The most visible and exposed records are “Montreal Taperun” and “Out of Standards” by the mythical ADN Italian records. You’re partially Canadian/American and Italian music lover, artist and journalist. Are you among those who think that Italian experimental music is so worldwide fundamental?
Yes, well I grew up in Westchester, NY not far from the Bronx where my dad is from. And I lived in Montreal for five years, a very formative and creative period for me. I’ve moved quite often and so my music collection is often divided and messy. Most of my old CD collection is still under a bed in my dad’s apartment. All my records and tapes are in my apartment with me now, as well as a bunch of more recent CDs, special CDs, box sets, stuff I’ve been sent for review purposes.
What you see so visibly on that shelf is a semi-rotating display of releases that don’t fit easily with the records, tapes or CD sections.
Montreal Taperun is pretty much what it sounds like. A bunch of local artists adding field-recordings to a tape in a kind of sonic corpse exquisite. I found it in the gift shop of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, a great museum of architecture and design in Montreal. The CCA also has a lovely archive for scholarly consultation, including the archive of the Chilean-American artist Gordon Matta-Clark, who I’m writing about at the moment. I love museum shops. They often have really great buyers curating books and music and so on, stuff you won’t find anywhere else.
The other (barely) visible object there, “Out of Standards!! – Italia 2 (1986)” is a relatively recent acquisition. Not so interesting a story, just bought it on Discogs
but a very interesting compilation with work from Christina Kubisch (who studied in Milano), Riccardo Sinigaglia (of Futuro Antico), and Raffaele Serra, among others. I think I was actually trying to track down a copy of Serra’s Kodak Ghost Poems LP when I discovered this tape for sale.
I love the cassette culture of the 80s. I was born in 1984, so I grew up with vinyl and tapes at home, before CDs and Internet changed everything. Even though I was still young when Napster hit, I was trading tapes with friends at school. You know, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, classic rock stuff mostly while at the same time downloading metal and hardcore and so on and buying CDs and 7″s at local concerts and around NY’s excellent record stores. But I’ve been very interested in the cassette culture of the 80s that I missed out on, especially the tape magazines like Tellus. I just love the how the ease of tapes allowed for this unique cultural moment. The internet obviously makes this kind of sharing easier but it’s also more precarious and more disposable as a result. I love how tapes have real limits and make us meet in person or exchange through the mail. And so these objects (also USB and SD cards and other unique physical releases) that don’t fit go here. I have a bunch of releases here from the great Indiana label Auris Apothecary. You can see Deep Magic’s microcassette there in the leftover from the scented candle it came inside of. I finally burnt it on my 30th birthday actually, just before moving to Minneapolis from Montreal. Peaking out on the bottom left shelf, below the shelf with all that junk, you can see a Tony Conrad mask. I got that from a conference in NY in October 2011. I remember the date because it was during Occupy Wall Street. Conrad couldn’t show up so he had five of his graduate students go instead, wearing masks and improvising different facets of his personality. Sadly that was the closest I came to meeting him.
I also see Varèse and other contemporary/modern Italian musicians as well (Gruppo Afro Mediterraneo, Giulio Aldinucci, Luminance Ratio, Giuseppe Ielasi…).
I’ve definitely been drawn to Italian music, very broadly. Partly this is because both my parents come from immigrant Italian families. My mom’s mother grew up in a small village in Calabria and her father’s family was from somewhere in Basilicata. And my dad’s grandparents are from Naples and a small village near Cefalù called San Mauro Castelverde. Anyway, when my maternal grandmother died I felt very cut off from these roots. So the summer I was 20 I studied abroad in the Cilento area of Salerno, and that sort of started my interest in Italian cultural generally. When we started the music blog The Silent Ballet in 2006, the head editor had a series called tracking the trends, which reviewed a bunch of records from one country. There were two or three installments of Italian bands, which made me very curious since generally speaking Italian popular music doesn’t circulate very widely outside. And my aunts and uncles listen to only old music if they listen to Italian music at all, (opera, “Volare,” etc more often Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin) while in Italy I mostly heard bad pop music and dance music DJs. So that sent me down a path of going deeper and deeper. I interviewed Italian artists for TSB (including Sparkle in Grey, of course, which is how you and I met) and later with A Closer Listen.
Back in 2010 I curated two volumes of contemporary Italian instrumental music which I called “Con fuoco d’occhi un nostalgico lupo…” after a poem by Ungaretti.
So on the one hand my interest is a personal one, coming from a desire to “find my roots” or whatever. I love Battiato, Battisti and De Andrè, musically, but also to help me to improve my Italian. And I’ve developed a fondness for some lighter fare as well, Rino Gaetano, Gino Paoli, these really clever pop songs with great arrangements. Alice, Pino Daniele, Diana Est, Napoli Centrale… all these artists that don’t necessarily go together but that I discovered through friends and searching for records. But on the other hand I think there is something unique about the Italian scene that is hard to articulate. Diverse in style and technique but creative and resourceful. MEV (all foreigners but based in Roma, and that influence is important I think), il Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, Morricone, Umiliani, Aktuala, Luciano Cilio, Luigi Nono… Well, so I’ve gotten very interested in the 60s and 70s and 80s, as this time period is the subject of my research dissertation, and the recent reissues have helped me to discover new records or own things I’ve only had mp3s from Mutant Sounds.
