Alessandro Cortini

Alessandro Cortini 3109c - Credit Emilie Elizabeth
Alessandro Cortini photograph by Emilie Elizabeth

When Mute first suggested I start a written project based on the STUMM433 boxset, their suggestion was that I aim to interview everyone who contributed a piece, everyone who worked on the box, everyone who designed an image, current Mute employees, former Mute employees, and those Mute artists that didn’t contribute a version of John Cage’s 4’33”.

I hadn’t perhaps appreciated the audaciousness of the suggestion, which, as I now I reflect on its scale and almost certain impossibility, has a certain Cage-iness about it.

Alessandro Cortini released his first album for Mute, Volume Massimo, in 2019, long after STUMM433 had been completed, but, as the next artist to join the label after K Á R Y Y N, if he’d recorded a version, it could have been track number 59 on the album.

Recorded: n/a
Place: n/a
Interview: September 18 2019

I’m familiar with 4’33”, but I never really thought of it as a piece in itself. I always saw it as more of an exercise.

I love the philosophy behind it because it’s so open-ended. And while I think it’s very interesting to see everyone’s take on something like that, I haven’t spent too much time thinking what I would do if I performed it. It would probably require some research and some thinking about how the set of instructions would influence me, in a way where I feel like I’m following them, but at the same time where I’m not enslaved to them.

What I like is that it definitely puts the player in a situation of over-sensitive listening, almost an amplified listening to what you do. It’s somewhat unnatural when it comes to performing, and so I think, once you’ve encountered the piece, it brings out an approach to playing that’s unlike any other. It makes musicians realise the importance of silence and also how their instruments, when not played in a conventional way, could be part of that silence in one way or another.

Where do you go when you want silence?

I think that the silence that I look for, and that I struggle to find at times, is more of an internal silence.

It’s a silence that, to a certain extent, is independent from audio silence. It’s almost a mindstate that is actually sometimes aided by having a certain amount of sound to accompany you on that journey.

Sonic silence is interesting but it’s almost a by-product, in a way. What I’m looking for is my own internal silence where I can listen to myself and what I actually have to say – it’s a place where I can feel at ease with who I am, and feel excited about being on this planet and having a life to live, and finding a way to live it in a productive way.

Meditation is very helpful to me. It’s funny because the more I know it’s good for me, the less I do it. There’s almost a part of me that is fighting it. It’s kinda crazy when you think about it, because you almost have part of the solution in front of you, but you ignore it because you know that it’s going to change you. This is all subconscious – I don’t think about it, and that’s why I force myself to meditate twice a day, but it’s good. I love meditating. I’ve started it. It came from an audiobook by David Lynch called Catching The Big Fish, and that’s how I got into it.

The way that Lynch relates meditation to creativity really sparked an interest in me, and then I took a course in transcendental meditation. I think any kind of meditation that works for someone is the right kind of meditation, but for me, that’s what pulled me in, and that’s what I practice. And that, along with suggestions from Steve Vai, reading Eckhart Tolle books – those were very revelatory about the now, and and how past and future are just fabrications of our mind: they don’t exist. They’re just a way to worry about things that are not important, not in an irresponsible way, but everything is about what you’re doing right now and how you’re feeling right now. The past you can’t do anything about, and it shouldn’t be influencing your present in a negative way, and the future you’ll never know. The best way to manufacture your future is by living in the now. And to me silence is that. Silence is the ability of just living in the now, in a way, not having everyday life or your own emotional baggage to get in the way of every single step of your day.

Going to a specific place to get silence is beautiful. I love that, but what is silence doing to you if you, in the end reach a place of sonic silence but inside of you there’s a constant set of voices telling you to to fuck off? Silence, and what it might do to me, is a very personal thing. All that going to a particular place to find sonic silence might do to me is make it even more obvious to me that it’s an issue.

Interview: Mat Smith

Related:

Clash interview: Alessandro Cortini (2019)
Daniel Avery / Alessandro Cortini – Illusion Of Time (review)

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence

55: Josh Hager (ShadowParty)

Recorded: September 8 2018, 1230
Place: Portmeirion Town Hall, Festival No. 6
Interview: November 8 2019

I think 4’33” is really interesting. It’s a great concept. It’s very Dada, very Duchamp. It could be interpreted as really deep or really pretentious. It depends on how you look at it. And that’s the beauty of it – the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Or the listener.

