Name: Valentina Magaletti/ Tom Relleen
Nationality: Italian/ British
Bands/Projects: Tomaga/ School of Hypnosis/ The Oscillation
Labels: Hands in the Dark/ Negative Days/ Blank Editions/ All Time Low
Musical Recommendation: Housewives, a London quartet who just had their debut album released via our imprint Negative Days/Hands in the Dark/Blank Editions. Blutwurst is a radical jazz improv ensemble from Tuscany, Italy currently working on their first work Yogurt, hopefully out next year.
When did you start writing/producing music and what or who were your early passions and influences?
VM : Tomaga is a relatively new adventure for both me and Tom but we have both written and recorded music with other musicians before Tomaga, and still do as much as possible. My passions and musical influences range from Goblin to Don Cherry, Stereolab, Tony Conrad, Terry Riley, I keep adding new artists and new records to my brain. My dream list of people to work with gets longer and longer but London makes it easy somehow to meet and work with inspiring people.
TR : I've been playing music since I was a teenager and have been exposed to a very wide range of music from an early age. Growing up in London meant that live music was always there and I’ve been going to concerts since I was 15, from rock bands to classical, I was interested in everything. A very influential series of concerts in my formative years was in east London in the mid nineties where I saw bands like Tortoise, Boards Of Canada, Rothko, Apex Twin, Autechre, in the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane. It blew my mind to see many different styles of music like this presented in one space. The spirit of otherness that connected them was very inspirational. Other performances I recall having a profound effect on me when I was young include Tony Conrad, Mogwai, Plastikman, John Renbourn, Slayer.
For most artists, originality is first 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?
VM: I always take into consideration how lucky we are to be both avid record collectors and to share a very similar taste and sensitivity towards modern music. This surely helps to develop our sound. While we never actively seek originality, we feel strongly about the fact that if you put us in a room together there is something quite unique about our mutual effort. This isn’t a forced process which is why Tomaga, especially live, found its own voice itself. This is slightly different when we record, because for me, sitting in front of a computer editing and producing is still a little painful (in the best possible way). I feel vulnerable and seek more points of reference, rather than the spontaneous experience of playing live.
TR: We have both played in many bands before beginning Tomaga, myself as a bass player and Valentina as a drummer, and perhaps a phase of learning occurred during these years. Generally we'd play other people’s music when filling these instrumental roles, or certainly we were playing behind singers and various kinds of soloists in what is traditionally the more ‘background’ role of the rhythm section. So when it came to playing music together we certainly had a clear idea of what we did not want to do. We did not want to have guitarists and singers in front of us!
In this rejection I think something interesting happened which is central to the voice of Tomaga, since we have essentially foregrounded the rhythmic and drone elements of music as opposed to the lyrical and melodic.
The studio has also been a place in which our sound has developed in quite interesting ways. I am preoccupied with fragments of our recordings that I will turn in to loops that form new compositions, and in intricate treatments which take the sound of normal instruments and make them unfamiliar. I find this process verges on the esoteric and the results are often surprising, such that the studio itself becomes an instrument with its own quirks.
What were your main compositional and production challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
VM: One of the main joys of being a musician full time and listening to lots of different music all the time is the feeling of constantly being challenged. One of the freshest experience for me this year has been focusing on tuned percussion and working with our big ensemble School of Hypnosis, playing minimalist composition inspired by the work of Terry riley, Steve Reich, Hennix etc…
TR: When we started Tomaga we owned only two microphones! We would set up walls of amps in our practice space and amplify the drums and synths with these and place the mics in the centre and record once we liked how everything sounded. I didn't know much about recording at first so this was the most natural approach and the material had to be made spontaneously since mixing was very limited with so few channels.
Now I know more and we have more equipment (now we have 7 mics!). We're doing slightly more intricate things and I find that this has in turn, refined our attitude to composition. But still we always start with a discussion of what sounds we want, and this dictates much of the direction of the composition.
Tell us about your studio, please. What were criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process? How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptic and technology for you?
VM:All the factors mentioned above are crucial to our modus operandi. Probably the mood is the most relevant. We have been working in a few different environments so far. From our ex studio in Hackney, to Tom’s old house in Bethnal Green to a beautiful Tuscan countryside retreat where we captured hours of field recordings including some polyrhythmic pieces recorded on a giant piece of metal found on the land.
TR: Indeed, when we recorded in rural Italy for a few weeks we became interested in the sounds of the metalwork and other objects in the area and I feel like these sounds completely drove the recordings. We just had to listen to them and judiciously decide what needed to be added or removed. It was a very profound experience of the relationship between the creative process and location.
