Perfect Sound Forever


by Daniel Varela
(March 2003)

For so many years, Italia has been an interesting place for musical experiments. Fluxus artists like Giuseppe Chiari and Walter Marchetti , neo futurist Daniele Lombardi and chance operations wizard Sylvano Bussottihas been some of the most talented European artists from the few last decades. Cultural phenomena like Arte Povera, or the experimental rock groups from the '70's (Area, Stormy Six, Opus Avantra and Picchio Dal Pozzo, to name only a few) were chronicled in many underground publications influenced by politically fuelled years and a lot of remarkable music from that period was documented by adventurous labels as Cramps records from Milano.

The spirit of independent and experimental music creation/ diffusion lives in Giovanni Antognozzi, a producer and cultural activist that has begun his efforts through Silenzio Distribuzione, one of the most exhaustive new music distributors in Europe. He has written a remarkable book in Italian about minimalism in collaboration with Paolo Coteni (La Musica Minimalista, Edizioni Textus ). A new outstanding achievement by Antognozzi is Ants Records, a small label devoted to electroacoustics, minimalism and ambient-derived musics; a unique effort in Italy with some parallels to wonderful editions of extreme minimalism & Fluxus music by the Alga Marghen label. Interestingly, Ants Records has a focused profile based in austere electronic works and expressions related to sound art and aural environments. The following interview was done between July and August 2003 through e-mail and below you'll find a series of short comments about some of Ants CD's.

PSF: What are the aims of Ants Records? Did you have some particular inspiration to start the label?

Ants started in 2001 as a "vehicle," in fact not so different from “SILENZIO distribuzione” that was the first project I started in 1993. A vehicle to let people know things that I know. At the time of SILENZIO starting, the first aim was to distribute and make access easier to the discs that were so hard to find in Italy. There was no Internet at the time and the interconnection was much more difficult than now. Now that the information is so vast and spread around, I find that the problem is that we are overcharged with info, most of the time obsolete and not interesting at all, and we have to be very attentive and select what we really need and what interest us.

Then, the idea to start “another” independent music label came for the very simple reason that, in my eyes, there’s still a lot of challenging music that is almost completely unknown. Many artists today have the capacity to use new means, so the production of a music CD seems so easy to them. But others are, on the contrary, absolutely unable (for different reasons, of course – personal, practical, ideological) to use the technology and, in this growing place for music that’s the new global market, for most of them it’s very hard to come on the surface. And also, there’s the need of much time and work to run a label (even a very small and independent as Ants).

My inspiration, if I have to search for it, comes from the first artist run labels that I discovered in the late seventies/early eighties: Lovely Music, for example. These days, I really appreciate all those people that, always as a “one man band,” are fighting to remain on the road, most of the time with excellent results. I’m thinking of labels like Metamkine, Edition RZ, Matchless, Cold Blue and many many others. I’m proud to be part of that scene.

PSF: Your catalogue seems connected with certain aspects derived from minimalism/ conceptual music. Taking into account your book about that subject, there's some connection?

Yes, I love minimalism and I think that the “concept” in music is absolutely important. Mostly, I love simplicity and I particularly appreciate the economy of means in the musical construction. The book that I co-wrote about Minimalism was a sort of “young person’s guide to….” and my section was mostly a series of short bio/info/comments about the most important post-minimalist composers. I’m satisfied in half about it, ‘cause I had little time and very little space and, in the end, it resulted in a “guide” and also, some composers are treated in ridiculously short sections. But it was a commission and I made it.

Talking about my Ants productions, certainly “the idea” has a prevalence in my choices, but the fact that I published works apparently similar (in sound) at the same time, it’s only a coincidence. Works like ORA by Gianfranco Pernaiachi or HORA HARMONICA by Albert Mayr have completely different compositional approaches, and then different concepts behind them, but the result (in terms of “silence” and reduction of means) is, in various ways, similar. As a listener, I like very much the music that lets me be “in,” where I can “see in,” and not only listen “to it.” And as a producer, I obviously try to find and publish what I like. But, as I’m also interested in other fields (sound sculptures and new instruments, sound installations, rendition of verbal scores, music made for or played by untrained musicians, soundscapes, improvisation), the catalogue will grow further following others, sometimes different, directions. Probably, it is not a good idea in terms of business, but I hope that Ants doesn’t become a “genre” label. I don’t like to be pictured on only one color (even if I always like monochrome pictures).

PSF: In which manner could you characterize the electronic music in Ants catalogue (it seems some "maverick" approach to electronics, not so connected with academic traditions).

For me, electronics are a means, like everything that makes a sound (so, maybe everything in the world). And also, the modern definition of “electronics” is so wide. In fact, listening to the Ants catalogue, you hear a lot of electronics, but almost everywhere, the electronics are used as a tool. And some of them are electronics in a manner that doesn’t seem so evident. Hora Harmonica by Albert Mayr in fact is an electronic work, but it’s a less important thing in the work and it could be played with an acoustic instrument. And Battimenti by Pietro Grossi is a pure electronic work, but the idea behind it is, at the same time, strictly connected to electronics (‘cause the only mean to reproduce a perfect sine wave is an electronic device) but, in terms of concept (to return to it), the idea is self-standing and is more concerned with physics and acoustics than electronics. Talking about traditions is difficult, because there is a lot of new music that lived out of the “academic tradition” for years and in the end it established a “new tradition.” I’m thinking of the work of composers like Alvin Lucier or Gordon Mumma, that worked on experimenting in their own way, and now it’s more than 40 years later. Pietro Grossi is another name in this “new” tradition. But there's also Mayr, Pernaiachi, Miti, Michi or Linguido (to cite some of the musicians of my catalogue) who are all mavericks. And even well-known musicians that will appear on my next productions, like Tom Johnson (by the way, one of the masters of minimalism associated with conceptualism) or Hugh Davies (another genius whose music philosophy showed us how much we can obtain with the poorest and simplest things) are, if you think well, mavericks. The real big thing that is missing today (and not only from today) is a “school.” So, I think it's normal to be a maverick if you work in the experimental music field.

