Fabio Ricci – “I think that part of life lies in the acceptance that your ego can die. If it never dies, it will simply kill everyone around you in the end”

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I’m interested in some particular objects among the records, like the photo of the woman, in black and white. It somehow reminded me instantaneously the cover of vonneumann “Il de’ metallo”, then reprised in “Il de’ blues”… who are these persons? They both have a melancholic expression…

Wow, I hadn’t thought of that at all, but you’re totally right! There’s a connection! It’s really funny, because I’m not a photo person. I don’t have many printed photos from the past, I never developed that classic photo-mania everyone seemed to have when digital cameras became affordable and generally speaking I don’t like images of reality. I prefer the real reality. You know, a bit like Bill Pullman in “Lost Highways”. But I really like that photo. First of all because it’s my wife, but also because as you said, it’s so deep. She’s so young and yet already has this melancholic expression. She’s been through all sort of crazy stuff in her life; she’s a real warrior. Most of us luckily will never have to deal with such shit. But that look… It’s like she knew in advance the horror was coming, but she accepts it as part of life. I admire her for always standing up after each blow.


The connection is that the woman in the covers of “il de’ metallo” and “il de’ blues” is the wife of another member of vonneumann (Toni). But the story of that photo is completely different: it’s a joke (like 99% of vonneumann’s stuff). She’s wearing a wig, property of the brother of the other member of vonneumann (Filippo). At that time Filippo’s brother, Andrea, was performing live shows as a drag queen, so he had all this fancy apparel… stuff like ostrich feather boas, purple wigs, high heel shoes, etc. So it seemed fun to take some of that stuff and craft a fake old-style photo (we used a Polaroid). And to make the whole artwork coherent, all the photos from both albums are shot by Andrea himself, who by the way is an absolute master as photographer.

So it’s quite funny that my wife’s b/n photo is in the middle of my record collection. It really does recall that cover we made for vonneumann back 10 years ago.

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Well, that’s a nice story this one about the pictures and the wig… and makes me think about you and vonneumann, that is a rather long-living band compared to others. In a way, you look like a family, with its issues and complexes relationships. How is it to live together for such a long time without killing each others?

We roughly estimate the establishment of vonneumann in 1999, though to be honest it could be that we had already formed in 1998. But vonneumann loves the confusion created by harmless disinformation (nowadays we have post-reality or fake news, or whatever, but it’s different), so we’re happy to have a sort-of fake date. The reason why the lines are a bit blurred is that vonneumann is like the phoenix, which rises from the ashes: vonneumann rose from the ashes of our previous band, Arborio, but the people were exactly the same in both bands. Around 1996-7 Arborio went through a pretty big crisis, which led to a complete change in the direction of the music and consequently the need to drop the name of the band to underline that we had burnt quite some bridges during the process.

Why am I saying all this? Just because, though this year marks the 20th anniversary of vonneumann, to be honest, we’ve been playing together for something like over 25 years, so the comparison with a family is even more than appropriate! So, to answer your question: how is it to live together without killing each others… well, we’ve killed each others countless times! First when we killed Arborio, but then it happened many other times. We’ve had a lot of crises, even with some pretty nasty things emerging. But I think that part of life lies in the acceptance that your ego can die. And it should die many times. At least in a collective artistic process. If it never dies, it will simply kill everyone around you in the end. Dynamics between people change, like in a marriage. After 25 years, you still love your wife, but that love is not so similar to what it was, say, the first year of marriage. I think there is so much to learn in growing up, understanding yourself and others, that I have no regrets of the past because I really enjoy the present, most of the times.

We are raised in a huge misconception: that we make choices that causally determine our life’s outcomes in predictable ways. If I want to achieve this, I have to do that, etc. Of course sometimes it’s true, but for the most, I think it’s honest to say that life constantly makes choices for us and we have to deal with them. That’s why artistic endeavours are so tough: you’re basically fighting against the entropy of life, to get your miserable thing out.

They say that in 7-10 years all the cells in our body have been replaced off by newer versions (some are even replaced multiple times). We know this doesn’t make us different people, at least not in the terms we think of being “different” to someone else. But it should allow the recognition that we change a lot in our life span, much more than we would like to admit (there is some pretty interesting psychological research on this).

So all in all, I’m very happy to have changed all my body cells more than 3 times with those guys. Hope we can continue to do so until we’re happy together.