Mute approached ShadowParty to perform a version of it and we did it very quickly. We were playing the No. Six Festival in Portmeirion, North Wales. And they said, ‘Oh by the way we’re doing this 4’33” thing,’ so we recorded it there. We were onboard, but at first it was like, ‘Ah jeez, this is pretentious.’ We were like, ‘Well, we’d rather have you release our next single…’ But Daniel Miller and those guys, they’re having fun with it, I think. I think it’s maybe not to be taken too seriously.

Nick McCabe wasn’t there when we recorded it, Jeff Friedl also wasn’t there and Denise Johnson was out with ACR at that time. We were very fidgety while we were performing it. We did it during soundcheck so we were like, ‘Oh we’ve got to get this over with. We’re short on time for soundcheck.’ It was one of those where we had the whole string section and Joe Duddell up on stage, and everybody was just kind of standing there trying not to fidget, you know. We couldn’t keep ourselves from giggling. That was the hardest part.

There’s someone coughing on our version. That was somebody who came in early and was sat in the audience. It might have been a friend of the manager or somebody. I can’t remember if they let him know what we were doing or not.

Doing nothing for four and a half minutes isn’t a long time if you’re used to meditating, or anything like that. I did a lot of teaching martial arts and stuff like that in the past, so for me patience is a virtue.

I work on ambient music with a guy in New Hampshire called Scott Dakota. We do a lot of brainwave entrainment ambient music, which involves a lot of mathematics. It’s a program that’s a model of the golden ratio, where you can pipe in mathematics to calculate, say, rhythm, melody, combinations that make certain timbres, length, and silence. They’re also binaural, that is they’re offset left ear to right ear so they trick your cerebral cortex a little, vibrating at, say, theta. So it induces trance states, just from putting the headphones on or listening to it. The pieces are usually forty, sometime one hundred and twenty minutes long, so for me four and a half minutes – I’m like, that’s the single edit.

I love experiments. I mean, Devo’s very much into the Dadaist movement. We just did a show out in California a couple of weeks ago where we needed the sun to go down so that our screens would work. So while the sun was setting they decided to show a half-hour mockumentary on the music business, and everybody was just freaking out, pissed off, like ‘What are they doing?’ And Jerry’s just sitting there laughing, ‘It’s so Dada.’ He’s like, ‘The beards are the new squares, man, and they’re getting all pissed off – that’s so weird.’

Where do you go when you want silence?

I would say in my car. Driving, you know. I mean, it’s not complete silence, but it’s close. I listen to a lot of ambient music while I’m driving, but not the stuff I make with Scott. You probably shouldn’t listen to that in that car. I listen to Brian Eno instead.

Music and silence can really change your whole perception of where you are, and your mood. I mean, you put on King Tubby and it’s a totally different vibe to listening to Joy Division. That changes the whole atmosphere.

It’s a funny story. I used to have this loft in Downtown LA, and I had just moved there and it was completely empty, with a bright blue floor, white ceiling, white walls and everything. I set up this little patch of fake grass, a tent and a fake log fire, and I had this one record called The Magic Of Psychoacoustic Sound, and on one side it was a field, an English meadow, and on the flip side were crickets. So during the day I would have it on the English meadow side – you know, with birds and things like that – and then at night I’d flip it over. I did that until I could afford furniture. I still put it on all the time. I always thought of those sorts of records as the music of the future, where the ego, the big rock star egos and guitar solos are kind of gone, and it’s more about the communal sound or mood.

One of the entrainment experiments Scott and I do is concerned with repetition as a form of change. We’ll do something that has, say, a drone that’s tuned to a pitch that probably isn’t a Western pitch. We’ll have that drone just roll over and over, and what happens over time is that it’s so boring that your brain finds ways to make it interesting. And it’ll start changing, and that’s why these pieces are so long – your brain is part of the thing that’s making the music, the way it’s interpreting the redundancy of it.

There’s a book I have called The Hidden Messages In Water by a Japanese scientist, Masaru Emoto. He would project what are called cymatics, which is where you take a steel plate and you put salt on it, and you pump frequency through it – just pure frequency – and it’ll make these mandalas, these different shapes for different frequencies. Sound does that with water and of course you’re made up of 90% water, so the way that sound affects you on a molecular level can be healing, but it can also be used for sonic weapons like Americans do with crowd control.

The Hidden Messages In Water ties into ShadowParty, actually. There’s a song on the record called ‘The Valley’, that was the first song that Tom Chapman and I ever did, and in the middle you hear Tom talking. He went, ‘What do I say?’ and I go, ‘Here,’ and he just picked up that book, and he reads the title of it on the track. I only just remembered that.

Interview: Mat Smith

Thanks to Tyson.

