Loose Lips

EDITOR'S PICK: Eraldo Bernocchi interview

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EDITOR'S PICK: Eraldo Bernocchi interview

We hereby launch our Editors’ Pick Series, where each week one of our editors will select a favourite piece from the last two years. To kick it off, Matthew offers a throwback to this Eraldo Bernocchi interview...

On a mellow Tuesday afternoon in The Coach & Horses, Stoke Newington, Loose Lips met up with Eraldo Bernocchi for an engaging chat about old and new. Musician, producer and sound sculptor, Eraldo was the founding member of the experimental project Sigillum S, and has since then collaborated with many prestigious artists. He is also known for scoring movie soundtracks for the Academy award winner Gabriele Salvatores, and founding London based RareNoise Records in 2008.

Thank you for joining us, it’s a pleasure to chat with you! Could you tell us a bit of your background and influences for people who don’t know you well?

I started as a punk and metal guitar player back in 1977 when I was a teenager. I moved into more experimental music - I was into Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Temple, All The Crowd Rock, Neu - all that scene, music that was linked to the improvising style. After that, I jumped from the industrial noise cliff and I landed with the project that is still ongoing, Sigillum S. That has been going a long time - 30 years of activity. For Sigillum S, it was our dream to be a cultural hub where people could interact with what was happening, on stage and beyond the stage. All this is still ongoing really, what we may call the Post-industrial scene. 

Later on, I was also influenced by Psychic TV, Coil, Solid Rictors, Skullflower and Rumley who are from London - we played together two days ago. That has been my culture, where I really found the most interesting people. Then I decided I wanted to become a professional – which was a big gamble with this style of music. My wife (who is a video artist and graphic designer) and I contacted Bill Laswell because we liked the concept of an open family of creative people who were working on different projects. Bill said he really liked what I was doing, and we started working together. He was the one who really opened a lot of doors for me, putting together projects and using contacts, and it was a reciprocal relationship. I’m still working with Bill and we have a couple of projects for next year. As my name started to grow, I dared to contact bigger names, people like Harold Budd, Thomas Fehlmann (from The Orb) - names that for me were legendary. It’s difficult to summarise myself, like when people ask me what kind of music I do… I don’t know how to answer!

When Sigillum S started, was the appreciation and growth local or international?

We played many times in Italy, but the reactions of most people (except for the dedicated audience members) was like ‘what is happening? This stuff is crap! It’s just noise!’ A couple of clubs hated us because we blew up the PAs which was funny! This was back in the mid 80s, and we had a lot of interest immediately abroad.  Think about that: nowadays, no one really sells records anymore, everyone is illegally downloading. Back then I was duplicating tapes at home, cassettes, we didn’t even have a 7inch or vinyl out. We did more than 600 copies on cassette for the first 3 tapes, everything was going out in mail order and we had to photocopy stuff.

What was the geographical location of the early interest and sales?

The orders were mainly coming from England, Germany, USA, Japan - Japan is a weird and great place, they have always been into a certain types of experimental and extreme music. Also, some sales were coming from France, Italy, Belgium and Spain. After the Soviet Union ended that area really opened to our kind of music as well.

Can you track the evolution of Sigillum S? How has it changed from then to now?

We explored a different theme for each of our outputs: harsh noise, ritual music, death ambient music, fucked up word music, dub - bordering on lots of different styles. Sigillum S is really a weird creature, I don’t know how to describe it!

You’ve had different aliases and different projects. Is that because of the diversity of your music? Or for marketing purposes?

No, not marketing, I had no idea what marketing was - if I did I would probably be financially happier! I never really compromise. I just follow my feelings without thinking about the consequences. Some stuff I still listen to and I like it, other stuff I don’t like, especially when there’s so much variety - I have Obake, my experimental band, and I’m doing Neofolk with Tony Wakeford - I just can’t stop exploring. I love to explore all the possibilities of sounds, even before music, just exploring sound. That’s why I go wild for things like synthesizers, the idea of reprocessing sounds. It’s the material sounds give you, it gives infinite possibilities.