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You asked me to send also book pictures, that I like. You’re not the first, Enrico Bettinello did the same… but the one I noticed is “Mister Divano” of Roger Hargreaves ! I love that serie… there’s a particular reason why you have that specific one exposed? I also see many comics of Zerocalcare, that is from Rome, like you…

OK, so another strange thing is that you picked up the comics, because… I don’t read many comics at all, in fact. I don’t like comics usually. The story of “Mr Divano” goes back to when I was 3 years old. At that time my parents decided to stay for a period in USA (New York). So I spent some months there. It was a revolution for me. First of all, I had to learn another language – and fast – but also the quantity and diversity of purchasable items was beyond any possible imagination. It was like being forwarded in the future. Capitalism was so much advanced. Really amazing the difference between Italy in the 1980s and the States. Anyhow, when I was there, struggling with the language, I picked up these little booklets. And I fell in love with them totally. First because they are really nicely drawn and very funny. That kind of simple and unoffensive humour that nowadays seems forgotten or – worse – shamed. But also, they were very intelligent. They were created so that a concept would stick in your mind. For example, “Mr Tickle”, my absolute favorite, was an orange guy with super-long arms. He would go around having the best of times just using his super long arms to tickle everyone from a distance. Simple, yet so fun! Well… after you had read the story (and kids read stories infinite times), you were really sure you had understood what “to tickle” meant!

Some years ago I stumbled upon “Mr Divano”, a (pretty poor) translation of “Mr Lazy” (you see, they didn’t translate the concept, what a misery!) and I thought, albeit the terrible translation, it would have still been nice if I could have passed the immense pleasure I had in reading those booklets to my future son/daughter. So I bought it. But when my son was born, things went quite differently than how I had expected and in the end I haven’t used it yet…

Regarding Zerocalcare, those are all presents, I think I only bought one of those books. I’m not saying this to depreciate how much I value them. Zerocalcare is one of the smartest writers we have in Italy. He is among the authors that makes me laugh the hardest ever. His humour is deep, counterintuitive and radical. And yes: it has a lot to do with being Roman. Which I am. And like.

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Oh, I know Mr. Lazy and the others of the serie, Stefano Stephanovic / My Dear Killer, that you know, gave me a pair of them (for the record: “Mr. Grumpy” and “Mr. Messy”, me and my wife I suppose) as a gift time ago. So, discussing about family, you said scary and lovely things about your wife… but I also know that “things went quite differently than how you had expected and in the end you haven’t used it yet.” I suppose you’re referring to the family again, right? How the birth of your son has affected your artistic (and – well – also non artistic) life?

Stefano is an adorable person and I think he had a great idea: it’s a very funny present to give to people. That’s another reason why I love those booklets: they represent peculiar characteristics that can be applied to anyone, including friends and ourselves. And the humour is so gentle that there can’t be any offense, really.

Yes, I was referring to how things changed whey my son was born. Boy, did they change! It’s fair to say that the birth of a child always changes your life in unpredictable ways. But in my case, what happened pushed this concept to a completely different level.

When you plan a pregnancy, you somehow develop expectations and you prepare for them. It’s very dishonest or hypocritical when people say “I had no expectations at all”, you know, tabula rasa style. That’s bullshit. The only fact that you purchase items to prepare for the event demonstrates that you’re lying. When you choose something for your upcoming child, you are projecting your expectations. And that’s just a simple example. The list is very long. And it’s a healthy thing to have expectations! Because in a way it’s the backbone of education. You make decisions for your children, well in advance. For their good.

Coming back to me, a friend of mine used a brilliant analogy to describe what happened. He said: it’s like preparing for a sport match (since we’re Italians, let’s use the national-popular idiotic game: football). You know the rules, you try to learn some useful tactics, you purchase the technical apparel. You also prepare for a bunch of unexpected events, knowing in advance that you’ll never be able to predict them all. You have 9 months ahead of you and then, when the day comes, you’re given a nice pat on the back and you enter the field for the game. And they close the door. Forever.

Now, what happens if you’re all prepared for your football game, with the whole outfit (t-shirt, shorts, shin guards, and the special shoes with cleats) but… when you enter the field, you realize that life has prepared for you a big surprise: it’s an ice-hockey match! Well, I tell you: it’s a fuckin’ mess. First, there’s no way out, you can’t exit the field. You just have to play. But it’s hard, it’s so slippery and the tech apparel is even impeding you to move properly because it’s not designed for that type of surface. All you had prepared for doesn’t exist. Not even the unexpected options you had considered, because you’re in a different paradigm altogether. Talk about: predicting the unpredictable… which by its very nature, is impossible.

