Name: Francesco Tristano
Occupation: Composer, pianist, producer, improviser
Current release: Francesco Tristano's remix of Roland Leesker's "No Way Out" is out now via Get Physical.
Recommendations: Hermann Hesse: Das Glasperlenspiel (1943) and Shoshana Zuboff: The age of surveillance capitalism (2018)
If you enjoyed this interview with Francesco Tristano, stay up to date on his work via Instagram, twitter, and Soundcloud.Or head straight over to his official homepage.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started improvising and composing just around the same time that I started playing the piano, age five. The piano seemed like an incredible instrument, in many ways it still does. It is a percussion instrument, and it can sing. It has a very large range of pitch and dynamic. I wanted to explore its possibilities.
For most artists, originality is 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?
The music is there to tell. I think the learning and the exploring can go hand in hand. In many ways one’s total output is one long process or transition towards a sound ideal. I suppose Not for piano (Infine, 2007) is the inflection point for me.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I don’t think it is of relevance. Music has been around for centuries, millenaries. We are all part of this process.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I realized that for many people the image of the piano was somewhat of the past. I could not understand why - when the piano first appeared in the middle of the 18th century, it came straight out of the future. The technology used was hitherto unseen in musical instruments. It kept evolving ever since.
I suppose my challenge is then still the same: bring the piano back where it belongs - to the future. Sometimes I like to call it piano2.0.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
Electronics have taken the sound of the piano to the next level. I believe there is still lots to be explored. In adding different synths and live electronics to my setup, I try to re-invent my sound. Best case scenario, it is identifiable as my sound.
Music and technology have gone hand in hand for centuries, this relationship was intensified exponentially in the 20th century thanks in great part to electricity. A.I. is then the next step and I have already engaged in some fascinating projects.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
In general, the tools available today certainly allow for a more immediate, and easy result when it comes to music technology. In many ways I am still old school: I start to write my music with a pencil, an eraser, and stave paper.
On a more specific level, I believe MIDI technology marks a before and after in the history of music/technology. (Universal Synthesizer Interface, Dave Smith & Chet Wood, 1981)
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 choose my collaborations carefully. The best way is always to sit together in the same room, studio, or concert hall. The internet tries to replace this by remote collaborations, but the feeling is rarely the same.
Recently I have collaborated a lot with dancers: altogether a different vision, a different world. I am learning a lot.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Yes my life Is very much on a tight schedule, not least because of my kids. But there are a few daily imperatives: the first one is espresso. Personally, that cup of espresso is a great inspiration for me, perhaps enough inspiration. I wrote this song "Single or doppio" in Detroit many years ago ...
My best work is done in the morning. I rarely come up with anything of quality after lunch. I don’t try to blend my life and my music, I believe they are intertwined and ultimately inseparable.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
As stated before, all my works are one work-in-progress. One album could not have seen the light hadn’t there been the previous, and so forth. That’s something that often gets lost in the narrative of the music industry, sadly.
If I were to mention two albums which mark my personal process, I would chose Idiosynkrasia (Infine, 2010) and Tokyo Stories (Sony Classical, 2019)
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Early mornings are good for the creative process. There is this famous line in a French film of the nouvelle vague: “Le monde appartient a ceux qui se levent tot”. This would mean it isn’t necessarily a state of mind, but a physical state.
Personally I have had trouble differentiating between those two aspects: they seem indissociable. The distractions are many - it is then a constant fight to not be stimulated by irrelevant stuff. Concentration Is key. Of course concentration is a process too ...
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Yes music does have a healing quality. This is due to some very intricate process with which our consciousness (and sub-consciousness) reacts to frequencies. The ancient Greeks have written about this.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
Cultural exchange/appropriation have been around for thousands of years.. And they are interchangeable. Privatization, and copyright/watermark technologies have tried to put them to a halt - rather unsuccessfully. Music is sound - identity politics are irrelevant here.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
Yes, probably all senses are connected in some intricate feedback loop. For example, I find it fascinating to notice the difference between listening to music eyes open, and eyes closed. Goosebumps are another great, and crazy, feature.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I feel that I am very lucky to be living off my passion. If I have given inspiration to the younger generation, then it makes me happy.
Throughout the years I have met many young musicians along my path. Sometimes they were of a poor background. Here again music has a healing power, and fills a social purpose. These kids are the future. I am no politician, but I believe many a politician could use some musical therapy. Or they could just attend a concert. Perhaps it would improve their politics ...
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
This question pretty much resumes the force of music: it is an abstract form of art where words are not needed. In this sense music can, and does, describe the full range of emotions.