Sunday, October 16, 2016

Enlightenment through Esoterica: A Conversation with Giacomo Bruzzo of RareNoiseRecords

Magnet Animals' Butterfly Killer, available now on RareNoiseRecords

I receive dozens of records a week here, but few have struck me more than the titles released by RareNoiseRecords. 

Located in London, RareNoise was founded in 2008 by entrepreneur Giacomo Bruzzo and music producer Eraldo Bernocchi. According to label press materials, RareNoise’s mission “is to detect and amplify contemporary trends in progressive music, by highlighting their relation to the history of the art form, while choosing not to be bound by pre-conceptions of genre. It seeks to become a guiding light for all those enamored by exciting, adventurous and progressive sounds.” The label’s vast array of artists includes Metallic Taste of Blood (featuring veteran Swans/Prong drummer Ted Parsons and Porcupine Tree’s Colin Edwin), The Spanish Donkey (with experimental guitar genius Joe Morris) and Brian Eno collaborator J. Peter Schwalm, whose new album, The Beauty Of Disaster, will be the subject of a feature on this site in the very near future.

To gain insight into the RareNoise story and philosophy, I reached out to Giacomo Bruzzo for the following interview.

What led to the creation of RareNoise? When and why did you decide to launch the label, and what was the vision you wanted to follow?

The birth of RareNoise was the culmination of a personal path I undertook in a complicated part of my life. After spending the ’90s studying economics and mathematics, I started this century working in finance. This career proved financially fulfilling, but it wasn’t culturally fulfilling. In 2005, I embarked on a path to what I hoped would translate into a career in mathematics in academia. I enrolled in a Ph.D. program in London. Maybe because I underestimated the pressure involved in pursuing this career, or maybe because I set my aims too high by choosing a particularly hard topic of research, I experienced a breakdown two years into my research. After several months of complete wipe-out, I tried unsuccessfully to restart my studies. It was like hitting my head against concrete.

Then, suddenly, I was sitting at the bottom of a well, unable to climb out – let alone see the horizon. But these months proved essential in allowing me to refocus life priorities more in keeping with my passions and inclinations. I then started doing research on musicians I had long held a deep respect for [Bill Laswell, Otomo Yoshihide and Eraldo Bernocchi], with a view to writing and directing a documentary about their work in order to shed light on crucial – but maybe not popularly known – actors on the stage of contemporary music of the last 30 years.

In order to achieve this aim, I approached Eraldo Bernocchi on MySpace of all places, bluntly asking for the opportunity to interview him, fully expecting for him to decline to do so. Surprisingly enough, Eraldo consented. I then proceeded to visit him a number of times in Italy, during which time we had ample opportunity to confront our views about the state of music across a whole spectrum of dimensions.

These conversations lead to two live collaborations, a multimedia performance in Genoa featuring Eraldo, Nils Petter Molvaer and visual artist Petulia Mattioli [Liquid Light], followed by a live [performance] by Zu, Eraldo Bernocchi and Petulia Mattioli in Rome [as Black Engine]. Eventually, in 2008, we decided that we should create a platform to fulfill our vision – thus RareNoise was born, with a view to detect and amplify the beauty and trends in contemporary progressive music, highlighting their relation to the history of the art form, all the while not being bound and or clouded by preconceptions of genre.  

Free Nelson MandoomJazz's The Organ Grinder, available now on RareNoiseRecords

How does your partnership with Eraldo Bernocchi fulfill this vision?

The partnership with Eraldo was crucial for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, credibility: Eraldo’s career perfectly embodies the manifesto of RareNoise [as detailed in the previous answer]. All of his choices in music have always been informed by the rigorous and selfless pursuit of beauty, and his reputation and credibility in the community reflects this stance. He also was willing to introduce and endorse an ‘outsider’ to his contacts. Finally, though we overlap on large areas of taste, we both also have different leanings – his more tied to his Punk, Industrial, Ambient and Doom roots, and mine arising through sympathy for Progressive Rock, Rock in Opposition and true Jazz-Rock. This complementarity in our differences means we are open to any music and any sound, provided it is the trigger of strong emotional reactions.