But what do humans excel at? Adaptation. You need to adapt to the situation. And fast, because the game is running and you don’t want to lose! (Eventually we all lose in a sense, because we die, but isn’t life about trying not to get crushed completely during the game? Actually enjoying the game; learning and enjoying the process until the final loss).

First thing to do: accept that you’ll have to play ice hockey for the rest of your life, even if you hate the stupid game and you love football. So: change your mindset. Then you have to learn the rules, even if the rules are totally alien to you. You have to infer the rules from the way the game rolls out. And then you need to find the right tools, change your outfit. All of this while the game, I repeat, is fully running.

This is what happened to me. Quite early in his life, my son was diagnosed a complex disability. That event changed everything. Literally. Both in terms of time (when I’m at home, I’m basically a sort of parent/nurse, 100% devoted to my son and his problems, no time for superfluous bullshit; hospitals are our second home; our new family is made of medical operators) and in terms of the way I see the world. The more I understand the rules of this game (which are in constant development), the more the “normal” world seems alien to me. Or better: I have become alien to the world. Everyone is playing their football game, and I’m here alone playing my ice hockey match against life, falling on this fucking ice. So I can’t really relate to what people tell me most of the time, because I’m on a different field, where the rules are antithetic. When people talk to me, usually they don’t realize that what they say is totally out of my basket of possibilities.

This had very profound implications in my artistic development. People who make art (let’s call them… artists!)… what do they do? They have a vision of the world and an urgency to communicate about it in an aesthetic form. And they develop the necessary skills fit for their aesthetic purposes. If you know me, you know how much I love glitches. Needless to say, I see my son’s disability as a pretty huge glitch in my life. It was so big that it sent me to another world. So while I adapted my whole life to this hyperglitch, I also developed a new way of thinking about music (which ironically is not glitch-based at all).

My urgency to communicate a vision of the world as an artist hasn’t changed… it’s my world that has changed! So I created a new project, it’s called dTHEd, together with 2 of my dearest human beings (Simone Lanari and Isobel Blank). It’s pretty damn alien. It has different rules than the standard rules in music we hear 99.9% of the times. It deals with perceptual mis-matches, so there’s a strong psychoacoustic component. Especially on tempo, but also on harmonic development.

At the time my son was diagnosed, I was also reading a bunch of stuff on OOO (Object Oriented Ontology) and inevitably I got hooked on “Hyperobjects”. And with the huge trip my son had embarked me on, suddenly everything made complete sense to me: my son’s disability is a hyperobject. I am embedded in a hyperobject. Morton argues that we have entered the Age of Asymmetry and that art should deal with it. I think he is completely right. Black swans (ref. to Nassim Taleb) are becoming more and more frequent. Amitav Ghosh also talks about these things in “The Great Derangement”. Artists in the 20th century have put individuals at the center of the stage, forgetting – or worse, erasing – the scene: objects and nature. They have ignored important things, only because perceptually not immediate. Art in the 21st century cannot do that any longer. We have to deal with things we cannot perceive, synthesize, conceptualize immediately, humanly. Because they are real and have profound consequences. Giorgio Sancristoforo believes in “sounds that have not yet been heard”. That’s the direction music has to go. It’s the overworldly.

My urgency was to create a strongly asymmetric music which was viscous, molten, non-local, etc. Hypermusic, in a word. I was obsessed by the idea of rhythmic patterns that could not be entrained to, but that gave the illusion that they were mentally conceivable, or predictable. So that your brain is actually tricking you into perceiving something slightly different than what your senses are receiving. It’s a bit like the concept of auditory chimera. We have the tools to create hypermusic today, we only need to develop a language. But I see contemporary music still relying too much on our individual-based synthetic idea of the world. But the world, to put it again in Morton’s words, the world has died. Musicians should acknowledge this death. But it doesn’t really seem to happen. A simple example is the basically omnipresence of divisive rhythms, with almost only 2 as a dividing factor, as compared to many alternative ways of conceptualizing rhythm. Why are some of the most fascinating rhythms relegated in a sort of limbo within ethnomusicology? Isn’t that just another form of racism? To use Giorgio’s words, I believe in rhythms that have not yet been heard, that build seamlessly between cultures and ethnicities, tools and paradigms, but also deal with the wake of AI-based art.

