Name: Roberto Maria Clemente
Occupation: Guitarist, composer, sound artist, improviser
Recent release: The new Larsen album Golden Leaf, a collaboration with Alessandro Sciaraffa, is out via Important.
Recommendations: Broomberg / Chanarin, Holy Bible, Mack 2013; Forced Entertainment, Void Story, 2009
If you enjoyed this interview with Roberto Maria Clemente of Larsen and would like to find out more about his music, visit Larsen on Facebook. To find out more about Larsen, read our interviews with the other band members:
[Read our Paolo Dellapiana interview]
[Read our Marco Schiavo aka Il Bue interview]
[Read our Fabrizio Modonese Palumbo interview]
Over the course of their career, Larsen have collaborated with a wide range of artists, including Xiu Xiu, Martin Bisi, and Lustmord.
[Read our Xiu Xiu interview]
[Read our Martin Bisi interview]
[Read our Lustmord interview]
When did you start writing/producing/playing 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 producing music “officially” very late, when I had my first band, and I was already 26. I was precociously motivated by music, but I was (and I am) totally hopeless in playing music, not having an ear for that and no sense of rhythm. I reacted unconsciously, producing short melody lines on the guitar without any technique, without any thought about how to end with that. I realized that the personal way in composing was unexpectedly relevant just when I entered my first band.
Since I was 5 years old,I used to listen to any kind of music, voraciously; during secondary school I started to buy music magazines, and day after day during my early teens I realized that I was attracted by the idea of the future. Kraftwerk, for instance, both musically as well aesthetically.
And when Heroes came out I remember I saw that video with a skinny Bowie, just illuminated by one single light coming from his shoulder, a very minimal and technical scenario, and … I saw the light.
And later, probably Colin Newman from the band Wire, with AZ showed me how you can expand the boundaries of any idea you can have of a song, or melody, or sound.
And moreover, the fascination for the potential explorations that My life in the bush of Ghost was bringing, sampling almost everything around us, was a huge influence to me.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
I am a visual designer, so the parallel in between music and images is a sort of continuous co-existence, so I appreciate your way of perceiving and translating into object and colors.
But I do not have the same reaction. It’s more about wild goose bumps, or electricity flowing in my body and in my brain. I always studied and worked with an uninterrupted soundtrack, that is to say that I appreciate silence but sometimes it is unacceptable to me, and physically I need to get back to music: that also means that my regular mode is being constantly fed up with music in my daily life. It’s like being active, having the light ON and I owe all my results to that mode.
Moreover, music has been my real anchor for the entire lifetime of my professional career in visual design, giving me space to create infinite metaphors based on what is happening in music. It’s like I am asking music if what I’m doing is correct or not, or to help me in finding solutions.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
Not considering myself as an artist, and just playing in two bands, Larsen and XiuXiuLarsen. I know we came from a previous generation where our music genres grew up nurtured by laying in niches with no temptations from the market or immediate / overnight success.
Developing languages with no dangerous distractions: after 30 years I can tell you that I can take in consideration only evolutive process: self complacency often leads to involution or mannerism. The question is always about what is going to happen, which step further will represent it.
If you don’t perceive it as a path, maybe you can get lost soon. Or at least, this is what happens to me.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
The answer to the first part is both personal and collective, as Larsen.
Aș personal answer, it’s the question that I have to deal with constantly, working as a visual designer and running my own studio for 20 years. Which is our uniqueness as a studio? What makes us different, considering that I am the one in charge to draw the direction? And how does this ME become the same ME that contributes in a more democratic and collective way to process choices in Larsen? There are probably some common points.
As a listener maybe it’s a random mix of a need for knowledge, curiosity and expectations of evolution in languages, capacity of representing the time we are in.
But also, randomly, expectations for timeless music, idiosyncrasy to any revival, desire for simplicity (that explains my instinctive love for melody and further for the perfect 3 minutes pop song), together with desire for the primitive and the extremely noisy.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
I guess I just answered that in the previous question. But I can add: in music one of my key ideas is a two or three note melody drowned in tons of noise. In the other field where I work there is also an ironic layer that I like to make explode where I can. In this other field I am totally devoted to two other pivotal issues that, later, entered my mindscape in music.
The first one, the most influential to me, is the strong conviction that “everything is a language” and we can take advantage of any inspiration around us, including the infinite past of references from previous ages around the world. No foreclosure or prejudice of any kind. It's only up to us, to explore and investigate and remix and hybridize everything.To me it’s easier to apply it in the visual field, but the metaphor is always going on in my mind, as a twin system.