PSF: What do you think about the current situation with myriad of independent record labels? Is possible to think about a more positive perspective to release uncompromising music projects?

In this situation, I think that all the best and all the worst is possible. Like many things, there is a good and a bad face on the same medal. Sometimes, talking as a distributor, I feel oppressed by the mass of monthly releases that appear. Tons of music comes from any remote place that I do not have the time to listen. And this generates a sense of discomfort in some ways, a frustration that I think is the general feeling when you are faced with a thing that’s too big for you. On the other hand, I feel that these times are the most stimulating for many people. Just now, in some place, someone that is freed from the need to have a “position” in any musical or social scene, is composing a music, making a sound that could be the most beautiful in the world and it’s possible to have him to put it on a CD and let all the people hear it. Certainly, the difference between the virtual and the real world is great. But today we have this possibilty, and this is the great thing. It must be the work of anyone involved in this field to let this opportunity happen at its best. Also, the vitality of the independent scene is the real antidote to the mass alienation of the big industries and the multinational corporations that are trying to homogenize all our senses and tastes. Fighting this is possible only as an indipendent and uncompromised person.

PSF: Could you say something about the current state of things for experimental music in Italy?

There is a good vitality, mixed with a certain amount of young inexperience, but it is filled with great possibilities. I receive weekly demos of young (and less young) musicians and, even if I probably do not release most of them, I find that most of this music is honest and well done work. And there are even “mature” composers that had too little public exposition during the years and still have things to say. The case of Pietro Grossi is exemplar. And, in confrontation with others of his generation, he had, in one way or another, a recognition over the years. But I think that most of the people interested in new music only did read his name in old publications or rarely heard people talking about his research.

Unfortunately, there are no institutions that are really interested in experimental music. It's even worst that in later years, the support of the government (national and local) is almost non existant (apart from a few isolated, happy cases). And even private sponsor have little interest.


Albert Mayr Hora Harmonica
An extremely austere work for electronic pure tones based on harmonic series. This concept is related to Kepler principles and the work implies different overtones appearences in expanded time sections, separated by silences. As the composer says in the liner notes “Hora Harmonica works through a twofold transformation: sound becomes rhythm, time becomes music.” A physically haunting piece. An electroacoustic concept radically different from regular mainstream lab freak music.

Albert Mayr Suono Ambiente
I can remember an old article in Musicworks magazine about these sound experiences. Around mid-seventies, sound art and sound ecology were not well known musical experiments. Mayr was connected to ZONA, an artists' collective from Florence and from that period is Suono Ambiente a series of events, discussions, sound environments that has (and still does today) a strong commitment to utopian currents.

Pietro Grossi Battimenti
A long neglected composer and researched outside Italy, Grossi was one of the pioneers of electronic music at the Studio di Fonologia Musicale of RAI in Milano in the early sixties. An outstanding work built on the acoustic priciple of “beat” tones (battimenti), an aural flapping effect as the result of near tone frequences. The appearance and combination of tones are submitted to a series of combinations, diagrams of which are included in the booklet. Restrained and almost minimal in its most pure meaning as an experimental piece.

Gianfranco Pernaiachi Ora
Beautifully designed in a digipack with diagrams and sketches of the piece, Ora is really challenging minimal music: long passages of silence, subtle electronic tones at an extremely low volume. A double CD with plenty of poetry (in fact, Pernaiachi writes poetry). Maybe a kind of near silence experience like some of Belgian Baudoin Oosterlynck or some works by Francisco López. A sort of Zen diagram tell us about some “formal plan” about the time passing sense of the work. A very enjoyable and meditative listening.

David First Dave's Waves. A Sonic Restaurant
A new approach for the well known composer-performer. Harmonics, glissandi effects, and all sort of derivations from electronic material of brain waves. With obvious links to more “classic” works in this field (Alvin Lucier, David Rosenboom and the hidden Biomusic tradition), Dave's Waves is an electronic fantastic voyage through the human brain. From relaxed to more tense sounds, many people will be astonished by this sound experience.

Gigi Masin Lontano
A very different from the above mentioned, Masin's CD give us a sensual aural landscape. A kind of abstract Fourth World work with instrumental pieces surrounded by an electronic ambience. Warm or cold at times, these aural landscapes leaves us with a familiar sense of the work by Rick Cox or even some Jon Hassell recordings. Delicate work that deserves a wider recognition.

Salvatore Linguido West Mantra
Lyrical explorations on programmed piano. A different approach to the “digital – mechanical” piano tradition, with different colored pieces based on resonant character as well as a more complex time-perception phenomena. Subtle and technical at the same time. Intriguing like most Ants titles.

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