Related:

The Fantastic Plastics – Malfunction (review)

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence

23: Moby

Recorded: September 2018
Place: Los Angeles
Interview: November 14 2019

How did you approach your performance of 4’33”?

In a way I wanted to go in the opposite direction from the original 4’33”. Rather than create silence I created as many notes as possible. And I made it in my studio in LA. It was just me and a bunch of instruments.

Had you ever thought about performing 4’33” before?

No, this was ‘written’ for the Mute project.

Did you know much about Cage?

I mainly knew of him as a mycologist, which I thought was interesting, as I’d never heard of a public figure mycologist before…

I know that you’re into meditation, as was Cage through his interest in Zen. How important is meditation to you in your life?

Meditation can be almost anything, from calm repose to focus. I guess, broadly speaking, meditation is putting your attention somewhere it might not otherwise go.

Eating a nice orange and really paying attention to it is a powerful form of meditation, for example.

Where do you go when you want silence?

Either my house or the mountains. My house has really good sound insulation, and the mountains are the mountains.

Interview: Mat Smith
Thanks to SC.

Related:

Moby – Move (review)
Voodoo Child – The End Of Everything (review)

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence

39 & 48: James Chapman (Maps & onDeadWaves)

Maps (Milton Keynes Gallery, June 1 2019)

Maps version recorded: August 18 2018
Place: Maps HQ, Finedon, Northamptonshire
onDeadWaves version recorded: August 16 2018
Place: ODW car, Beacon Hill lay-by, Herne Bay
Interview: Maps HQ, April 8 2019

I was really honoured to be a part of it. I just thought it was such a cool idea. I recorded one version as Maps and then Polly Scattergood and I did one as onDeadWaves as well.

I recorded mine upstairs in my studio. I set up all my mics and then just sat there. It sounds weird but you do hear sounds that you just wouldn’t normally notice. And I guess, in a way, it made me think I should probably just sit and listen like that a bit more. I always feel like I should be doing something.

It was an interesting experience to just sit there for that amount of time. When you say, “four minutes and thirty-three seconds”, it doesn’t sound like a long time, but you don’t normally just sit for that long in silence. It’s a kind of meditation in a way. It’s a bit like if you do visualisations. It’s like the last thing I would want to do, but when I have done it, it’s really powerful. I love that.

On my version there’s a sort of clicking sound, which is the breeze coming through the blinds in the studio. At times it sounds like water, but it wasn’t raining that day. I mean, there’s all sorts of noises in my house. I heard things that I’ve never heard here before. I think the longer you sit in silence, the louder and louder those sounds become. It’s like the ticking of a clock that you might never notice but which seems to become really loud when you focus on it.

It’s interesting to listen to what people think they hear in these pieces. You’re creating a visual picture of where you think they were when they recorded it, and that could just be complete nonsense.

For the onDeadWaves version, I drove down to Herne Bay where Polly lives. We attempted to do it on the first day, but all of a sudden there was a massive thunderstorm. The idea was to go to the beach and record it there. We thought it would be lovely and that the sun would be shining, but the day we did it we literally couldn’t get out of the car because the wind and the rain was so bad.

So we waited and waited. Eventually we found a kind of lay-by and just sat in the car there. You can hear the odd car going by and seagulls and things like that because we were by the coast.

I tried to follow the instructions for the piece as best I could. For the Maps version, I held my guitar, which was was plugged in. Occasionally you can hear a little pinging sound from me holding that. Basically, I set everything up as if I was going to play something, and then just sat there. I guess it’s counterintuitive to what you’re used to doing but I think that’s part of it: you’re just sitting, maybe in a place you’re not comfortable with, and getting a different perspective on things. I could hear the hard-drive on my desk really clearly, which I don’t normally notice – it seemed so loud that day. I thought that was the only thing people were going to hear.

For onDeadWaves, Polly brought her Stylophone and I had a little dulcimer. I played the dulcimer on the new Maps album, Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss. There’s quite a bit of dulcimer on the track ‘You Exist In Everything’.

Where do you go when you want silence?

Sometimes, even though my house itself is usually silent, my head can not be, so I go out for a walk. There’s lots of nice places quite close to me, and you can even get to fields if you try. I love going out for country walks. That’s the kind of silence I like.

I always used to be attached to my iPod – like properly attached. I literally couldn’t leave my house without headphones on, but nowadays I like leaving my music at home when I go out for a walk. I’m listening to music all day. I think sometimes you’ve got to tune out for a bit.

Interview & bad concert photography: Mat Smith

Related:

Clash interview: Maps (2019)

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence