Will ambient music be the soundtrack of the Covid era?
Xoop & Useless Idea Interview
What do Xoop and Useless Idea have in common? Both producers of experimental electronic music, among the emerging names of the new Italian electronic scene, both dyslexics and lovers of the visual arts, these guys have received a fair consent from authoritative realities such as:NTS, Aphex Twin, WeMe Records, I Love Acid, Solvent (Suction Records). Their work is a creative glitch in the contemporary, which arises spontaneously and feeds the gap of underground electronic music, with a little Rephelxian fantasy, humor and culture.
However, what brings them together is a naive but genuine desire to create, learn and make music without expectations, if you like the Intelligent Dance,Music, and feel you are part of that world, then you must feel the need to learn to listen, play the best of music in all its forms, leaving aside those who on the one hand would like to listen to the same thing repeated over and over, but also those who on the other hand would like to experimenting at any cost, even at expense of the music itself. For this reason, these two artists have decided to release a two-album soundtrack the ambient, what? Two producers recognized for highly experimental genres that make ambient music?! In the scene suffocated by the acid and the jungle nostalgia of the 90s, there is nothing more subversive than publishing ambient music, the expectation of whoever was expecting sketchy rhythms and acid incursions is betrayed, but the ability to give emotions is returned.
For this interview we contacted a young producer whose last album we released last year, which consecrated it as one of the new rising stars of Acid Melodic: Caramel Cameleon aka Francesco Pio Nitti. EVES — June 14, 2020
What is your approach to music?
Xoop: First! it has the shape of a question mark “What if …?” it is a rather sinuous form because it could make me jump out of bed and put off sleep to make it effective. Second! very complicated, but I don’t have a mathematical mind or a good formation of it, is complicated, in the sense that I complicate things, probably because I could make an idea with a mathematical formula that would take me much less time, but that’s okay, I have nothing to do.
Useless Idea: The main reason why I approached music is the synesthesia of which I suffer in a minimal part, in my case I have an altered perception of association between sound and color, this influencing my perception, often a sound is born from an image or I play alongside a visual context, for me sound and image are essential, in fact I consider my audiovisual music. I have always had difficulties in learning methods due to a strong dyslexia that has significantly influenced my learning method, music is something abstract and the fact of being able to give an color appearance to a sound has allowed me to learn an alternative method to express myself, I chose electronic music because it has fewer limitations than a traditional instrument, and I find it more stimulating to play sound than to play an instrument. Of music, what interests me is to try to change the method from time to time, to explore the limits in combining different genres, Trying to maintain a free approach, although inevitably what I do is greatly influenced by the work of giants of electronic music and as a musician I know I have limits, despite this I consider my work as an alternative.
What are your preferences and influences in the environmental genre?
Xoop: OSTs in general, especially video games, but retro! Because, the new games haves unfortunately they have now lost their uniqueness, trying to emulate reality and cinema, becoming simulators. Before it was different, a parallel subculture that was almost completely different from reality. To tell the truth my first works with soundtracks I made them directly and even prematurely, this when I discovered that some video games that I had on my PC had their BGM (Background Music) inside a simple folder compiled in wav files, I remember in particular: the first Resident Evil and Nightmare Creatures, it was fantastic to be able to play the game with music created by you.
However, I believe that the most of the games were a great way to listen to something alternative regarding the environment, surely another influence was the soundtrack of Creatures 2 (not to be confused with Nightmare Creatures) I think it was also one of the first soundtracks to introduce “dynamic music” which consists of loops that alternate according to the events in the game.
In adolescence, I had a glorious glam rocker life and I got to know the music of artists like Brian Eno, this long before listening to “Selected ambient vol2” of “Aphex Twin”, or “Substrata” of “Biosphere”, and all the discography of “William Basinski” that I listened to in all the sleep phases of my life, of his music I love bricolage on tape.
Useless Idea: Although I grew up in a family that didn’t listen to music, I was always attracted to the sound, when I was a child, I played with the cassette recorder and before buying records I recorded the TV, the soundtracks of films, unknowingly I was sampling, I would have been 9, 10 years old; in my teens my peers listened to rock, metal, and punk, and some of them played in a group, not knowing how to play any instrument I became interested in electronic music, not being able to afford to buy lots of CDs, I found a way to buy at second-hand stores entire stocks of vinyls at moderate prices, as long as I bought everything in bulk, this allowed me to know the music and the genres, such as: techno, dance, funk, classical, opera, hip hop, Electronics, rock, jazz, like a library with books of all kinds, I had my discotheque, in the pile of the vinyls I found composers like Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Moondog, John Cage, among the main ones, that’s how I got to know ambient music.
