Satellite Symphonics (label)
19 May 2020 (released)
19 May 2020
Like the very concept of entropy itself, music continues to branch off in different chaotic tangents as time goes on. The most significant of these evolutionary branches in the last century is the introduction of the synthetic into music creation. No longer confined to the notes a physical being actively plays on an acoustic instrument, music was expanded in a myriad of ways, carving out countless new paths of expression. Yet when we think of operating in a digital world, we often think of programming. The act of setting up a set of occurrences to command the computer to carry out. These selections become more and more automated over the years to the point where, at the touch of a button, the system can produce for us a beat or a song. This programmed mode of operation leads to a bland and unimaginative procession of similar tunes.
However, when you speak to the true progenitors and stalwarts of synthesis, particularly those tied to the analog variety, you hear them speaking a very different tune. You hear talk of “capturing moments”, of wrangling wild, errant equipment, of getting to know the personality of an instrument, of eschewing any semblance of rigid song structure. These sonic explorers have figured out how to make machines come alive!
New York instrumental artist and synthesis expert Chris Ianuzzi has devoted his career to the exploration of free form electronic music whether through his own I, Synthesis project, scoring work on documentaries like HBO's "From the Earth to the Moon" series co-produced by Ron Howard and Tom Hanks, or his brain interface project, linking the mind to a synthesizer to directly create music from the brain without an intermediary. The latter was brilliantly demonstrated at the annual Moogfest in North Carolina; home of the Moog synthesizer.
Ianuzzi's latest EP in Olga in a Black Hole, a sprawling and mind-expanding journey through the pandemonium of the cosmos as translated through the ever-evolving world of analog synthesis. You can play a G chord on a guitar over and over and it will more or less sound the same but setting off a synthesizer yields wildly different results every time. We sat down with Chris to speak to the method behind the madness and find out what inspires him to create these sonispheres of wonder.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. Although most of us are in isolation with extra free time on our hands, it can still be a hectic period. I hope you and your loved ones are well.
Thank you. I am in isolation with family in The Poconos. I am working hard on New Music and learning new things about my equipment. I wish you the best and hope that all your loved ones are safe and well too!.
In March, you released the OLGA IN A BLACK HOLE EP, a 3-song selection from your upcoming album PLANETARIA. This marks a return for you from more traditionally formatted 'songs' back to a more soundscape based form of music.
What inspired you to return to a more free form method of creation?
It is something that I wanted to do for a while. I recently bought a modular synthesizer and wanted to really use it. I'm still working on it, I hope I will never stop :) I had experience in school with a modular. That was an ARP 2600 many years ago. I have learned so much about synthesis since then and I hope to always be learning. I saw some concerts where Suzanne Ciani and Morton Subotnick performed with Their Buchlas and that was very inspirational. I will still get back to making songs but I am really interested in opening new doors to find places to put them in.
You have been involved in the development of a neural interface that directly translates brain waves into audible sounds, ostensibly creating music directly from the mind. Can you elaborate on this process?
That form of making sounds and music is still just beginning to take shape. I have a headset that is affected by the ions being active in my brain or not being active. If a person is excited there is a lot of activity, if someone is in a meditative state, there is little activity. I worked on meditation to try to control it. The headset is connected via Bluetooth to a Eurorack module that translates the activity to control voltages or trigger signals. So, it was up to me to make a patch on the synthesizer that sounded like a "brain" would sound and would be playable by my brain activity. I did 2 workshops and a concert at Moogfest using this with Johnny Turpin, Johnny created a program and interface called Maxwell for controlling lasers. He lives in North Carolina, I live in NYC. We never met face to face until the day before we performed at Moogfest. We were told that we could send control signals to his laser system by connecting a cable from my Eurorack translator to his system and it would "magically" happen. We never had a chance to try it until the show and workshop! It was a fantastic time. We just plugged it in with the audience ready and it all worked!