In general the western world has been producing and listening the same pop song since almost a century. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not being detrimental, I still love a well-crafted song and some of these songs are absolute masterpieces, but they are not addressing current cultural challenges. They are just variations on a romantic theme. Of course there are exceptions, but to my knowledge, very rare. Anyway, for those interested in probably one of the most alien things you’ll come across, we have our debut out this year, on Boring Machines.

Another pretty amazing sector where my son has influenced me is the huge comeback of classical music I’ve been having lately. He loves Vivaldi, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Chopin, etc. so I listen to a lot of that now. Almost all the time. Inevitably this influences the way I have been thinking about contemporary music very deeply. But I won’t go into that story, I’ve already said a lot.

Finally, my son brought me back to poetry, which I had left almost 20 years ago, after publishing two books. I have a new book coming up this year; a compilation, together with other musicians/writers (Aldo Becca, Claudio Rocchetti, to name a couple). These poems are my way of speaking to him. It’s our silent dialogue.

So you see: the birth of my son really had a huge impact. I have almost no time left for art, but my way of conceptualizing and performing it is now totally different. It’s coming from another place.

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Well, my friend, it’s hard to add something to this. Better try to slowly digest your words, and wait to listen to the results of your new dTHEd project.

But, getting back to the pictures, it seems that you wanted to show Cul de Sac’s “I Don’t Want to go to Bed”, that I don’t know at all, and Portishead “Dummy”, a very popular record that I never really loved, as I find it too depressing. It can be strange said by someone grew up with new wave, goth and industrial like me, but that specific album is too much for me, dunno why. Are these albums that you really love?

No, I didn’t want to show off those albums in particular. I just took shots of my record collection as it was, without any re-arrangement. My problem is that I don’t have any more space for stuff. Nor time. So I tend to leave records in odd positions. Especially if I have just listened to one of them, then I don’t diligently go and put it back in its original place as I should. I just leave it where I find a spot. All my stuff is on multiple layers, so once I reach something, I’m reluctant to put it back in the deepest layer, because maybe I’ll want to listen to it again soon. It’s a totally naive attitude, because in general it never happens that I listen to the same album on repeat, like when I was young. I think it’s more probable that I’ve been contaminated by the spirit of Mr Lazy…

A part from jokes, I think it’s also part of my growing up. When I was younger, I attached a lot of importance to my record collection. But the more it grew and the more I worked, the less time I had to actually enjoy it. Less time overall; less time per album. So now I attach almost no importance to my record collection, with the consequence that I leave stuff in the strangest of places (including the turntable itself, where some records have been lying for weeks, at times).

What can I say about those two particular records? Do I love them? Yes, immensely. But for completely different reasons. I think “Dummy” is one of the greatest records of all times and you should really give it another try. It’s just a timeless masterpiece.

“I don’t want to go to bed”, is not even close to being such a big record, but it was still one of the first records I bought that had this groovy/space/impro approach. Actually I had bought ECIM first. But the point is the same: I had never heard anything similar to those albums in my life. I was young and I had never listened to kraturock, nor any form of radical improvisation, so to my ears it was really a new form of crafting songs. In hindsight I can say that Cul De Sac were a great band, but they weren’t at all innovative nor did they change anything in music. Portishead, on the other side, changed a lot.

And that to me is the essence of what we could define as “important” art (if we can agree on this vague concept). You know, art that really changes the rules of the game it’s playing, in a way that no one coming after can ignore. Of course I am not necessarily implying that non-important art cannot be enjoyable, quite the contrary! Some of my favorite records of all time are not innovative at all. And indeed I’ve enjoyed Cul De Sac immensely in my life. They have some of the best tunes I’ve heard (the album with John Fahey is sublime). And I do put them on the stereo quite often… and that’s why that record is there!

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Fabio Ricci – also known as fr – is a self-taught musician with a passion for things done the wrong way. He defines himself a glitch-drummer. Currently his work explores perceptual limits (especially in the area of rhythm) and alternative sensorial processing. He is co-founder of the band vonneumann and is now starting the project dTHEd. He is clearly unable to write a decent biography.

von-neumann.bandcamp.com | vonneumann.net | dthed.net

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Fabio Ricci (centre) with his son and wife.

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