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 founded 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 about 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, 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… and all this is still ongoing really...what we may call the Post-industrial scene.
Later on, I was also influenced by Psychic TV, Coil, Skullflower, Ramleh from London (we played at the same festival in Poland two days ago) and 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 all working on different projects. Bill said he 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 PA’s 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… but 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.
Can you put a geographical location to the early interest and sales?
The orders were mainly coming from England, Germany, USA and Japan - Japan is a weird and great place, they have always been into 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. This geography of our following has stayed consistent throughout.
Can you track the evolution of Sigillum S – you’re working on a new album now - 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 world 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 you’ve wanted to separate your aliases for marketing reasons? i.e. this is noise, this is dubstep etc...
No, not marketing. I had no idea what marketing was - if I did I would probably be financially happier! But I actually never compromised to anything. I just follow what I really feel I need to do, 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 doom metal band, and I just finished an album with one of the major lap steel indian guitar players...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 synthesisers and the idea of reprocessing sounds - it’s the material sounds give you which provides infinite possibilities.
Is it your love for original sound that has led you to explore the extremities of sound? Your music is diverse, but in a lot of your music you seem to be attracted to what we might call intense or industrial sounds…
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; its black or white, its red like a monster sunset, red like a nuclear weapon. I can do ambient music - a record with Harold Budd - or I can do a super harsh and noisy record...but what I need before any specific style is 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 that 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 kind of overwhelming...I need to be overwhelmed by emotions… something that carries with it images or that gives emotion. It’s super important personally.
I played with many jazz musicians and 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. Like, when you work with Laswell, he never compromises on anything; you like it or you don’t like it, but he never compromises.
You’ve mentioned a lot of collaborations already - do you find you enjoy this more than solo work? How do they compare?
It’s boring working on my own, it’s always the same - I mean, I don’t hate it as I do it very often but still...me and my partner - Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari - 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 my wife 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 tells it in the most direct way you can imagine - 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 shit!’. You’ve got to be cruel and merciless with yourself.
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 … like the album I did with Prakash Sontakke, 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 Dead Can Dance. I remember 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 I noticed they were real! But it was then confiscated driving through Calais… 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 here many times but my wife and I took the decision to move here once we became parents. It’s a different place from my country...I like my country but this is where I want to be in my current situation… 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 documentary on … Toshinori Kondo, Otomo Yoshida , 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 have a small label, Verba Corrige, with my wife, but one thing I wanted to avoid was that RareNoise became my personal output – and RareNoise has slowly but steadily grew and has now become a kind of reference point.
What we try to do is 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 a growing and sales are increasing, we have a fan base that is slowly growing, we are heading toward 50 and more releases so far. Me and Giacomo have different preferences and influences; it’s a mixture of two minds, of which both are in a way extreme!
Can you talk about the Influence of Dub/Dubstep in your work?
I had no idea which records were considered Dubstep really…this new project with Leon Switch/Kryptic Minds is perhaps more cinematic and soundtrack orientated rather than what I imagine Dubstep to be, but there is a lot of groove and energy there. Maybe the stuff with Blackfilm is considered as Dubstep but it was not something I was consciously thinking about. I like and am influenced by a lot of electronic music, dub-related and techno-related - for example the M Series, Axis, Downwards, 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 being put into the dubstep bracket but Dubstep has come a really interesting thing …
What do you think about the expansion of Dubstep in the modern scene? Nowadays it’s become a swear word for some people with the likes of Skrillex taking it to a commercial arena. It seems to have lost its original bearings...
It’s quite typical. You always 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 it 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, for years I just never stopped. 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? We’ve seen some intriguing comments online from about about the issue...
The music industry as I knew it, growing up, is over. Think about this, the first Sigillum S CD we did has been sold 9000 copies. It’s incredible that now you really struggle to sell copies of a record, however good it is. The music industry as I knew it is done, it will never come back. Saying that though, 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 musicians 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 a website of music placement, who had some of my music on their website without me knowing, and the swindle is subtle. I never gave the license 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 CD’s and vinyl’s, and the future is more and more about musicians doing things by themselves, through platforms, live streaming or something like that is really interesting... the future is more interactive I think. Too many 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 mold on the amps and things like that! We can’t stop it but we must find a different way to do things...for example SACEM (French collection agency) 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, vinyl’s, small resident DJs, meeting up, it’s coming back and its good news. Hopefully part of the young generation will understand that these are the ‘real things’.
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!
Interview conducted by Frederick Sugden & Rico Casazza.