Is it your love for sound that has led you to explore extreme sounds? Your music is diverse, but in a lot of your music you seem to be attracted to what we might call intense sound.

I think those sounds (extreme and intense) are a consequence of the way I see creativity, communication and the people surrounding me. I can very rarely cope with the grey areas; it’s black or white, it’s red like a monster sunset, red like a nuclear weapon. I can do ambient music - a record with Harold Budd - I can do a record super harsh and noisy, but what I need first of all is emotion, super strong emotions. Usually, the strongest emotions you feel in your life are rage and sadness, misery and hate. I’m always balancing these things. In the middle there’s sometimes a different colour or emotion I’m able to handle, but most of the time they are slipping through my fingers like sand. That’s why most of the time my tracks are overwhelming; I need to be overwhelmed by emotions, something that carries with it images or that gives emotion - for me that’s super important.

Maybe this relates to common frustrations of the current music scene, where people are sometimes scared to go beyond the middle ground, sometimes music lacks genuine emotion?

I played with many jazz musicians, most of them are extreme musicians. Like trumpet player Toshinori Kondo, the Japanese trumpet player - he’s an extreme musician, capable of intense and melancholic music like I have never heard, a noise machine. Or free jazz player Peter Brotzmann, and other people like this… extreme musicians. When you work with Laswell he never compromises on anything; you like it or don’t like it but you never compromise.

You’ve mentioned a lot of collaborations already, do you find you enjoy collaboration work more than solo work? How do they compare?

I hate working on my own, it’s always the same - I mean, I don’t really hate it as I do it very often. Me and my partner work by ourselves to be quicker, on parallel paths, so it’s obviously good for some situations. But I get bored, I like to interact with people, even if they say ‘it could be better’. One of the reasons me and Petulia are still together after 25 years is that when she listens to something I do, if she doesn’t like it, she’s really clear and honest - and sometimes you need that. I try to do that myself, to be critical of my own work. I mean 90% of the stuff I make I never use; you are enthusiastic for two hours and then you listen to it a week later and you’re like, ‘what is this, it’s bad!’

For successful collaboration, do you need the physical presence of being in the same room as someone? How does this compare to working over email?

Both can work. If I can choose, I prefer the same room, maybe the same restaurant with some good wine and talking about good things, not even talking about music, talking about whatever. I prefer to be in the same place but I can easily work from a distance. The album I did with Prukashi, the Indian guitar player, was over the web.

Do you have any comments or thoughts on London? Why did you move here?

First time I came here was in 86, a long time ago and things were different. I remember that first summer I was super lucky to arrive in London and the first two evenings I got to see were Psychic TV and Deadcan Dancer. I bought a human skull in Camden market, from a guy sitting on the sidewalk selling them for £10. I was thinking it must be a fake but then I noticed it was real! Anyhow, it was confiscated when I was coming back to England from Calais after a holiday. It was a very bizarre situation; being questioned at 3am while it was raining, considering why a person would buy a human skull! I have been to England many times. My wife and I took the decision to move here when we became parents. I like my country but this is where I want to be in my current situation because it benefits both my family and my music.

Can you tell us about your London based label, RareNoise?

In 2007-2008 I started speaking to Giacomo Bruzzo; he was buying a lot of my records online and I asked him ‘why do you buy multiple records every time? Do you have shop or something?’ He said no and that he keeps one copy and gives the rest away to friends so they can discover great music! Then he contacted me to do a documentary on Toshinori Kondo and Bill Laswell and I thought, yeah why not. We slowly became friends; Giacomo is an amazing guy, one of the brightest minds I have ever met, he is a non-stop talker, a non-stop conjurer with loads of ideas. At a certain point he came to me and asked if I was interested in us doing a label together. I liked the idea, I had a small label with my wife, Verba Collager, but one thing I wanted to avoid was that RareNoise became my personal output. RareNoise has slowly but steadily grown and has now become a reference point.

With RareNoise, we are trying to be transversal, putting out the music we like, with the artists we like - a place where people can interact. The releases are formed by various artists. It’s not commercial but we think we are succeeding. We are growing and sales are increasing. We have a fan base that is slowly growing. I think we have had around 38 releases so far. Giacomo and I have different preferences and influences; it’s a mixture of two minds, and both are extreme! 