I am not a lover of ambient music, especially contemporary, my preferences remained in the past, “Steve Reich” with “Music for 18 musicians”, “Brian Eno” with “Music for Airports Serie 1-2-3-4” and “Aphex Twin” with “Select Ambient Vol.02”, remain the main references.
What does this release mean to you? What pushed you to release an ambient album?
Xoop: I want others to learn to have lucid dreams, there are many techniques, do not look at the web, in the deep web, they are all individual… try to use instinct, deep within you, you already know how doing it, to guide you will be the music of those who have already lived those dreams.
Useless Idea: 4 years ago during a move from home, I found the demos of when I started playing, all stuff recorded on tape, I spent 3 years choosing, cleaning and modifying some of the material, (even before publishing on WeMe Records). Many of the tracks in Xa Peh are about 20 years old, music that only my closest friends or acquaintances have listened to. They are some of them that motivated me to publish this material, it was not my intention to make an ambient record, I found myself there, I simply selected the most deserving material and with a precise aesthetic, the goal was essentially to have the excuse to show something different from what I am known for, and once published this material, to have a clear mind for to be able to move on to something else, unpretentious.
Nowadays music surrounds our rooms, it is present everywhere it has also become a “form of furniture” (as Erik Satie had already designated his music at the beginning of the last century). What is the value of ambient music for you today?
Xoop: Ambient music on the side of the producer is a salvation; can regenerate your creativity that is suffocated by too much logic and technicalities, allows you to concentrate even on a single instrument for the whole draft of the track, and this compared to what a CDM (Complicated Dance Music) a musician meditation, a composition process that purifies and regenerates.
Useless Idea: Today I can’t feel the same emotion or perceive the value of a record as it used to, but this doesn’t concern a specific genre like ambient music, I think it affects all the music. Surely the value I give to ambient music today is negligible, producing music is not only an aesthetic questioned, but also a social, artistic role, a duty towards oneself, making two notes today is nothing revolutionary, at least in the event that a musician knows the technique to make those two notes sound good, often ambient music today is commercial or vulgar, I don’t understand it.
Reading the presentations of your albums stands out the peculiarity that the writing and production period is restricted, for both, in a decade. I would like to ask you if the writing and production process of these tracks has remained constant or has it undergone changes over time?
Xoop: They are all post-session compositions of other “traditional” tracks, in which I used the same “virtual gear” made of custom patches with synths and drum machines modulated between them and triggered, which I usually left them to loop all night until I created a folder called “Unknown Cemetery” and it started to become a sort of post-session ritual that I practiced more and more frequently.
Useless Idea:“Xa Peh” contains pieces written from 1995 to 2005, the most immature age, but also the most creative and spontaneous, in those 10 years I changed instrumentation from analog to digital, curiosity pushed me towards different and often distant genres, the fact that “Xa Peh” sounds fluid is because I selected the tracks that seemed to me to have a connection, if you listen to the tracks individually, they do not have the same strength as hearing them from beginning to end in full album, I consider this record a concept album, which catalogs a series of subgenres of music taken in different years and with different production techniques and instruments. If you play with sycophantic noises and rhythms 80% of the time, the remaining 20% dedicate it to quieter things, the writing was random, the thing that remained more constant is attributable to the visualization of a visual music, the other aspect, which was influenced by prediction, imagining a sound and then creating it, this was also given by the initial limit of my equipment, but in the long run it became a standard method in my way of composing, allowing me over the years to focus and maintain a certain type of sound depending on the genre I wanted to play with.
Is there a particular program and / or equipment that has been or is dominant in your works?
Xoop: Reason. Its modularity among the factory racks that it makes available is the key, it allows you to create very sophisticated projects, without losing expressive freedom, it is unique in what it does, it is like using a high level programming language. If for some reason Reason should disappear from one day to the next, I think the compositional approach I would adopt would be to stick small strips of tinfoil around the cones of the speakers and would wave them playing very low frequencies, then I would record with a microphone. PC and then mix everything on audacity.
The only VST that I used was JuceOPLvsti after the disappointment of having lost an old Soundblaster with Yamaha opl2 chip at an auction on eBay, I started surfing the web in desperate search for a VST and I tried many, even for a fee , but in the end the only one to have it ticked off was this little gem, the thing that sets it apart from the other emulations is that it is the same sound emulation as Dosbox, it inspired me, and it was love immediately, I have known the creator to ask him questions and he was very kind and helpful.