The Spanish Donley's RAOUL, available now on RareNoiseRecords

What makes an artist right for RareNoise? What criteria do you follow in selecting the acts for the label?

Were I to try and answer your question from an ahistorical, top-down, abstract point of view, I would be misrepresenting the truth. What I can tell you about is how our catalogue came to be organically, though informed by the premises I mentioned above. Life is path-dependent, whatever neoclassical economists may say about it!  

We started by releasing six irreducible works – an Electronic Dub recording called Meditronica, a Dark Ambient Noise recording by Buckethead, Bill Laswell and DJ Submerged [Death Cube K: Torn From Black Space], an Ambient baritone guitar duo (Parched, with Eraldo Bernocchi), a live audio-visual Dub/Jazz-Rock excursion by Method Of Defiance (Laswell, Bernie Worrell, Toshinori Kondo, Dr Israel, Guy Licata), a world-fusion excursion by Eraldo and Petulia’s S.O.M.M.A. [Sacred Order Of Music Magic And Art, an ever-changing ambient and jazz-rock collective centered around Tibetan chanting] and an EP by a now-disbanded Italian Post-Rock band called The Mantra Above The Spotless Melt Moon. These initial choices were down to opportunity – bluntly, we had the material available to us – and fitted our desire to surprise. No one knew about us, so we had to create waves, create question marks.

Successive releases were driven by the desire to explore possible directions and re-combining trees for the platform as a whole – Dub Techno by Martin Schulte, the undefinable and comedic Jazz - Rock? - of Mexican-American trio Brainkiller, the Neo-Folk excursions of Owls, the Drum’n’ Bass-infused Jazz-Rock of Bob Belden’s Animation, the first RareNoise release of Lorenzo Feliciati’s Jazz-Rock outfit Naked Truth [originally with Cuong Vu, Roy Powell and King Crimson stalwart Pat Mastelotto], Winter Garden [an ambient trio of Harold Budd, Robin Guthrie and Eraldo Bernocchi] and an organ trio of Roy Powell, Jacob Young and Jarle Vespestad.

By then, as new directions were being added to our painter’s palette (Extreme Noise Rock with Merzbow, Balazs Pandi and Mats Gustafsson, Free music with Jamie Saft and Joe Morris), the possibilities inherent in encouraging a growing roster of musicians to collaborate on internally ‘grown’ recordings started becoming apparent; this lead to collaborations such as Berserk! (Feliciati and Fornasari), Twinscapes (Feliciati and Colin Edwin) and Mumpbeak (Powell, Laswell and Mastelotto), to cite a few. This approach - also reflected in our desire to produce striking, sometimes controversial artwork - always allowing artists a free hand on the creative front, also endowed the platform with growing credibility, all the while making it a credible option for an ever-larger family of artists who felt RareNoise was a home that would respect their work.

Retrospectively, we can observe broad ‘trends’ having developed in the RareNoise catalogue [a Free Rock/Free Jazz trend, a trend relating to organic electronica, a trend dealing with analogue sound, one dealing with noise, etc.], although we were not specifically aiming for thse outcomes. Rather, we wanted to encourage the emergence of a strong plant by seeding the ground with values that musicians/composers would intuitively and naturally both share and feel comfortable with and let the flowers blossom.

Metallica Taste of Blood's Doctoring The Dead, available now on RareNoiseRecords

You recently released J. Peter Schwalm's The Beauty Of Disaster. What strikes you most about the album? What do you feel it adds to the overall history and philosophy of RareNoise?

