Name: Alessandra Novaga
Occupation: Guitarist / composer / performer
Current Release: I Should Have Been a Gardener on Die Schachtel
Recommendations: Modern Nature by Derek Jarman / Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for violin transcribed for 8 -string guitar by Paul Galbraith
Website/Contact: Keep up to date with new music and projects at www.alessandranovaga.com
When did you start writing / producing music - and what or who were your first passions and influences? What attracted you to music and / or sound?
I started studying classical guitar when I was 11 and for about thirty years I worked exclusively in the academic field without any exception. In that period, I have never composed but I would only study and interpret a repertoire that went from the Renaissance to the present, and that was always music composed by others. My first influences were therefore my teachers. I was attracted to music more than anything else, since I was a child I understood that it would be my key to understanding who I was and what I wanted to become. In 2011 - for various reasons, all of which were to do with music but also with my life in the broader sense - I drastically deviated: I abandoned the classical world and entered a new one, one I prefer not to define and which in less than ten years has already taken so many different forms. It is since then that I have started to produce my own project that keeps drawing itself over time.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a learning phase and, often, by the emulation of others. How would you describe your development as an artist and the transition to your voice? What's the relationship between copying, learning, and your creativity?
During my years in the classical field my reference points were my teachers first of all. I learned from great pianists, violinists, and conductors, but the last teacher I trained with is one of the greatest classical guitarist of the last fifty years, Oscar Ghiglia.
Emulation was certainly part of my growth. Up to a certain point in your career I don’t see it as a negative thing. If we think of examples of great painters who used to emulate other masters: Rubens copied Tiziano or Francis Bacon, who obsessed with Velasquez' Pope Innocent X, reworked it in numerous paintings. I think it is inevitable to look at the past to find out who you are. From a very young age, I felt that what I was trying to “steal” from the old masters was an understanding of what moved them conceptually, emotionally, and what made them unique.
As I became an adult, I realized, however, that in the world of classical music, which I loved so much and still love, I could not find my voice, my purpose-project, the road that only myself could walk. So, I took a leap in the dark and I started looking for other languages, other worlds, other environments, and finally I felt at home in a new territory. At this point I was already forty years old and not interested in finding other teachers. I would say, I have listened, seen and met a lot of fantastic musicians, but I have always tried to maintain a personal voice.
What were your main compositional and production challenges at the beginning and how have they changed over time?
At the beginning of this new path, I started playing the electric guitar by studying
Fausto Romitelli’s Trash Tv Trance - I consider this piece as one of the most significant in the electric guitar repertoire.
I bought a Stratocaster, some pedals, and an amp without even knowing what a loop or distortion was. I would like to point out that I have never listened to rock music, neither before or after. This was the beginning of my personal revolution. I wanted to keep a connection with written scores, so I asked some composers to write electric guitar music for my solo projects and recorded my first album, La Chambre Des Jeux Sonores.
Another important step was to put on the entire cycle of The Book of Heads by John Zorn - I’m the only musician in Italy who ventured doing this. In the world, as far as I know, only four guitarists performed it in its entirety. I say this because except for a wonderful recording by Marc Ribot (who told me he never did all the studies live), I had no references of any kind: I had a wonderful journey with five different guitars and two suitcases full of tools, balloons, talking dolls, looking for a way of interpreting the hieroglyphs of Zorn. It was very liberating for me. Then, I improvised with many talented jazz musicians: the first time I did it, I was in a duo with Elliott Sharp, a nice baptism I would say...
Later on, I conceived and recorded a fundamental work for me, Fassbinder Wunderkammer.
It was at that point that I really understood where I was and everything I had lived up to musically - culturally and existentially, I felt it was meant to get me there.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your setup evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important tools for you?
My first studio was the room where I used to practice when I was a child: all I needed was a chair, a footrest and a music stand. I always thought that, every time I moved to other houses or hotels, if I practiced there for two hours, that place would belong to me forever. I remember practicing at night in some hotels asking to use the dining room not to disturb the other guests.
I remember practicing in the old train compartments when I was lucky enough to be alone. Since I started playing electric instruments obviously the matter has changed a lot - now my studio is my bedroom, where I keep all my guitars, a couple of amps and my effects.
When I travel, I take very little with me. If we talk about the recording studio, I have recorded all my works in a Milan basement with Giovanni Isgrò, my long-time sound engineer. It’s definitely not a conventional recording studio. I need to record in a place where I have no time pressure, and where I feel at home. The most important pieces of gear for me, except my guitars, are my reverbs. I mostly use reverbs but I must say that even today, even if it is no longer part of my programming, most of the time I play classical guitar, and very, very often I play Bach.
How do you use the technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Technology to me means convenience, and speed. It’s useful to be able to access information in real time and have the ease of connecting with anyone at any time, know what happens in the world; but this only makes sense if, as human beings, we know how to really use all this for better and to empower ourselves.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
I don't use software of any kind for my music. The only tools I use are effects (currently less and less, to tell the truth). I need them more to evoke sounds that I can’t produce with my guitar alone.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I must admit that until now the projects that have marked important milestones in my life have been solo projects. I met important travel companions - I think of the composers who wrote for me, like Sandro Mussida first of all, but also Paula Matthusen, Travis Just, Francesco Gagliardi, and then all the people I improvised with and taught me a lot!
However, there is a musician I started collaborating with a few years ago, Stefano Pilia. He is one of the guitarists I love the most. A cassette and vinyl with our music is going to be released on the Greek label Coherent States. We don't play live much together, but he is one of my most important interlocutors - we talk, we write and send each other our recordings before they are final.