Useless Idea: At around 20 age I bought an old Siel Fling 61, for a few euros at a market, it is an Italian synthesizer from the 70s, which has very warm sounds, and which I have used a lot for this record, it has unique low frequencies, I have used an EQ. Graphic with 10 L / R channels, with which I sculpted the sounds to make them more appealing. At the time I recorded live the sound coming out of the speaker or the room acoustics through vintage microphones, so in many tracks besides the effects a natural reverberation is added, almost all the rhythmic parts are composed by striking natural elements such as wood, which I went to recover in the woods to detoxify from the city, usually the persuasive part in an ambient record is in the background, rarefied and distant, while in “Xa Peh” often the rhythm is in the foreground, it is something that struck me immediately when I started hearing and selecting the old demos, and I wanted to enhance it, the entire rhythmic structure of songs such as: White Elephant, Sah, Exagonal Sun, Xa Peh, is composed with the sounds of beaten wood. The melody in the majority of the tracks is produced in Sintesi FM, modifying a simple waveform, and modulating its frequency to obtain a more complex waveform of different tonality that makes the sound much more personal, the majority of the material is being played in forced conditions of half-sleep, if the brain is not conscious you have the possibility not to think about what you do and things come out on their own. things common to many musicians, only for you have to play late at night and you are a music addict.
What do your artworks represent?
Xoop: a little man, sitting in front of a PC in a not very large open room that continues towards a long path full of trees. When I realized this idea and drew it I was surprised myself and thought “wow, it would be so iconic with that title!” I think that the cover is an all too concrete subjects for an electronic music album, if I had to say also what it represents, I would influence the listener too much, for this reason the titles are fictitious names of “dead” people, the my music never contains concrete titles that can lead to anything.
Everyone will have to see something based on their experiences. As for the work done, my friend and I spent a whole night working on it and it was nice to see my sketch turn into 3D, I wanted it to be as simple as possible and give the idea of the old 90s 3D visibly 256-color polygonal, but in the end there was a middle ground, I also wanted it to remember the covers of the old PC game demos that ran in those years as regards the title. I had also thought of doing it similar to the covers of an old illegal collection of pirated games and programs called “Twilight”, as a tribute.
Useless Idea: the theme of the album is the observation of sound, a landscape that slowly reveals itself, leading the listener to look further, I work in the world of the image, I’m not good at creating images for me, I have a rough style, punk idea of my personality, and I can’t dress myself in something decorative, also for this reason I tend to identify my music with my figure, and to use photography as a means of expression, it’s not about self-centeredness, but if my music must speak of something is right that describe me. The cover represents the blurred sound of this record, I talked to Alessandro Arcidiacono, photographer and colleague of AntyAnty, about the idea of making a blurred portrait, he created a special photographic set, where a sheet of tissue paper covered me emulating the concept out of focus, Alessandro is also the author of the shot I used for “Acid Hologram” on the album released on “WeMe Records” the image in that case was born spontaneously, we were on a videoclip set, and jokingly I started doing this evil pose, when I showed it to my girlfriend, she suggested that the image was perfect for the album style, instinctive, cold and aggressive, “Xa Peh” instead is an opposite sound, warm, deep, distant, and the image in its simplicity reflects these contents. In addition to playing, I am a visual artist, with a career in contemporary art, but at the same time I was have worked for years in the field of commercial communication, what I mean is that I am able to create images of all kinds, but for my own music I seek simplicity. Being an artist who draws inspiration from the underground, I am not interested in creating beautiful images, I would not feel comfortable, it is difficult to explain, but if your career is made up of experiences like these: wacky music, videos and painting, either you are crazy or you can’t do without it.
What do you think will be a possible next evolution of music?
Useless Idea: I have no idea, I also believe that the idea of new is also a wrong thing to enhance, because it creates expectations that can block the creative process, the new is an idealization that slows down creativity, I are born between the folds of what has been done, to give an example, this record, it is nothing new, because this type of genre has already been addressed and widely defined, but it is new for current generations, it is not obvious if you think how much music acid, jungle and hardcore is coming out in recent years, all rhythmic and frenetic stuff, mostly, in this context, I make a record of ambient music, the idea of new is not only placed on the novelty but materializes in the context in which it is presented. In the last 7 years many innovations have come out in the field of experimental music, especially in underground electronics, the problem is that it is music that risks not is know why there is too much of everything together, kind of like what happened in the 90s in the jungle, on the move they thought it was the music of the future, but then it became common use, completely harmless, the brain is you get used to everything and you risk getting tired, so the best thing about music is to do what others usually don’t, I tried to learn from the work of great artists, who invented and defined this imagery, without the presumption that what I they are doing will save the world.
