INTERVIEW: GIUSEPPE IELASI: TOKAFI (2012)
Giuseppe Ielasi doesn’t feel the need to bring the attention of mainstream audiences to his work, he doesn’t even like to title his work a lot of the time. Perhaps it is a desire to leave the music unseen, to embody the philosophy of his long-term fascination with musique concrète. Or perhaps he simply wants to let the music speak for itself. Ielasi’s laissez-faire attitude towards career peripheries and defining his work within the industry is a result of his intense and uncompromised focus on one thing: the music itself. He doesn’t wonder how to sell more records. All he cares about is the delicate relationship between sound and silence and giving it shape beyond existing limits. Ielasi lives in Milan, and has since his teens. Learning the guitar was his first step into the world of music and from there he was attracted towards improv, instigating and nurturing a local scene for the music he loved. Ielasi eventually left improvisation behind for a more controlled technique. The experimental and freeing element of improvisation would be a starting point, but he would move onto something much deeper and more contrived. Ielasi insists he is not trying to be intellectual about his work. He is simply making music that he likes and that comes from within his own mind and realm of experience. However, the detail, technique and skill that goes into Ielasi’s music is far from simplistic, either musically or intellectually. On the contrary, Ielasi’s music is a complex equation of beats, landscapes and ideas where he explores fully, the potential of space within sound. Ielasi writes auricular novels. Mellifluous and harmonious, jarring and hypnotic, his records cannot be pigeonholed or ignored. You could say his albums are like hip-hop’s more intelligent younger brother, but that would be missing the point. He’s not trying to be clever about it, he’s just doing what comes naturally and resourcing the music he knows best. His creations reflect those choices and the inherent tones and sounds that come with those genres. Not keen to wax lyrical about his work or talent he quotes a friend who said ‘music is an experience, as any other’. Ielasi lets his love for music lead him on his journey. And he doesn’t care if anyone is listening.
Hi! How are you? Where are you?
I'm very well thanks. I'm in Oreno, a small village not far from Milano, direction countryside. That's where I've been living for ten years or so, apart from two years beween France and Germany.
What’s on your schedule right now?
Mostly studio work: new recordings for future releases, and lots of mixing and mastering jobs for other people. That's what takes up most of my time. Also a few concerts, some with Bellows (my duo with Nicola Ratti) and a couple of solos.
How would you describe and rate the music scene of the city you are currently living in?
I have to say I don't have any specific professional reasons to live in the Milan area. I mainly play outside Italy, and all of the mastering jobs happen through the net. But my family and friends are here, and I'm not sure I could live North of the Alps. Anyway, the scene has grown a lot in the last years, with various labels (Presto, Die-Schachtel, Hundebiss, Holidays, Alga Marghen and more) and musicians (who often tend to organise small scale gigs in various venues). I work quite isolated anyway, apart from the Bellows project and a few collaborations, but I enjoy meeting those people and seeing as many concerts as I can.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I started as a free-improvising guitarist, when I was sixteen. Free-jazz and improvised music were my main interests at the time (besides hardcore punk, which I've never played though). And then musique concrète, various aspects of contemporary classical music and electronic music (including hip-hop and techno) opened my mind more. I had to quit the improvised music scene and to start developing my own material. My first solo record was released in 2003.
What do you personally consider to be the incisive moments in your artistic work and/or career?
I really don't think in this terms. It's a slow evolution, which will hopefully continue in the future, and it's mainly driven by very personal reasons. As a really wonderful composer once told me, every record or concert is just "an experience, as any other".
What are currently your main compositional- and production-challenges?
Every recorded project has a life of its own: I decide on a process, the techniques to use, etc … When it's finished, it's usually forgotten. So production and composition techniques change all the time. At the moment, I try to detach myself from the computer more and more - but it's still my main mixing tool.
What do you usually start with when working on a new piece?
Mostly with a decision on a method to follow to produce rough sound materials, sometimes with a goal in mind, other times just to explore possibilities.
How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
I quit the improvised music scene (there are exceptions of course) or improvised music as a 'music genre' but improvisation is still my main methodology, in the studio (usually within a certain framework of processes) and in concert. My mind is not able to structure things in advance: I only take simple decisions about starting points and then work very intuitively, improvising, recording, and composing using the recorded improvisations as rough materials.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and composition?
I think sound is quite close to sculpture, in the way it defines and modifies real and virtual spaces. And I'd love to hear more music not sounding so flat and 'in the box' as in most music productions today.
Do you feel it important that an audience is able to deduct the processes and ideas behind a work purely on the basis of the music? If so, how do you make them transparent?
I think it's not important, at least in my case. That also means I'm not interested in making them transparent. And record sleeves (of my solo releases) almost never contain any technical detail or liner notes. I tend to avoid titles too.
There seem to be two fundamental tendencies in music today: On the one hand, a move towards complete virtualisation, where tracks and albums are merely released as digital files. And, on the other, an even closer union between music, artwork, packaging and physical presentation. Where do you stand between these poles?
Both approaches are entirely valid. If the music is honest and original I don't care if it's just a file or a beautifully presented vinyl record. That said, I grew up with records and I enjoy the process of designing, manufacturing and releasing them.
The role of an artist is always subject to change. What's your view on the (e.g. political/social/creative) tasks of artists today and how do you try to meet these goals in your work?
I know this will appear very simplistic, but I think that choosing to work within a non-mainstream system, self-releasing records (or releasing them on like-minded labels), playing low budget concerts is a choice that has very strong social implications. I'm not interested in using the word 'artist'. What we do has much more to do with small scale economy, sustainability and the necessity to remain an independent individual.
Music-sharing sites and -blogs as well as a flood of releases in general are presenting both listeners and artists with challenging questions. What's your view on the value of music today?
I have no problems at all with blogs sharing my music. That's how it is and I can only hope that listeners actually listen to the music they download. And I don't see any problems with the incredible amount of music being released every week either. If people want to release their music, I'm not going to argue. I'm glad it's so easy to do it. Information (and sound samples for everything) are easily accessible, and it just takes a bit of time to navigate in this ocean. The value of music can be close to zero or immense (that would be my case, as I'm either working on music or listening to records when I'm not sleeping).
How, would you say, could non-mainstream forms of music reach wider audiences?
Do we really need to reach wider audiences ? I play, record and release music. It's all easily accessible if you're curious enough. I'm not trying to hide or saying that I want to stay 'underground', but I think that listeners should be curious, adventurous and should look for the music themselves (musicians looking for an audience are not that interesting).
Please recommend two artists to our readers which you feel deserve their attention.
Sure! Jakob Ullmann is the greatest composer alive. There's a new triple-cd out now on Edition RZ, and it's enormous. Then I would say Alessandro Brivio. We released his two records on Senufo Editions, and I think they are truly original and unique. I hope to be able to convince him to record more.
Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
I really don't have one. And I don't care for the idea of a "magnum opus". As said before, every record or concerts is an experience, a small and personal one, for me and for the audience. Making music is a big part of my life and I'm lucky enough to be able to survive doing what I like. That's enough.
Intro by Lara Corey
Picture by Armin Linke