Name: Christina Giannone
Occupation: Sound artist, composer
Current release: Christina Giannone's Zone 7 is out via Room40.
If these thoughts by Christina Giannone piqued your interest, visit her on Soundcloud, and bandcamp.
Can you talk a bit about your interest in or fascination for sound? What were early experiences which sparked it and what keeps sound interesting for you?
My interest in music started when I was young and I was also really into interpretive dance. I would usually listen to music on my walkman or this boombox my parents gave me, and just dance around in my room. I still do this now.
Music has always been the main thing that’s kept me grounded. My fascination with sound in a more conceptual sense came a bit later. I started experimenting with electronic music in my early 20s. One day, a friend taught me how to use Garageband and I kept my finger on a pad note for like 5 minutes straight. I said okay … this is something, I guess I’ll keep going with it.
What's your take on how your upbringing and cultural surrounding have influenced your sonic preferences?
This is always a funny topic for me because right now my taste in music is completely different than anyone else’s in my family.
I did, however, grow up listening to a lot of disco. The soundtracks to “Saturday Night Fever” and "Studio 54" pretty much sums up a lot of my childhood’s experience with music. I grew up around Italian-American East Coast culture so there was also a lot of Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, and Dean Martin being played during the holidays and at parties. I also remember my Dad going through a phase in the 90s where he was listening to lots of music groups like Real McCoy and LaBouche. Those songs really resonated with me.
Do you see yourself as part of a tradition or historic lineage when it comes to your way of working with sound?
Yes, absolutely. It’s no doubt that I am following suit along with, fortunately, many artists I admire and am inspired by. I believe right now, we are witnessing a huge emergence of artists who are redefining the ambient genre and taking it into directions that change our idea of the genre completely.
I get asked a lot “Who is your main influence?” And usually by default, I always say Brian Eno because that’s what makes sense to most people. It’s pretty clear that I wouldn’t be creating the sounds I am today if it weren’t for him and William Basinski, of course. But lots of my main influences come from artists like Tim Hecker, Celer, Rafael Anton Irisarri, Lawrence English, Bvdub, and Thomas Köner. I believe I am finding my voice in that particular genre of sound making.
I also think there is a significant lack of female artists in the genre who are making amazingly experimental work with sonic drone sounds as well, such as Pechblende, Poemme, and Vanessa Amara. They all use distortion in a really beautiful way.
[Read our William Basinski interview]
[Read our Celer interview]
[Read Will Thomas Long of Celer share his creative process]
[Read our Rafael Anton Irisarri interview]
[Read our Lawrence English interview]
[Read Lawrence English talk about sound]
[Read our Bvdub interview]
[Read our Thomas Köner interview]
What types of sound do you personally prefer to work with? Are there sounds you reject – if so, for what reasons?
I personally prefer to work with digital synth sounds and field recordings. I guess I’m usually opposed to acoustic sounds like guitars or strings but that’s not because I dislike them, it’s typically because I can’t fully relate to them.
I would like to work with acoustic instruments in the future though, and see what I can come up with. I’ve always been really drawn to the deep rich textures of the cello. Also, I’ve been experimenting with piano songs. I’m a huge fan of Franz Liszt and I find myself taking notes of his work often.
Some artists use sounds as a means for emotional self-expression, others take a more conceptual approach or want to present intriguing sound matter. How would you characterise your own goals and motivations in this regard?
I’d say my approach to sound is more conceptual rather than a means for emotional self-expression, though I think most people would disagree, as my music is very evocative.
I enjoy pushing the boundaries of sound, layering as much as I can and manipulating those layers over and over, while at the same time striving to keep the integrity of the piece so that it makes sense as a song. I think a clear example of this idea would be in “Stratosphere”.
That track has tons of synth layers and effects, duplicated and manipulated sometimes 3-4 times over. Again, the idea is to shape the sound and sculpt it into something abstract, but also dense, open and boundless. Sound is infinite, and I like to try to bring awareness to that as much as possible.
From the point of view of your creative process, how do you work with sounds?
I usually start by making a bunch of sketches, then manipulate them as much as possible, and sort of piece them all together. I also use field recordings at times, usually of natural running water or trains. Train sounds are cool and fun to manipulate because they eventually end up sounding like an actual synth.