Xoop: None, everything has already been said is done, the ambient music is dead and rests in a cemetery, but you can still hear their voices from the underground, if you wish.
Would you recommend a new or more ambient artists that you have most appreciated in the last period?
Useless Idea: Everything that has emerged in the genre of effectual belongs to artists of the past, I am not a lover of the ambient genre, when I don’t play I listened to a lot of music of different influence, without having to follow a specific genre, and this helps me not to have a static mentality.
For current sound, Xoop’s “TCOUS” is definitely an original record, I recommend listening to it carefully, it is very imaginative, it has an approach that differs significantly from the rest of the previous production of Xoop, I associate it with that way of composing without fear of exploring different territories, in which the artist puts aside the expectations of the public and realizes something authentic, which does not mean that it is better or worse, but that arises from the need to make a different exit and not care about the opinion of others, sometimes you need to have a comparison, but many times it can be limiting to listen to what others want or do.
Another artist who has struck me in the last period is The Ritual Sphinx with the Veins album, it is not exactly ambient in the traditional sense, but perhaps it is a contemporary vision of what the environment can be today, emotion. In the same way I really like the Seven Nights Alone project, a mix of Downtempo and new age atmospheres, it sounds positively dirty and in a direct way, a very rare component in today’s music.
Xoop: I recommend listening, Xa Peh by Useless Idea
Is Coronavirus, this new challenge for human existence, influencing your creative process?
Xoop: Very negatively, at the beginning, then the idea of being able to continue doing what you did before without feeling too nerd if you spend whole days locked up in your laboratory (serious laughter) becomes more and more pleasant, it’s a bit like when in the evening you have no I’m going to go out but accept your friend’s invitation anyway, then it starts to rain and the appointment skips, you can be free to say “I really think I’ll stay in my studio tonight”. It would seem rather obvious, but also romantic, the idea that this pre-apocalyptic scenario is giving me creative life, inspiring me in some way, but it is not quite so, unfortunately, I repeat, I do what I always do, but with more ease and this consists in the usual everyday routine where I try to finish old tracks and recompile old projects, however I still have a lot of albums to offer.
Useless Idea: The month before the Coronavirus emergency occurred I was in London, through family friends, I purchased a wall piano in Italy, which arrived a few weeks before the total block, was an unexpected fortune. Up to now I have composed every day exclusively music with the piano, and it has been very useful, I am trying to finish some electro-acoustic tracks made more than 10 years ago, while I was living in Paris during an artistic residence, where I had the opportunity to play prepared instruments, but when I returned to Italy I didn’t have the place to finish these compositions and in this bad period it was useful to resume the pending speech. Moreover, from 2009 until 2017 I exhibited as an audiovisual artist, around the world, especially Europe, but also China and Japan, but also because of my work in the field of communication, I was always traveling, this to explain that it was not easy for me to work fixedly on a project, especially in the electroacoustic field, not having the space available and a lot of time available. Air travel and time zone changes in recent years have caused me stress disorders, similar to vertigo, I spent days throwing up the weekend with the room spinning, the covid is a shit, but for me it was an important moment in which understand that I had to rest and change my mentality, especially at work, after years for auto finance my art with my communication work, now I only do art, life is too short to trust the global economy and permanent. In addition to the acoustic part, I am working on my machines, I often use self-built instruments, both mine and friends, such as the D-Box made by my friend Victor Zappi, who is a professor at the College Arts, Media and Design in Boston, the D-Box reconstructs the audio files by superimposing up to about 750 waveforms and on an analog DIY interface without any kind of grid, which allows you to create unexpected, unrepeatable sounds, once from a battery I created the sound of a baby voice, absurd stuff, the research part is the one that is currently most interesting to me, but it implies that you have to spend a lot of time experimenting with respect to the composition, but I’m in no hurry. The next official releases will always be related to old material, I have the time to play with the noises to finish the new material.
Why did you decide to make a double output since they are separate records and what do these two records have in common?