The records you note in your question are in my listening station, and so there are a bunch of new reissues there. Die Schachtel has long been a favorite label. I’m doing a sound installation in Montreal based on Marino Zucchini’s “Parete 67” they released. Lately I’ve been really digging the three Lino Capra Vaccina LPs you see here, and Claudio Rocchi’s “Suoni di Frontiera.” But also the label Black Sweat has reissued some real gems in the last couple years, including many originally from the collective label Materiali Sonori: Zeit, Aktuala, Telaio Magnetico, Gruppo Afro-Mediterraneo. I have been listening to these a lot. All of Walter Maoili’s groups have really resonated with me as well. Aktuala, Futuro Antico, that wonderful “Amazonia” record. And while some of Gruppo Afro-Medittareano is nothing extraordinary it does have some really fantastic moments, too. I appreciate that Maioli went out of his way to play with foreign musicians. Even De Andrè’s “Creuza de Mä” (1984) credited as a classic of “world” music and “Mediterranean” music for tying together the diverse cultural fabric of the Mediterranean features only Italian musicians.
Jason Lescalleet (three CDs: very evident)… but a few stacks under there is a “Fantasies and Delusions” one by Billy Joel. Which one(s) do you listen more often?
I subscribed to Lescalleet’s “This Is What I do” series which is why there are about 12 of those, mostly hidden from view. I really liked that idea of the spontaneous monthly studio diary. That said, I love Billy Joel. I don’t listen to that “Fantasies and Delusions” CD often (I inherited it from a bar I worked at, and like Battiato, Billy Joel’s a much better pop writer than he is classical composer…) but I am a lifelong fan and play the “52nd St LP” (not visible) pretty often). I think that and Springsteen were the first records I put on when I moved and finally could set up my turntable again after a period of itinerancy about 5 years ago.
I got a bunch of classic rock and disco and R&B records from my mom and dad’s collections, including “52nd Street”, and along with Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet” and The Beach Boys (“Kokomo” – this was 1989, I didn’t hear “Pet Sounds” until many years later) are my earliest musical memories. Three years old dancing to the records and watching the stylus skip.
In fact I even saw Billy Joel perform in Rome in 2006, in one of those fabulous concerts with an audience of half a million in front of the Colosseum.
Tell me about Peter Norman and that awesome photo above everything else.
Norman is the good ally who suffered for doing the right thing. Worse, he is often misunderstood. I was raised Catholic, so this all appeals to me, apparently. The gesture immortalized in this iconic image is probably the most famous act of protest in sports, certainly the highest profile on the global stage, even if #takeaknee has made such an impact in the US recently. Like Tommie Smith and John Carlos, Norman is wearing an Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) badge on his jacket. Norman was a critic of Australia’s racist White Australia policy and was standing in solidarity with his fellow medalists, who were protesting racial injustice in America and around the world. One can’t tell in this photo but Smith and Carlos also received their medals shoeless, to symbolize black poverty. This was 1968, a significant year all over the world, in the US, in Italy, and in Mexico where the games were held. There was a terrible massacre in Mexico City less than two weeks before the games in which hundreds of student protestors were murdered by the police and military in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas. I’ve referenced this event obliquely in my sound works, a sea without a port ( https://soundpropositions.com/2015/12/24/a-sea-without-a-port/) and Jorge’s guide to DF (https://soundpropositions.com/2016/12/26/jorges-guide-to-df/) using field-recordings I made there and dedicating one side of the latter tape to the victims. I purchased this poster after returning to Montreal from DF in 2013. I also hear some resonance with Wu Ming 1‘s novel The New Thing, which I was trying to read at the time.
I see a double cassette deck! Do you still duplicate tapes for you or friends? That John Fahey one maybe?
I have too many tape players. Almost all from Montreal thrift stores. There’s a Technics double deck in the office where my records are kept and also where my music gear is kept. I often will just noodle around on the synth or looping field-recordings and record right to stereo tape. The other Technics deck is in the living room where my turntable is. I don’t use either to make duplicates to be honest, just to play back tapes more easily. But I do make mix tapes for my friends sometimes. I just record straight to tape from my mixer. A good friend had some bad luck a few years ago, for example, including a flood damaging much of her possessions. She lives very far away but I knew she had a tape deck in her car still so I sent her a mix of music we listened to together when we were younger as well as music I like and music that references floods. Tortoise, Sparklehorse, Nina Simone, Leonard Cohen, Fennesz. I really liked that mix…
The tapes in the picture you mention are ones I play a lot. So many good finds at used record shops and thrift stores. Tapes must be the best value as far as that goes. I play a lot of chill music in the living room… Hurco S., Laaraji, John Fahey, West African groups, old soul and R&B, and beat tapes (Dakim, Ras G, Knxwledge, etc).
Two empty cassette case are partially hiding the picture of (what I guess) you and your girlfriend. Didn’t this make her angry? Does she like the same music as you?
Haha, no I don’t think she’s noticed. That is indeed a picture of Sara and me. She doesn’t really like the office I think. I have a sense of order but I’m at the same time very cluttered, as you can see from all the knickknacks and piles of books. In addition to the double cassette deck I have a bunch of tape players around the room, portable ones and a Marantz that has a broken volume knob and two variable speed decks. So I often play drones I’ve recorded or little loops in two or more of them and so I have tapes and cases and stuff all over the place because I move them around a lot.
My system of order is pretty idiosyncratic, I think. My books are probably easier to figure out. Chronological and by genre, more recent stuff alphabetical by author or title, depending. While my records are grouped by aesthetic or time in my life. All the classic rock in one section, then punk and hardcore. Post rock and electronic, jazz and R&B and soul, then classical and avant-garde. Non-music, Italian traditional music, and other random stuff. And then a big mess of new stuff that should be sorted one day. I always love seeing how other people think to organize their books and records, it is a kind of microcosm of how someone’s mind works, eh?