it with extreme filtering and processing and z’ev really enjoyed it and asked if we could create a collaborative work out of it. We choose to work mostly on the dirtiest part, to bring out and use the occasional noises, naturally amplified by the huge reverberating ambient (the original recording took place in a cavern). We really did a lot of editing and processing and I added quite a few new recordings made with my old VCS3, a prepared Ukrainian tsymbaly and various sound objects, sometimes convoluting them with snippets of z’ev percussion. We really dug in deep in every single sound and it was a long and demanding work that went on for several months. Originally it was supposed to be released by another label but when it all went to a grinding halt I asked Onga if he could be interested and it was a “fuck yes” thing. I really love him and Boring Machines.”

Another release, which you collaborated on, was “Cube”, the third album by the Sardinian trio Plasma Expander, with Corrado Loi, your musical mate in your historical project TAC (Tomografia Assiale Computerizzata). Your contribution offers an elastic ambient sound and futuristic sonorities between krautrock and post-punk (with the usage of tapes and VCS3), perfect soundscape for the record. The form of the record is more classically punk-like (or if you want, post-punk-like), and in a certain sense this recalls in a certain way your beginning with TAC, with a greater analog plasticism which characterised those fervid times and your poetry. Anyway, how did that collaboration happen? How did you associate Plasma Expander sound with your general musical thing?

Simon Balestrazzi: “Well, as a sound engineer I work on whatever I’m asked to and since I’m good friends with Corrado and Fabio Cerina since a long time it was a pleasure too to contribute in a creative way to the project, not just mixing it. Plasma Expander is Fabio’s project since the disbanding of Bron Y Aur, a band I really loved and with whom I recorded an album as well, both as sound engineer and guest musician, way back in 2007. During the years, Fabio and I performed several time together in free improv concerts along with musicians such as Xabier Iriondo, Henning Frimann and Bruno Dorella and I did the tracking for the first Plasma Expander album as well. But honestly I don’t feel that work is any close to T.A.C., even in our early times we never were so rock oriented…”

Balestrazzi & Sanna

Simon Balestrazzi (left) & Paolo Sanna (right).

Paolo, you released other works this year. One of these records is titled Sul Filo and was published 1 June for Perugian label tsss tapes, where Kevin Corcoran e Giacomo Salis (this one is your so-long musical partner) collaborate. Two sides of the tape realize opposed sonic instance; between there are tactilist experimentations, anyway if there’s is a centripetal sound in the first part (Ombra), through a percussivity with rotations of metallic objects, and field recordings with flight of an aeroplane (both meditated paths with a destination, and an arc of a circle is like a guided trip in this point of view), instead the second track, or B side (Deriva), is in the sign of centrifugal sound, where are dominant more aleatoric noise, with a less rational approach, and in which there’s a field recording of a car ride through a torrential rain, in a certain sense another confusional experience (and maybe that trip couldn’t be safe anyway). Do you share my interpretation of those musical expressions? Moreover, could you talk about the working course of this release?

Paolo Sanna: “Yes, I have played with Giacomo Salis from many years. We have studied together when it’s possible and we share [a lot of] listenings, exchanging impressions, making analyses, and we are interested in field recording. We have published most of 20 works in CDs, tapes, any digital releases, and we will publish new records soon. All of this powers our creativity and pushes our duo, in a certain way, to search new collaboration interesting for us every time, for example: Jeph Jerman, Piotr Dabrowski, Mauro Sambo, or with Kevin Corcoran (in Sul Filo) a musician and percussionist which demonstrates always to be fervid. In our collaboration as duo with Kevin, we focused on timbric research and techniques in our studies, experimenting in real time with free improvisation as practical execution, listening with maximum attention mutually.”

In your other work, Scarno Acustico (released for the French label Falt, in 6 June 2021), there’s a granular or reverberated percussivity which found life with different materials (brass, wood, various metals…). Moreover the sound is very dynamic, polyrhythmic and full of sonic shapes. An interesting sound in the name of a arlequinesque improvising/writing. Where did this fervid and energy come from? Is it sprung with that momentum or something more meditated?

Paolo Sanna: “Scarno Acustico is one of my solo records, it was recorded in my studio. I assembled a prepared set and developed my solo instinctively in one session. My sound was born based on my needs and sensations of that moment, [and] I do not have an ordinary set and love to combine and change constantly my percussions in performances. My interests in zen and shamanic matter and my background in jazz is very useful in this case. When I was a student, during my studies on drums and percussions, I discover free jazz, the historical phase, where percussionists like Milford Graves, Sunny Murray, Ed Blackwell and many others gave important signals which was gathered from ones in EU began to experiment, research and develop into that European sound, which I’m get into, referring on musicians like Evan Parker, Derek Bailey, Tony Oxley, Paul Lovens, but this list should be almost unlimited.”

Another Paolo’s release (in September 2021) is Hidden Parallels with Salis and Antonio Bertoni, who plays cello, prepared piano and tuning forks. In this (almost-)free improvisation, more structured sonorities was inspired from three compositions, where each one of these was chosen by one of those main characters; the points of reference are the English harpist Rhodri Davies (a composition titled Penrhiw for Sanna), Ougandese music (Solo De Endingidi for Bertoni) and the American composer Morton Feldman (Crippled Simmetry for Salis). These three tracks are some systematic fugues, and it is peculiar how the sound passes through from non-verbal to verbal instance momentaneously, with the contribution of Paolo’s voice. An example in which the music structure is vital and organic, in a meaning sense too. What is the working course of the record? How were those choices or inspirations born in you?

Paolo Sanna: “Hidden Parallels is a part of duo with Giacomo Salis collaborations. Antonio hosted us for a live concert in his location; we have known each other for years, and he is a multi-instrumentalist. We thought it would have been interesting if each involved musician proposed to other ones a piece for a listening, as inspiration/input, developing, developing it in total freedom. I found the use of voice in an experimental context very interesting, and I wanted to use it in this project. In fact, I played, beyond the percussions, several natural horns, a didjeridoo, jew’s harps and a collection of whistles, bird calls and ocarinas from South America, Peru, Brazil, Mexico; I use these everytime I can.”

A Paolo’s old release was Le Point Triple De L’Eau, with cellist Mauro Basilio and guitarist Fabrizio Bozzi, which manages the electronic part. The sound follows a sinusoidal path, between disordered free pecussionism and sweet and sour baroque melodic/harmonic form. If cello lines spin around a earthly lyrical idea (or more linked to the terrean element, at least), and the prepared percussions give something material and abstract at the same time, electronics and guitar is in the name of a sonic alienation, sometimes stochastic and other times more periodic.Your points of reference are water and its three state of matter, where each one of them is a dominant element or a leitmotiv for one musician, with a one-to-one correspondence. What was the story behind this concept? And how was the idea of water born?

Paolo Sanna: “Le Point Triple De L’Eau was recorded in Sardinia, in my studio. Certainly, from my point of view, it is a CD sonically nearer to free jazz drumming than sounds of Disrupted Songs, or Duo with Giacomo Salis, which both are different. In Le Point Triple De L’Eau three musicians, different for background and musical interests, met between them and played what they are. This is Le Point. This title was proposed by Mauro Basilio exactly for this reason, and then accepted by everyone right away. I love cello in particular, I believe it is a very versatile instrument for creative hands, moreover we have known for years, me, Mauro and Fabrizio. I’m so much interested in this meeting with musicians who have different visions from mine, but with a large open-mindedness, no limits, and attracted by experimentation. This has happened also with Simon in Disrupted Songs, and in this we have known for almost 20 years.”

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