Things never go like that. :)
It was amazing to see and hear. People came on stage to try out the headset, sound and visuals were projecting in the theatre. I was so happy that day, I was pretty tired too. :)
How did this project, translating synapses into music, influence your writing of music the old fashioned way?
Hmmm. I don't know if it influenced an old fashion way. It was very stream of consciousness.
I should quote Brian Eno when talking about a contemporary composer as a gardener, not an architect. :)
What are your thoughts on the merging of humans with technology? What are your hopes/trepidations?
I have been using technology with music for most of my life. I am always pushing the envelope in what can be done. I hope that we continue in a productive way and people can express themselves in new ways.
Trepidations: We have just come through the dark ages of music and technology where people were being fed a world of preset blunder. The Modular synthesizer has come back from being a forgotten art. People are making their own sounds again and experiencing individuality with technology and music. That is what attracted me to this stuff to begin with. I don't want to see it fall backwards again.
If it's not a tightly kept secret, what synthesizers do you like to use? What are your go-to pieces of gear?
I have a Eurorack modular that is mostly Make Noise items. I have a Voyetra 8 that is very unique. It has been in repair for almost a year. It is old, I love it, I hope it makes it back. It really blew up a year ago. It is in some of the material on Planeteria. It went through a total freak out while doing some recording on "Fork". About 2/3 of the way through the piece, there is a strange white noise in the background. That is the Voyetra's last breath. I had to keep it in there.
I found somebody that worked for the company that made them back in the '80s and he tried to see what he could do. It seemed like he was ready to finish up when NYC went into lockdown. So, it sits in a repair shop.
I also use Reaktor and various soft synths. They are getting better especially when recorded through analog preamps.
I just got a Hydrasynth and have a Moog Subharmonicon on order They will be used a lot on new material.
When artists write standard songs, some envision them first in their head then translate them to an instrument, others fumble around on their instrument till a viable idea comes through.
Both situations work for me. Sometimes, It's much more interesting to "fumble and find". Some of these instruments are alive and you want to listen to what they have to say.
I have learned to record everything and keep the computer in record mode, sometimes great things happen that may never come again.
With these complex soundscapes, do you find that you envision them first and then create them or do you start the process with a few base sounds and build from there?
You have been involved in various sound design projects including HBO's "From the Earth to the Moon" series co-produced by Ron Howard and Tom Hanks. Is the process similar to creating an album like OLGA, which is largely focussed around soundscapes?
There are similarities and I am always learning things. The Earth to the Moon thing that you mentioned was a "job " with a defined mission. That was done working with a team of people and I was working for someone in charge, sometimes multiple people in charge. Olga was just me working for myself. :)
The title track envisions the bizarre conditions near a black hole. What is the most compelling astronomical concept for you? Is there a particular bit of uncharted territory that fascinates you?
Yes, there are sounds that I made in the beginning of the piece that are kind of a "Bloooop Bloooop" I saw a documentary about Black Holes and scientists discovered a Black Hole listening for radio waves. They heard a "Bloooop Blooop" and that was a Black Hole. So, I made that sound with my modular.
I let my imagination run wild on that while thinking about Olga trapped inside a Black Hole. I made a journey in my head coming to a Black Hole in space, then going inside and diving deeper to find Olga. :) Now, I think I'm nuts. :0
With a large section of the world in isolation, placed in a situation where they are naturally led to be more pensive, do you think this will be a moment for ambient artists?
I think about a peaceful expression being needed but that is not what's coming out of me right now. Living through NYC and the horror of it in this condition is not giving me a sense of peace in music. Hopefully, that will change and an ambient peace will be there. Think of Kraut Rock coming from musicians in Germany after the Second World War. It was such an influential time. A renaissance and a peaceful meditative place.
Big thanks to Chris Ianuzzi for taking the time to chat. You can hear his latest EP, Olga in a Black Hole, on all major streaming platforms.