But yeah, the process is usually a bunch of trial and error scenarios until it clicks with the idea of whatever theme I’m going for. It’s usually a huge muddy synth mess in the beginning and then from there, I tweak and mix as I see fit.
Which tools have been most important and useful for you when it comes to working with and editing sounds?
I work mainly digitally. I use both Ableton and Logic interchangeably as well as VSTs. As far as analog goes, I have a couple DIY synths that I bought off Etsy and a Behringer Model D that I incorporate once in a while for some deep bass-y sounds. I also incorporate saved audio from my iPhone at times, which is what I use for field recordings. I guess I’d like to eventually invest in a more sophisticated recorder but because field recordings aren’t my main focus right now, I’ll wait on that.
Working digitally is great, because it’s a lot more accessible, organized, and brings tons of freedom in sound expression. But that's not to say I wouldn't love to have a room filled entirely with Euroracks one day. Venetian Snares comes to mind. I hope he’s doing well. Anyway! for now, I’m starting small.
The possibilities of modern production tools have allowed artists to realise ever more refined or extreme sounds. Is there a sound you would personally like to create but haven't been able to yet?
Hm, I think I’d love to create more melodic and harmonic sounds. I’ve been trying to teach myself more music theory and have been working with films recently that allow me to practice that skill. I’d say Zone 1 has a pretty melodic feel to it, though subtle. I’d like to gain a more dynamic sense of melodies as time goes on.
Or I might end up going into the complete opposite direction (which is more likely) and continue the journey into sonic realms of noise.
Many artists have related that certain sounds trigger compositional ideas in them or are even a compositional element in their own right. Provided this is the case for you – what, exactly, is about certain sounds that triggers such ideas in you?
Oh yeah, definitely aircraft taking off, trains and the subway system, and even loud vehicles or the highway. I suppose mostly industrial sounds inspire me, but I also get lots of inspiration from the ocean/running water and being completely immersed in nature as well. I grew up having the best of both worlds, which I think has helped my process a lot.
I also find myself immensely responding to film composition, especially Hans Zimmer and Bobby Krlic’s work. Bobby’s work in Midsommer triggered an insane amount of musical ideas for me and actually helped broaden my production perspective during the pandemic.
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and composition?
To me, sound, space and composition are all basically the same thing and are constantly evolving and changing. A sound is composed either naturally or artificially and takes place in space. Space takes on many forms.
Sound is boundless and limitless which is why I’m so obsessed with it. It creates worlds within worlds, redefines time, and challenges our beliefs of how the universe is “supposed to be”. That might sound overly poetic but I don’t really know how else to describe it.
Humans are often characterised as "visual beings". In your opinion, what role does our sense of hearing play in our understanding of the world? How do sounds affect you, compared to other senses like sight or smell?
I’d say I’m a lot more affected by my sense of hearing than anything else, which I guess is the same for most sound artists/musicians. I’ve always been incredibly sensitive to whichever sounds are happening around me and they can affect my entire state of being. I think this is pretty common for most people though.
I guess yeah, we are labeled as visual creatures simply because the sense of sight perceives to be more at the forefront of consciousness where as our sense of sound seems in the background or more subtle. But oftentimes this proves to be the opposite.
We can listen to a pop song or open our window and simply take in the noises of the environment. Without going into the semantics of 'music vs field recordings', in which way are these experiences different and / or connected, do you feel?
Music and field recordings are the same thing to me. I listen to field recordings the same way I listen to music. Sometimes I’ll listen to a Boy Harsher record on repeat for 6 hours straight, or I’ll listen to simple rain sounds for like, 10 hours. I guess generally whatever I listen to depends on whichever mood of catharsis I’m going for.
From the concept of Nada Brahma to "In the Beginning was the Word", many spiritual traditions have regarded sound as the basis of the world. Regardless of whether you're taking a scientific or spiritual angle, what is your own take on the idea of a harmony of the spheres and sound as the foundational element of existence?
Yeah, sound is energy and without energy the element of existence wouldn’t be possible. I think sound is pretty underestimated in its contribution to creation.