We were introduced to J.Peter’s work by British drummer Martin France, whose Infolding as Spin Marvel [with Nils-Petter Molvaer, Tim Harries, Terje Evensen and Emre Ramazanoglu] was released on RareNoise. In line with the points I made in the previous answer, Martin felt this astounding electro-organic, layered composition might pique our interest. Incidentally, he - as well as Tim Harries - performed on it. Needless to say, we were very moved by it and decided to release it at the first available occasion. The Beauty Of Disaster is a strong contribution to our growing canon – music whose roots are unmistakably intertwined with the history of the art form [Musique Concrète, Ambient, Electroacoustic, Messiaen] based on texture and deceiving simplicity [though highly complex], with a strong visual import, of cogent philosophical integrity (Kant’s “sublime”) and of high emotional impact when listened to. It truly represents what our label is about.

J. Peter Schwalm's The Beauty of Disaster, available now on RareNoise Records

Which albums from the RareNoise discography stand out to you as highlights, and why?

This is a very tough question, as making choices might be construed as expressing preferences. By virtue of having been released, all recordings on RareNoise are highlights to me. As such, I cannot answer [this question] other than point the interested listener towards our jukebox and start from the bottom.

Because RareNoise focuses on esoteric acts that are not mainstream-oriented, commercial viability is not an option. With that in mind, what are the benchmarks you use to measure a releases “success”?

I respectfully disagree with the notion of acts on RareNoise being ‘esoteric’ per se. In fact, several of the composers and artists released on the label are well known to music aficionados across a wide spectrum of what are usually called ‘genres’ [Bernocchi, Laswell, David Fiuczynski, Steve Swallow, Jack DeJohnette, Cuong Vu, Merzbow, Keiji Haino, Joe Morris, Jamie Saft and Lorenzo Feliciati, to name but a few].

I also respectfully disagree with the notion of commercial viability not being an option. One has to choose and finance one’s projects very carefully and grow the platform and the vision as a whole all the time, perennially insisting on high-level communication [we work with four PRs worldwide, all the time], plurality of formats [every release is available as 180-gram vinyl, CD and a multitude of download formats in different resolutions] with great packaging and artwork to satisfy any bit of demand available anywhere. One has to be bold and wise. The first years were certainly brutal, but that was to be expected. Slowly but constantly, we are moving in the direction we originally hoped to achieve. Success is building a solid house on rock - not sand - in the right time, working carefully, choosing the right bricks and materials, being available all the time, always listening, always questioning assumptions and being patient.

Obake's Draugr, out October 28 on RareNoiseRecords

What can listeners expect from RareNoise in the next 12 months?

November 2016 – Bobby Previte: Mass
November 2016 – Eraldo Bernocchi/Prakash Sontakke: Invisible Strings

January 2017 – Led Bib: Umbrella Weather
January 2017 – Reflections in Cosmo (Strønen, Møster, Ryan, Størlokken)

February 2017 – oRK (LEF, Edwin, Pipitone, Mastelotto)

March 2017 – The New Standard: (II) (Saft, Swallow, Previte)
March 2017 – JÜ: Summa

April 2017 – LEF: Hypersomniac (w. Kenneth Kapstad, Nils-Petter Molvaer, Eivind Aarset, Bill Laswell, Rebecca Sneddon)

May 2017 – Roswell Rudd/Fay Victor (Standards)
May 2017 – Mumpbeak II (Powell, Feliciati, Thorstein Lofthus)

June 2017 – GAUDI: Magnetic

September 2017 – MikroJazz (Gerschlauer, Fiuczynski, Garrison, Mikadze, DeJohnette)
September 2017 – Jamie Saft / Bill Brovold: Serenity Knolls

October 2017 – Lorenzo Feliciati: Elevator Man

November 2017 – Cuong Vu Trio w. Bill Frisell

November 2017 – Bernocchi / Quail / FM Einheit

We have seven releases in the works for 2018, but there you go.

Gaudi EP, available now on RareNoise 

For you, what is the most fulfilling aspect of your work with RareNoise?

It’s my soul.

(Portions of this interview were edited for space and clarity.)