The second issue is the cult of randomness and the celebration of mistake. Nothing new, but I really cultivate with an unquestioning faith.
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”?
Again, I guess I already anticipated some issues about that in previous answers.
To stay strictly on the tracks of your questions, originality and innovations could dare any idea of defined perfection reaching timelessness heights. If innovation and evolutions are my condicio sine qua non, the “music of the future” is just a further vision of what is my idea of contemporary music, capable of representing the spirit of today, the zeitgeist. Or forecasting potential future scenarios in advance.
And all this could be done having in mind a tradition of experimenting and foreseeing that it has always existed in music. Pioneers and beta-tester have always been my heroes.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
To be honest, this Is a question that inappropriately belongs to me. Mmmm … I am the lazy one on that side.
I would say guitar pedals but I would be lying If I called myself a true experimenter on that. This is one of my inexcusable weaknesses.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
I guess my answer would get out of focus. I don’t live by music, my routine is inside a design studio.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
Along the almost thirty years of my experiences, I would remember a couple of over exciting moments of the creative process, my favorite ones.
The first one with Larsen is not related to any album in particular, it happens every now and then when we stop for a long time and we get back to create something completely new, after months or even years: our lives have moved on and we don’t know who we are now or we have become, musically as well. And the first session is sometimes truly magical, with the shiver running down your spine.
The second one is the very first record with XiuXIu, Ciautistico, our first time of such an unusual line up, the complete matching of two entire bands: two natures in love with each other musically, with an instinctive empathy but basically humanly unknown to each other.
15 days intentionally forced to write an album, a bunch of songs out of an empty sheet, starting from nothing and discovering each other as in a chosen nudity. With a show in the middle of the period, playing together a few brand new songs just written.
Pure adrenaline and unconsciousness, showing vulnerability as strength.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
Ahhhhh this is one of my favorite topics. I get used to thinking that “true” music happens when it flows naturally through personal emotions emerging along particular moments and periods. It was based on my solitary approach during my adolescent period. And that was also my way to contribute to my very first band compositions and then even in Larsen at the very beginning.
And then I fully discovered the hippy side of me. Since then, creating music is to me only collective processing; and being “true” could appear only when we are all together, exactly in those moments, out of nothing, or out of any rough or primitive personal compositions. It has to be only the magic of what we are as the four of us, as priests in a ritual, as the medium of something bigger than us.
It can materialize or be a total failure and we should make the ritual happen again and again till when it will flow. We have no power, there is something that transcends us. 1+1+1+1 could have an infinite number as a final result.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
Honestly I cannot give you a fully conscious response. If I have to answer on a rational level, the world around me is influencing me in music only on a personal side: I would say that emotions coming from my daily life have something to do with what comes out as music, or they could have an impact on how I personally and irrationally give my contribution in composing in the band.
On a larger spectrum, in general the world / society is impacting on my creativity every second of my life and this is strongly evident in my works as a visual designer.
About the role of music in society, it’s an answer that deserves deeper analysis not fitting this space. Shortly, I guess it’s violently changing, and probably the role is getting smaller, unfortunately.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
Extremely intense question. Music has always been a shelter for me, since I was naturally and sweetly swallowed up by music, my real protection, my blanket as my armor. Any kind of intense emotions related to important passages of my life have been always shrouded in music. As a favorite companion to share with, or sanctuary where to take my anxieties and joys and celebrate them.
Undergoing musical therapy, where every sensitive point is heightened and amplified, I probably had the sensation of understanding more of the unknown nature of those moments, of the mystery of these big topics, and perhaps I felt reassured, calmed and even ready to move forward.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
In general terms, in a more spontaneous sense, I prefer to consider the magic that wraps the phenomenon of perception. No matter what or how. No matter which is the scientific dimension behind. The more I put the accent on the science side, the more I would lose the power of magic.
Then, potentially there are so many interesting overlappings of the two disciplines to investigate that I think it would depend on personal attitudes.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
I think creativity is a muscle that basically everyone has. But unfortunately often we forget that we have it, and unluckily it happens more often that no one remembers it for us.
I have a definite anti-holy approach to arts, that means that I am probably more on the side that considers making a coffee not so distant from creating music. Of course differences are rather evident but still I prefer not to perceive myself on the stage and support the idea of a diffuse potential.
I do not know what I express through music that is not in mundane tasks. Probably I express through music all of me that I don’t rationalize.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
No idea how It works scientifically. My idea is that music is the best amplifier to our inner life and it has the capacity to make the abyss emerge.