Interview with Giacomo Baldelli (November 2018)
Thanks for having me back!
NIDRA is a show for electric guitar and video that I produced with amazing OOOPStudio – the Italian videomakers Alessandro Grisendi and Marco Noviello – back in 2015. I wrote a brief script and chose the main core of the music (Electric Counterpoint by Steve Reich, Vampyr! by Tristan Murail, Another Possibility by Christian Wolff, my version of Dream by John Cage, Trash TV Trance by Fausto Romitelli), and OOOPStudio developed several short movies tailored on these works. We’ve been touring this project around the US and Europe since then. The hardest part of it – besides performing such challenging music – is to make eveybody understand that it’s not a “concert with video” or a “video installation featuring live music”, but here electric guitar and video have the same importance. NIDRA is made by these two components interacting together.
It was great to be back in Venice! Just the other day I realized how strong my connection with this city is. Besides having some of my best friends there, I have a bunch of beautiful “ musical memories” related to Venice; my first Biennale Musica back in 2010 performing music by Riccardo Nova with Icarus Ensemble and the workshop that I taught at the Cini Foundation in 2016 about the music for electric guitar by Fausto Romitelli.
Performing NIDRA at Biennale Musica 2018 was an honour. Everything worked out perrfectly and I was amazed by the audience. Such a big crowd for Sunday night 11pm concert!
The selection process of the music for Electric Creatures was long and winding (…). I changed my plans multiple times. I questioned myself almost everyday about the direction to take. It took me more than a year to have the final tracklist. I can say that in the beginning the album was supposed to be more “traditional”: a collection of American music for electric guitar. Later I realized that it didn’t make any sense. There are already tons of albums conceived like that.
I wanted to make an album of “contemporary/new/avantgarde” music that could mix together complexity and accessibility. From my point of view Electric Creatures combines musical depht and, let’s say, the way of “delivering the message” typical of popular music.
Thank you very much! Well, I would say ambient music is one of my main inspiration these days. One of the albums that I was listening the most while I was working on EC was Thursday Afternoon by Brian Eno. So yes, we can definitely connect my version of Until it Blazes to that kind of music. My version is the result of hours of work and talk with Eve (Beglarian), who explained to me the idea of the piece and what she wanted to have from my recording. At the same time though, she always let me free of making my own decisions, trusting my point of view. I believe that one day she said something like” think of me as your Brian Eno and you are Bono”: for those who have a little knowledge about rock music history the message is loud and clear. The large part of the credit for the liquid sound you mentioned also has to be taken by Alessandro Grisendi who mixed the album. He was great to develop my ideas of sound into something real.
I would also like to say that Until it Blazes inspired the creation of a little track. It’s the track that opens the album. I was lucky enough to have Kate Soper – singer-composer, 2017 Pulitzer Prize Finalist – working with me on that. She’s the best.
I loved “Grab It!” by Jacob TV too, how did you choose it? Is it true that this piece was originally composed for saxophone?
Yes, it’s true. The piece was composed for saxophone and boombox track – as the composer likes to call it -. I honestly don’t like the original version.
One day I was watching guitar videos on Youtube and I found – literally by accident – the Kevin Gallagher version for electric guitar. That really blew my mind. It was the turning point for the album production. Also I find the social meaning of it – celebrating life through the words of prisoners sentenced to death – extremely deep.
That’s when I thought: “Ok, no more just American music, no more just brand new music, no more music that speaks only to itself or to musicians with an Academic degree”.
I wanted to make an album of music I liked. Period. I don’t know how to explain it, but I felt better, confident of what I was doing. I finally had the chance of making an album that really represents who I am as a musician and as a performer.
Grab It! is a avantgarde hip-hop/rock extravaganza. It’s the sound that you can hear on the streets, on the subway here in New York City. It’s contemporary/classical music but at the same time it’s not.
Very difficult question. I think we should try to clarify what we mean when we talk about contemporary music first. So let’s put it this way:
- Does it make sense to write new music? Yes, absolutely.
- Does it make sense to call “contemporary” music written 60 year ago? I don’t think so.
- Does it make sense to write music with the same style of music written 30/40 years ago? Yes, if you want to do so. I honestly think it doesn’t make any sense, but it’s just my opinion.
- Do only performers and composers with a degree and an academic background have the right to call themselves musicians of new/contemporary/experimental/avantgarde/whatever music? No, absolutely not. And it’s time to stop with this thing. But I’m not saying that everybody can do everything. You have to work hard, study, practice. But it’s not a degree that changes what you can give to music to move forward.
All this being said, I believe it’s also time to consider the electric guitar for what it is: a powerful resource of sounds possibilities, not just an icon of rock music. Yes, of course, the instrument was developed far away from the classical/traditional music environment, but it’s time to consider its potentiality more than just its history. Composers should be more and more aware of what they can get from it. They should study how it works, how to set up sounds,etc. Still sometimes it seems that the electric guitar is featured in a piece just because it’s cool to have a “rock” instrument in it.
You went to live New York, Queens, how is the situation in the United States today? Is New York still one of the centers of maximum world creativity?
Being a performer, I’m still grateful to live where I live. Besides all the issues that you can find in a big city like this – and I’m not just talking about the music environment – New York is still an amazing center of creativity. A city where you can constantly share ideas and develop new projects. I’ve learned a lot since I moved here back in 2014 and I’m still learning. I can say that Electric Creatures wouldn’t be the album it is if I didn’t live in this city.
Another hard question. A mistake is a mistake, and there’s nothing else to say about it. Nowadays the performance practice for new music has reached such a high level that you can’t “cheat” anymore. You know what I mean. There are no alibis, things like “the audience would never notice that” or “not even the composer would notice that”.
This doesn’t mean that who writes music can do whatever they want because we’ve all become superheroes. There should be still an understanding of the possibilities of the instrument together with the human possibilities of the performer.
At the same time though, new music is made of multiple layers where, sometimes – not always, just sometimes – a mistaken note can be less important that the intensity of the performance.
My focus now is on Electric Creatures, totally. In a world like ours where most of the time the performer fights to premiere more and more new music, I decided to tour the same music for at least two years instead. That’s why NIDRA will be put on hold for a bit and I’ll try to tour the album around the US and Europe as much as I can. Of course, if something interesting shows up on the way I can always change my mind, but this is the plan now.