Part 1

Name: Collisions
Members: Leonello Tarabella, Alessandro Baris
Nationality: Italian
Occupation: Saxophonist and computer music researcher at the National Council of Research in Italy (Leonello), Musician and Composer (Alessandro)
Current Project: "Masses and Sea Motions", a short film shot live in the Theater of Silence in Tuscany, Italy. (See sidebar)
Musical Recommendations: In terms of recent artists, Nils Frahm and italian duo Satelliti.

When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences?

We started writing music as Collisions in 2010. Leo comes from a jazz and classical education and approached electronic music as a composer and as a performer, working and studying in the 80's with Pietro Grossi the Italian pioneer of computer music. I come from a drums and guitar education and had experiences with several bands through various genres such as rock, post rock, pop, jazz and soundtrack.

For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?

We actually believe that music is a constant and living energy that touches everybody, depending on the sensitivity of each of us.
When we started working together, the first step was to create drum beats on the material that Leo already had. After that, we focused on new music horizons, sharing our own inspirations, personalities and influences with the purpose of creating a third personality that would represent both of us in the most unique possible way. That said, there are definitely elements in our music that subconsciously recall our musical heroes and sources of inspiration.

What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?

The main challenge was to create and compose accessible and interesting music with the experimental set-up of ours, with only two instruments - electronics and drums - and trying to avoid useless self indulgence. This process is still going on and hopefully it will keep going on forever; it is about searching for a balance between our internal and external nature while relating to our freedom and taste.

Tell us about your studio, please. What were criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process? How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptics and technology for you?

Having a specific and appropriate environment for creating music is very important for us. We work in a city bunker studio with a lot of gear such as computers, keyboards, synthesizers, drums and all of Leo's technological devices. There's also a big white wall that we use to project the interactive visuals we're using live; the cool thing about a bunker studio is that we can deeply focus on those important factors that are part of us like mood, haptics, emotions and turn them into creativity.
We've also set up different systems of hearing from studio monitors to stage monitors and a small p.a. So it is pretty comfortable and efficient and we enjoy the many hours we spend in there.

What are currently some of the most important tools and instruments you're using?

This is a main aspect for us. Collisions is based on all of those emotional, visual and environmental aspects that we've been talking about so far, but obviously tools and instruments play a big role in our work, especially with regards to the amazing interactive technology to perform live electronics created and developed by Leo since 1995. Let me describe it in a few lines:
It is a gesture recognition system performed through two devices to control the algorithmic score on Leo's own software named PCM. The first device named “Palm Driver” is based on infrared beams getting information on heights and rotations of the hands. The second devices is named “Handel” and based on real-time processing of grabbed video images in which a video projector creates background scenarios, where the performer places and moves his hands.
In both systems, the information produced is sent to PCM controlling sound processing and sound synthesis both affecting melody, timbre or effects and interacting with the visuals. This technology is unique and has a great impact on the audience when we play live.
On my side, I use an acoustic drum kit and two kalimbas as well as a specific set of cymbals donated to me by UFIP: I work mostly on the sounds of my drums to keep them natural and suitable to create a collision with the  futuristic and technological instrument of Leo, and that's where the name of the project comes from. There are also some pieces where we use contact microphones to send some drums head sound to the computer to be modulated by Leo's technology.

Many contemporary production tools already take over significant parts of what would formerly have constituted compositional work. In which way do certain production tools suggest certain approaches, in which way do they limit and/or expand your own creativity? Are there any promising solutions or set-ups capable of triggering new ideas inside of you as a composer? 

The more we experiment on our tools, the more we discover that they do not limit our creativity to being just a drums and electronics duo. Leo's gear is very versatile and allows him to perform whatever we compose and also allows us to play sequences, to play the visuals, to trigger sounds from contact microphones … So we haven't felt stuck or limited so far. Leo' s technology can be also combined with commercial VST instruments, so there are actually no limits in terms of how long we consider ourselves a duo and not as a full band. I think we still have to explore the entire potential of what we have.

Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where do ideas come from, what do you start with and how do you go about shaping these ideas?

The initial idea actually comes out in many ways … a sound effect, a drum beat, a bass line, a keyboard line, and so on … we're both able to play different instruments, so this makes composing chances wider … sometimes we just try to turn a feeling into a piece of music.
When we have a new idea that we feel has potential, whatever it is, it then becomes a matter of sculpturing that idea; it is like carving a shape on a piece of marble and trying to make it look like a beautiful statue day by day ...
For example last year I had this idea of shooting a Collisions live video in a location that I always wanted to visit: the Theatre of Silence in Tuscany. We went to see the place and we immediately loved it. It is such a relaxing, silent and evocative place surrounded by delicate hills and with a small lake in the middle. Once we realized that it was technically and financially possible to make it there, we then started to create the music with our attitude but with a new approach we wanted to marry to the magic nature of that place. Eventually we came out with two pieces “Masses” and “Sea Motions” which we feel are pretty well connected with the natural elements of the location as well as with our souls and minds.

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