Useless Idea: Xoop contacted me after we met on a compilation released for Properline Records, we knew each other before, but only for the respective music, speaking, it emerged that we both valued the other’s work, and that we were both working on a concept album of ambient tracks, We have was collected material for 10 years, it was a pleasant surprise, because we are producers known for the opposite, that is, mostly fast, noisy and acidic productions, it was an unusual response, so came the idea of creating an independently coordinated and managed project, EVES was the ideal situation because it allowed us to be autonomous, often when you are dealing with a label you have no freedom, although in my case I have always been lucky, I met people who have always supported me in everything, but for this release it was different, no label would have been interested in a full album of an hour and twenty of slow music and the risk would have been to see the concept album destroyed; so we believed that in this case the journey would be more interesting than the destination. In addition, we have been very demanding on mastering, nothing label would have supported us, the master by Robin Harwood took a year and a half, Robin was really patient and understanding, I have never known such a kind and professional person in trying to understand what you need. I realize that it seems crazy, I mean to waste so much time on nothing, I mean, that hardly anyone will notice the difference or love what you do, I am skeptical of other people’s interest in what I do as an artist, the question is that if you make underground music and 90% of what you do is anti-commercial, you don’t do it for a purpose, you do it because you feel the need to do it.
My record had some problems with audio physics, most of the tracks come from old demos on tape, with many technical problems, the tracks individually sounded good, but overall they had dynamics problems, in addition to Robin’s excellent work, Alessadro Bartolena took care it of eliminating the rustling and saturation too evident, and Emilio Pozzolini contributed with the increase in volume without interfering with Robin’s work, the work of these 3 sound engineers has not deprived the traces of that analogical pasta they were born with, I was really lucky to share this experience with this group of people.
Xoop: For the desire to do, I think. “Useless Idea” is a true pioneer of electronics, he has a lot of experience in this area and is very active, I have had a rather different path, probably also of life, even if we know little about each other, then I have a strong aversion to the human race that I try to cure through meditation, and this keeps me away from any type of community, as well as bad individuals. We experienced the underground in two very different ways, and we certainly adopt two very different styles, yet there is something that unites us and that has tied us to this release, it was already written somewhere I think. Robin, on the other hand, is the cutest English in the whole of the United Kingdom, I don’t know many of English, but for now I can’t imagine a nicer and more pleasant person than Robin. Probably this project has helped me to get away from that way of being so grumpy and hermit. All the time of the preparation, we talked a lot, I am happy to have known two such interesting people as Robin and Cesare, both very available and generous, two infinite wells of knowledge, but always willing to share and collaborate. Probably if I had different sexual preferences I would have had a hard time choosing which of the two to have a relationship with and get married; or at least a sexual relationship!
Now let’s move on to your new remix EP titled “ProMIXcuity“. I heard the remixes you wrote, each other, on two tracks taken from your respective albums. The title of the collection is very curious and daring, could you explain it to us? What do you mean by “promiscuity” in music?
Xoop: I pass the ball to Cesare, he is the one who proposed the title, Cesare keep the ball!
Useless Idea – Ahahah thanks a lot Andy! The ProMIXquity title is a fun way that replaces the word remix, it fits well with the way of dealing with the type of music we produce, but the real meaning is that of mixing, through the promiscuity of languages, cultures and race society has progressed by learning to doing things in a new way. Obviously, without taking itself too seriously, the title remains a playful and ambiguous play on words that.
Listening to the remixes it emerges two very divergent approaches to writing and interpreting. What is the concept of remix for you? Can you tell us about your production process in this regard?
Xoop – I hadn’t done a remix for a long time, a part of this work I faced with a dental neuralgia, I managed to do everything with one hand, while the other hand was resting on my sore cheek and swollen like a soccer ball; I looked like Marlon Brando in the Godfather, even the expression was similar.Apart from this unpleasant situation, it was not very difficult, before the neuralgia I had already studied the samples of “Useless Idea” identifying some inaudible frequencies that were going to create interesting melodies, so I wrote these notes on an old algorithm and threw away the samples in the pot to mix everything, I would say that my concept of remixing is like cooking.I still hope that the next dish can cook it, play it in good health.
Useless Idea – EVES are a neutral territory, where you have no creative constraints, and this was what this project needed, the more you go on, the less you will be asked for your point of view, it is understandable, since you have to respect the times of production of an album, and the time available is less and less, in this case EVES was different from trusting the artists and I believe that having this expressive freedom gave the EP its evident stylistic disharmony, which was what we wanted to propose, do something different.
For me, remix means interpreting something, inserting your own style into something that is not yours, but without stifling the original work. In the specific case, listening to the tracks of Xoop I imagined how they could play with different rhythmic elements, I am fascinated by the raw sound of industrial techno electronics and this was the right opportunity to play with these elements, after repeated listening to the idea I started to take shape in my head and once it sounded complete, I tried to play it spontaneously, Often it all starts with solfeggio. The songs on “TCOUS” have layered arrangements in which it is difficult to define all the elements immediately, it was nice to explore it in its separate parts and play it back.
Francesco Pio Nitti Bio: Produces electronic music under the name of Caramel Chameleon.
June 14, 2020