Can you talk about the influence of Dub music and Dubstep in your work?

I had no idea which records were considered Dubstep. This new project with Leon, maybe it’s more cinematic and sound-track orientated rather than Dubstep, but there’s a lot of groove and energy there. Maybe the stuff with Blackfin or Mick Harris is considered as Dubstep but it was not something I was consciously thinking about. I like a lot of electronic music, dub related and minimal techno: M Serious, Axis, Jeff Mills, Surgeon. These Dub basslines in my work are interesting when they have been applied to something else. I really don’t know when it started, but Dubstep is a really interesting thing.

With artists like Skrillex, Dubstep seems to have become commercial and lost its original bearings. What do you think about the expansion of Dubstep in the modern scene?

It’s quite typical. You need to have somebody that is in the right moment with the right music, but most of the time you have somebody who has the right music and sound in the wrong moment. It’s a weird mechanics, sometimes we as musicians have to face it, and very often it’s frustrating, but at the end of the day, if you like what you do then who cares? If you try to become successful because of the hype of the moment you will never succeed. I consider myself successful because I can live off my music; for me that’s the biggest success someone can achieve. For me being successful is not about being in the charts but being able to pay my bills, moving to London, selling records without compromising my music.

I have had massive help from my wife. Before music I worked for a company, working 9 until 9, then I’d bolt myself in my little studio under the roof, messing with music until 5am. My wife really supported me until I was able to support myself, and for years I just never stopped making music. In the last couple of years I have slowed down a little for my daughter, but now I’m in London it’s picking up again.

What are your thoughts on streaming and the music industry generally?

The music industry as I knew it, growing up, is older. Think about this, the first Sigillum S CD we did has been reprinted 4 times, 12,000 copies… it’s incredible that now you really struggle to sell copies of a record, it takes a long time now. The music industry as I knew it is done, it will never come back. Downloading is an interesting option. I have some of my stuff on Bandcamp and I really like it, it’s a good platform and the future of music. They earn money, but that’s ok because most of the money is in the musician’s pocket, which is how it should be.

With streaming, for me, Spotify is a criminal gang; with my PRS statements, my share is so little. What I really hate about this is that they are marketing it as a legal thing: you do a subscription and people are happy to pay peanuts to get access to all the music in the world. It’s not so negative from one point of view, because you have access to a major audience that maybe would never otherwise experience your music. However, it doesn’t excuse the prices – it really is stealing. I can’t make people working with me avoid Spotify. I can’t impose my view on others I work with, but for everything that concerns myself, where I can decide for myself, it won’t be on there. I discovered Cream Music, who had some of my music on their website without me knowing, and the swindle is subtle. I never gave the licence for my music, I never gave them permission to sell my stuff, and they can sell the music for any price - they take it from ‘digital aggregators’. This is happening a lot and people’s music is being exploited without them knowing.  

The music industry, it’s impossible. But people still like buying CDs and vinyls, and the future is more and more about musicians doing things by themselves, through platforms. Live streaming or something like that is really interesting, and the future is more interactive I think. The young people now think that music is X Factor, talent shows; they think that the path to music is that, not playing in a shitty basement with mould on the amps and things like that! We can’t stop it but we must find a different way to do things, like SM in France, they are really tough on adverts, they collect money very quickly, they actually pay you more. Something is changing but slowly. The nice thing is that do it yourself and underground music is coming back: limited edition, vinyls, small resident DJs, meeting up. It’s coming back and it’s good news - the real things - hopefully part of the young generation will understand it.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

I’m finishing an electronics/ambient album with Netherworld that will come out on Glacial Movements in 2017. We’re working on the final production stage for a photography book by photographers Petulia Mattioli and Yasushi Miura. I have a CD of guitar only ambient composed with Chihei Hatakeyama. I’m starting to work on the third volume of Equations Of Eternity, a ritual dub project I have with Bill Laswell that this time is based on Indian esoteric traditions. Also there’s my touring with Obake, scoring for adverts, a record with Mingle, and much much more!