Name: Alberto Ricca aka Bienoise
Occupation: Producer, sound artist
Current Release: Bienoise's This meaning Today is out via mille plateaux.
Gear Recommendations: I programmed a couple free devices for Max for Live that always help me getting ideas: Frames and Skip.
As hardware goes, I suggest anyone to buy an old walkman, open it, and start its first circuit bending project: it's cheap, easy, and offers many possibilities of sweet analog tape manipulation, saturation, and general fuckery.
If you enjoyed this interview with Bienoise, visit his official homepage for more information. Alberto is also on Instagram, Facebook, and Soundcloud.
What was your first studio like?
When I first discovered that I could record (and then multitrack, edit, mangle, et cetera) my keyboard, I worked in my bedroom as most of us do. I am still mostly working at home - with the same monitors, but a much better room.
How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
In the beginning, I had very practical needs: I was performing live music with several bands, so I needed keyboards, effects and some kind of speaker.
Then I started cluelessly integrating electronic music - it was around 2005, bringing a laptop on stage was still considered suicidal, but I always had a very good relationship with my computers; so, I bought a sound interface, an Evolution UC33 that still serves me, and decided that the laptop was my instrument ("the most intimate one", as Holly Herndon says). That was pretty much the end of my gear acquisition phase.
I still buy some cheap fun stuff from time to time, I have several Korg Volcas, an Arturia Microfreak and a Soma Electronics Field Kit that I often use for laptop-less performances, but I am completely devoted to my Vaio\Asus setup with an RME Fireface and Launchpad + LaunchControl.
I mostly rely on stock Ableton Live devices with an ever increasing amount of stuff I program on Max for Live.
Some see instruments and equipment as far less important than actual creativity, others feel they go hand in hand. What's your take on that?
Art is technology.
We read in Techgnosis by Eric Davis that any musical instrument, any media used for distribution (arguably, a compositional choice in itself, at least today when it's actually a choice) is a techno-mystical-cultural hybrid, an almost animist construct that we cannot consider a simple "thing", but rather an artifact that actively informs and guides our creativity. According to Kodwo Eshun, the sample recognizes you as a vector of virality, makes you a servomechanism of the playback function.
Expanding this, I think of anything as a tool, its existence necessary: harmony is a tool, distortion is a tool, trance buildups and drops are tools - titles and artworks are tools too. You put them together as it pleases you until your tiny diorama of the cosmos is complete (paraphrasing Deleuze).
The more influences you have, the more tools you can combine: curiosity is the most important attitude, because otherwise you'll have no choice but to use a hammer to tend a sprout.
A studio can be as minimal as a laptop with headphones and as expansive as a multi-room recording facility. Which studio situation do you personally prefer – and why?
An informal and comfortable one: I don't like to rush in fancy studios, but a well-sounding room with light, a kitchen and space for gear is desirable.
From traditional keyboards to microtonal ones, from re-configured instruments (like drums or guitars) to customised devices, what are your preferred controllers and interfaces? What role does the tactile element play in your production process?
My least favourite ones are the ones I use the most, unfortunately, because knobs-and-faders midi controllers are just reliable and a perfect middle ground between a convenient standard and the correct choice.
But I greatly enjoy building interfaces (often by simply evolving how the instrument responds to a knob movement, with complex, non univocal mappings, or applying physics and feedback) or performative environments that interact with my playing.
I envy singers and percussions players that have a direct action on their sounds, and recently I often find myself using microphones and my voice to generate and control musical elements.
In the light of picking your tools, how would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I feel this is a false dichotomy: only a madman would make art for the dead, so all the music is the music of the future.
Nothing I can say will have the same meaning forever: I feel innovation is a social matter.
Most would regard recording tools like microphones and mixing desks as different in kind from instruments like keyboards, guitars, drums and samplers. Where do you stand on this?
They are the same.
How would you describe the relationship between technology and creativity for your work? Using a recent piece as an example, how do you work with your production tools to achieve specific artistic results?
The highest point I reached in this is probably my MOST BEAUTIFUL DESIGN ep, a collection of compositions exploiting the spectral behaviour of very low bitrate mp3s, published on floppy disk by Mille Plateaux in 2018.
I love the crystalline quality of compressed sound, a low fidelity that deletes and at the same time creates details, and I think it's a sound that is humbly omnipresent in our daily life. So, I decided to celebrate it by studying how the algorithm reacts to frequencies and dynamics, in order to write a bunch of tunes that would use it to maximum effect.
