Name: Papiro aka Marco Papiro
Nationality: Italian, Swiss
Occupation: Musician, graphic designer
Current Release: Papiro's new album La finestra dentata is out now on Marionette.
Recommendations: Antti Tolvi in general, his band Keijut or his album „Ultrakosmos“ in particular; "Promenade d'été d'ulis NASA" by Edgardo Cantón. You will find both and more in this recent Papiro set.
If you enjoyed this interview with Papiro, visit his website for a deeper look into his deeply personal sound world. You can also find him on Soundcloud or bandcamp.
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 playing the violin when I was six, soon after that I joined the choir and orchestra of the local church, my sister played harpsichord and other Baroque instruments. So music was always around, though for a long time it was mostly European classical music, either played or coming from the reel-to-reel machine in the living-room.
Our parents loved music. They grew up in rural post-war Sicily, they wanted to give us the opportunities they had been denied. My cornucopia for a long time were movie soundtracks – Italian comedies, sword-and-sandal or science-fiction movies. I remember watching "2001, A Space Odyssey" when I was 12, and how the music by Ligeti blew my mind. It wasn’t weird or anything, just incredibly daring. I also owe a lot to Guido and Maurizio de Angelis, who were responsible for a lot of the music for Bud Spencer & Terence Hill movies. I loved those candid melodic lines. Luckily my parents had no idea, so I was allowed to watch "Conan", its soundtrack by Basil Poledouris was one of my favourites, but also "Apocalypse Now", anything by Morricone … an eclectic lot.
Much later, when I learned about "other" music, an important influence were albums I had only read or heard about – this was before everything was readily available. I'm thinking of albums like La Monte Young's "The Well-Tuned Piano", or "Blau" by Conrad Schnitzler, and also the extended Nurse With Wound periphery, obscure psychedelic and progressive groups. They all intrigued me for years before I actually got to hear them. Imagining the music was more inspiring than the real thing, that sometimes turned out to be inferior.
But to be honest, my great passion as a kid and until about 16 was drawing. I was constantly drawing and got quite good at it. Music was important, but it was mainly the soundtrack to my pictures.
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?
My own voice, if we can call it that, is shaped by my curiosity, my numerous limitations, and the level of satisfaction I get out of doing something, and trying to be as honest and uncompromising as possible about it. It has always been like this, but these are mutable parameters, fortunately.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Not much, or at least I never thought about it, about identity in general. Health, time and the people who are close to me are the most influential factors.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I'd like my music to be malleable. Of course my own version should be consistent, but ideally it could also be performed by other people, with different instruments or even be completely re-interpreted. Malleable music consists of multiple layers, of which the musical ones are merely the surface.
Maybe the most important thing about music is that music is not the most important thing.
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?
When I started recording my own music I didn’t have a specific plan, and I also didn’t have a lot of instruments, let alone instruments I could play. Basically I used whatever was available, and that would often be obsolete equipment. I was, and still am, a big admirer of Die Welttraumforscher, who coined the sentence "we don't work with what we want, we work with what we got". I agree, in fact my equipment came together by chance and opportunity rather than a wish list.
A friend of mine had this sci-fi looking gizmo collecting dust on top of a cupboard, it immediately grabbed my attention. He said it was a synthesizer, but one that made noises and special effects, and that I could take it if I wanted. I kept bumping into similar instruments for the next couple of years. It was the early nineties, keyboard players were literally throwing their old synths away, and my generation wanted something with MIDI synchronisation and presets, so old gear was accessible. Nobody I knew was into that kind of synths at the time. It was the era of those heavy and expensive workstations. I borrowed one too for a while, I liked some of the sounds, but that menu diving was too annoying for me.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
The synthesizer certainly had a great impact on me. I learned the basics trying to reproduce acoustic instruments and voices, but I was also attracted by unpredictability. It was fun and didn’t require the level of skills needed for classical music – or rather, a different set of skills, one I felt more comfortable with. Essentially, I was starting again from scratch. Another huge difference was that in combination with a four-track cassette recorder (meanwhile it's the computer), I was now independent; composing, playing and recording was virtually the same process.
But the most fascinating instrument is the voice. Not just the singing voice, and not exclusively human. There's a lot to learn from observing it, no matter what kind of music you make - even instrumental, like in my case.
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 don’t work so much with other people, so I wouldn’t know what to say. My experiences with bands were educative, but for the sake of others I usually work on my own. I need a good reason for a joint effort, but if I find one I guess I could adapt to any process. Discussing is essential, but not necessarily or exclusively about music.
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?
It’s a very ordinary life. When my son was born nine years ago, I installed the studio at home so I would be able to look after him, take care of the housework and if possible work on music or graphic design – in that order. That’s not always easy, but it has a lot of advantages for all of us. It certainly helped that music was already an established part of my life.
I don’t have a particular routine or schedule. I try to work regularly, but there are times when one part or the other needs more attention.
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?
I just finished my first piece for ensemble ("Vamos a la playa"). It has been performed a couple of times at the end of May. Whether or not this was a breakthrough I'll be able to tell in a couple of years, but it certainly was illuminating. It was the first time I could hear my music from the other side, in the audience.
The piece was commissioned by Ensemble Phoenix Basel, they had worked with the likes of John Duncan, Phill Niblock, Maja Ratkje, Z'ev, so I couldn't say no. Well, actually I said no the first time they asked me because I was too insecure, luckily they were persistent. I started writing in February and it kept me busy for four months. I never had to write music for other people, not to mention a 10-piece ensemble. Composing was an introspection. It meant transforming intuition into conscious and legible decisions. And it meant taking responsibility for those decisions.
It was demanding, but when I heard them play it for the first time it was an indescribable moment. After that I knew it would work.
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?
Well, when things seem to work I'm usually in a very good mood, which is a desirable state of mind. But I don't know how to get there other than working, which can be fairly amusing too – I'm not the poète maudit type.
There are numerous distractions of course, but I'm good at keeping the focus, I think this is something I learned from drawing.
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?
Healing is a bold word, and it seems that this aspect is very individual. I've seen people energized by music that I thought was primarily polluting my environment. That music was fake to me, but their feelings were real.
Recently I heard a piece on the radio that I found incredibly moving. I was surprised to find out it was "Pie Jesu" by Andrew Lloyd Webber, a composer I usually avoid – but again, the feelings were real, so I accepted that. Music certainly is powerful stuff, but maybe it works better if we're unbiased.
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?
I don't know. To tell you the truth I feel I'm a bit out of the loop in this discussion. I don’t have any personal experience, and I don’t think I have anything interesting to add.
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?
I have a curious form of synesthesia, but totally unrelated to music. To me every weekday has a specific color, e.g. if I think of Wednesday I vividly see a dark red. I also hear certain inimitable sounds when I'm looking at forms, which is very useful for graphic design, but unfortunately it doesn't work the other way round. It seems to me that senses can be illusory and autonomous, at least in parts.
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?
One day in the early nineties, I had an epiphany. A friend of a friend had invited us to hang out in his apartment, and that was the first time I saw walls covered with records – remember I had grown up on classical music and soundtracks, I had yet to buy my first LP, and so far I had been largely unaware of underground music. However, that evening changed my life as we listened to these records that were all otherworldly to me, starting with the covers. I had never heard such sounds, strange and marvellous at the same time. I mulled over this experience for a couple of days, then I realised that if such music was possible, then everything else must be possible, too.
Other people might have had such a realization through art, books, movies, or any kind of trigger event – but for me it was music. So I wanted to be a musician. A recording musician to be precise. I wanted a product.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
I can’t express that in words.