We have also spent lots of time modifying percussion and other sound objects which all similarly dictate the music that we then make. In terms of a permanent studio we are homeless, which is a shame, but we have to be more creative about how and where we record because of that, which is probably a good thing.
What are currently some of the most important tools and instruments you're using?
VM: A wok, and few contact microphones and lots of random toys picked up from the skip seem to do the trick.
TR: Yes, we’re more and more interested in found objects and the sounds they can produce since this always leads to unique results. Other than these, I regularly use guitar pedal-type hardware for looping sounds. The oscillator of my battered old Korg MS10 is often the tone generator we use in synthesis, since it is a pure a beautiful sounding oscillator in my opinion.
Many contemporary production tools already take over significant parts of what would formerly have constituted compositional work. In which way do certain production tools suggest certain approaches, in which way do they limit and/or expand your own creativity? Are there any promising solutions or set-ups capable of triggering new ideas inside of you as a composer?
VM: Many contemporary productions sound similar to each other because everyone seem to use the same synths, the same pedals. Self-built musical instruments and unusual sounds trigger my imagination; beating some new weirdly-shaped object is the solution to boredom for me. As I mentioned before, I found computers on stage incredibly off putting. Having said that, I recognise the power of such tools and I respect how accessible recording has been made to everyone thank you to technology etc…
TR: The fact that we were able to take a bunch of microphones, an audio interface, and a computer to a house in rural Italy and be able to set this up and do multi-track recording in the middle of nowhere with great ease is for me an example of the liberating power of technology.
In composition however, it's very important to keep the computer in its place. We use it purely to record audio, never to sequence or process sounds, since those things are better done as a physical process, including all the care and attention, and time, that this entails. Process IS the experience of making the music. Your mood and the atmosphere of where you record is imbued directly in to it, and therefore the process is the creation of meaning, and so to delegate parts of the process to a machine is, I think, dangerous. Too much reliance on technology leads to the homogeneity that you hear in a lot of modern music. So I would say we are in some ways going against the trend completely. Rather than using a computer to process our sounds we are sitting in a room full of amps tweaking things in real-time and generally doing things in the same way that people did before computers.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where do ideas come from, what do you start with and how do you go about shaping these ideas?
VM: A few references that we took on board when we started working on ‘Futura Grotesk’ were from the debut album by a south London band called This Heat. I love the hard cuts on that album. The variety of atmospheres is treated on the a whole, with impeccable taste. I guess this is what we tried to reach with our work. In my head, composition is somehow a thing that evokes a consciousness built of elements. The ultimate goal when composing is to create a "Unity", a coherent organisation of thoughts. I am not sure if there is such a descriptive process yet, which is able to describe Tomaga's composition praxis. There is not a start or a direction to follow when we start recording sounds but there is definitely a clear sense of we like and what we don’t and that dictates a lot.
TR: Faust IV and Faust Tapes, and several of the early CAN records like Tago Mago and Future Days use collage as their guiding principal. This has influenced us a lot, since I feel like we build up our compositions out of fragments, giving equal prominence to pieces of improvisation, field recording, strange pieces of sound harvested from the margins of our studio recordings, as well as composed ‘songs’. These are placed together and edited, sometimes violently, until a state of unity is achieved. Those albums achieve that so well, they are still surprising to listen to after all these years because of that spirit.
With more and more musicians creating than ever and more and more of these creations being released, what does this mean for you as an artist in terms of originality? What are some of the areas where you currently see the greatest potential for originality and who are some of the artists and communities that you find inspiring in this regard?
VM: Artists like Harry Parch or contemporary artists such as Pierre Bastien are what I consider a breath of fresh air in terms of creative approach.
Taste and sincerity are the criteria to follow to find good music. Being prolific, being involved and creating your own scene is a positive thing for me. I see great potential in collaborating and supporting as much as possible the music you like.
TR: It's hard work to maintain your own voice, to really express yourself as best as you can without reverting to form or relying on genre-derived modes of composing and playing. If everyone strove to do this there would be no problem with so much music being made. But I think this has always been the same. There's a lot of great music around these days, but also, as ever, people are lazy and they find it easier, or safer to use derivations rather than connect with whatever is inside them that they need to express and getting a little out of their comfort zone.
There is a great scene in London right now and several groups trying to smash through the torpid mediocrity that saturates the music world. For instance we just helped a young London band called Housewives release their debut album and we really love them, their music is very uncompromising.