The spectral glitches of heavy mp3 compression is one of the very few "sound objects" I feel a strong connection with, and I come back to it as often as I can.
Within a digital working environment, it is possible to compile huge archives of ideas for later use. Tell me a bit about your strategies of building such an archive and how you put these ideas and sketches to use.
This is a very interesting question. I am lucky because I have good memory for concepts and sounds, so I can navigate among my old samples and projects - which I keep tidy because I am an old time Windows user.
As an electronic musician, you are at the same time a composer, a performer and a luthier: I am fascinated by computer virtuosi (said with the utmost respect) like Ryoji Ikeda or Autechre, as their patches are sketches of composition upgraded during the years as a weird middle ground between fixed composition and continuously evolving performing art.
How do you retain an element of surprise for your own work – are there technologies which are particularly useful in this regard?
I am a control freak, so by the end I take every choice or build environments that always sound "good".
But the starting idea can sprout from anything, and that's why I love sampling: a field recording, a glitching device, even the compression of a file can give me ideas that are fixed and repeatable.
I had much fun recently training Machine Learning algorithms for this exact purpose. I also use a lot of probability and randomness, but again, after tuning it right, the results are more natural than surprising.
Production tools can already suggest compositional ideas on their own. How much of your music is based on concepts and ideas you had before entering the studio, how much of it is triggered by equipment, software and apps?
It's a recursive mix: as I said, I sample a lot and I have a huge archive of "uh this sounds cool, someday it will be a protagonist". So, tinkering with a tool gives me a lot of raw material and sometimes ideas around which I can build.
But often I have very clear concepts in mind, like abusing mp3 compression in the above mentioned MOST BEAUTIFUL DESIGN; I simply start building an environment according to this concept - it's even truer when I write for dance.
For example, for the music of BE ME, a dance project of Parini Secondo and Magdalena Öttl based on an algorithmic, self-organising choreography, I created a probabilistic system that slowly shapes itself into a complete track, following the rise of "synchronicity" between the eight performers and diffused in the performing space by their own smartphones receiving fragments of the whole track in real time through wifi. This way, I underlined the process, that I found very inspiring, and also the gradual construction of space by the performers.
For another work, SPEEED, again with Parini Secondo, I followed their same creative path: while Parini studied para-para routines, I studied how to write eurobeat music: the result is AWESOME.
Have there been technologies which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I guess it's a tie between Ableton Live and the Internet.
To some, the advent of AI and "intelligent" composing tools offers potential for machines to contribute to the creative process. Do you feel as though technology can develop a form of creativity itself? Is there possibly a sense of co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
AI is an amazing tool that is revolutionizing how data are processed, and which will deeply rebuild the way many things are made and thought, from product and interaction design to anything video. But it can only refer to the past, to the data we fed it, so it's not transparent and can only look backwards. It doesn't desire, it doesn't suffer.
As I said, I use various shapes of Machine Learning to generate ideas; I feel the same sense of co-authorship as when using a technology devised by a precise human being (Schoenberg's dodecaphony, Akira Rabelais' Argeïphontes Lyre, Cage's Fontana Mix ...), but it's not a dialogue, and the results are prone to be surprisingly good in a general way, but require a big effort to be tuned exactly:
AI will probably reveal itself as another tool, more useful in precise technical tasks than as an actual creative mind.
There's also an inherent human problem in accepting a work completely generated by a machine, and once we will be over this showcase era, in which every project has to brag about the use of Machine Learning, we will probably enter a more opaque era in which authors will prefer to not credit their artificial artisans (like Cattelan with Daniel Druet, for example): we already complain about tv series being apparently written by an algorithm, as generic and bland as they are; would people watch\read\listen to something created without any human intent?
And even if they would, if pressing a button generates a thousand poems, who decides which one is worthy of sharing? The final, meaningful choice stands on humans, a choice driven by our rich dialogue with the idea of death, that an algorithm cannot grasp.
I recommend NONMUSICA on RADIO RAHEEM, an episode dedicated to music made with Machine Learning algorithms.
What tools/instruments do you feel could have a deeper impact on creativity but need to still be invented or developed?
I feel we are in a good direction to give everyone cheaper, more intuitive tools to create and share artworks, regardless of class or sex; any problem lies in society and not in technology.