Breaking the rules

The nature of Valerio Tricoli's work does not invite description or comparison. Having employed traditional instruments along with electronics and various effects and filters, Tricoli's work heartily explores the concept of sound. He has been involved in the experimental/improvisational music community of Italy for many years and has worked with a range of peers from home and abroad. With a long term vision to create a sense of organic unity, with a robust understanding of the meaning of the concept, the Sicilian sound artist strives to satisfy his search for the true integration of music, sound and the here and now.

When did you start playing your instrument, and what or who were your early passions or influences?

I started playing electronic music when I was 20. I listened to a lot of music since I was a kid, so it's really hard to say what influenced me more.

What do you personally consider to be the incisive moments in your artistic work and/or career?

I was organizing concerts in Bologna for 6 or 7 years, and that gave me the opportunity  to meet many great musicians, exchange ideas, and most definitely learn from them. Many of them are still my friends, or people I work with.

Keith Rowe once asserted that it is often certain people that “give one permission to do things”. How was that for you – in which way did the work of particular artists before you “allow” you to take decisions which were vital for your creative development?

I started to play and compose in the late '90s and by then there was no need - at least for me,  I didn't feel so - of a messiah allowing you to do stuff prohibited by the tradition. As a matter of fact everything that used to be revolutionary, all non-tradition was already integrated into culture.  And I really can't say that, at a purely aesthetical level, I’ve witnessed any major or minor revolution, unless we don't wanna call "revolutions" all those waves of dogmatism, conservatism, Protestantism known under the name "reductionism", "isolationism" or "maximalism"…

So, to go back to your question: I didn't need somebody like that because everything was somehow possible and accepted (of course it was if you weren't affiliated with any of these -isms),  and all I needed to do was to allow myself to express something deep in me with my stuff, and I am still learning how to do that.

What are currently your main artistic challenges?

See above...

What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?

I've always been a composer of "tape music" in the studio and maybe even too much of an improviser on stage. Even though both are really permeable to influence each other (there's a bit of improv in my tape composition, and there's a bit of my compositions in every gig I play), I still see them as two radically different ways of expression, two different forms of art.

Composition, which for me could translate very well as "making a record", it's a really abstract thing: you have a "print" of sound and all the rest has to be projected and/or imagined: the listener, the space, the actual sound… In the absence of references with a specific reality, with a specific "here and now",  tape composition is for me, a way to create some sort of "virtual reality". It's an artifact for the mind with the purpose of disclosing an artificial world to the listener.

Live performance is very much the opposite: all the work is around a specific place in time, that influences me in real time and that I can influence. Tension could be achieved without using "abstract universals", sound metaphors etc,  but it's created in that moment, by that moment, and it's there for those bodies in that space…

How important are practising and instrumental technique for achieving your musical goals?

Honestly, not much. I play electronics, and twisting a couple of knobs is not like playing the violin,  and I feel it's more important for me to develop a system than actually practising it. The system that I like is one that is very ergonomic, very transparent. As a matter of fact, I feel practising is a good way to develop "automatisms", and I don't really want that.

Before a bigger gig I generally make some modification to the apparatus, I change my raw materials (I use a lot of pre-recorded sounds in my sets), I write new texts. All this to have something new, sure, but mostly to have a little less control and more surprise. I am sure that a big part of the effectiveness of my performance is given by the fact that it always lives on the threshold of… breaking apart. There is a struggle for form and sound that is eventually really tangible, and this probably creates a big part of the tension of my solo sets.

How do you see the relationship between sound, space and performance?

In what I do I try not to see a relation, but a unity, a crystal of time in which these elements and all the others are no longer discernible. When this unity is broken, and you start to see a relation of distinct elements, it means that it's not working anymore.

Derek Bailey defined improvising as the search for material which is endlessly transformable. Regardless of whether or not you agree with his perspective, what kind of materials have turned out to be particularly transformable and stimulating for you?


Purportedly, John Stevens of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble had two basic rules to playing in his ensemble: (1) If you can't hear another musician, you're playing too loud, and (2) if the music you're producing doesn't regularly
relate to what you're hearing others create, why be in the group. What's your perspective on this statement and how, more generally, does playing in a group compare to a solo situation?

1) is really partial (and by being partial you create dogma and clichés);
2) is dangerous: really, who decide what "regularly" relates to something? John Stevens? If I had to think so, I would be a engineer, or an expert of etiquette, or an agent for the tax department. Making music for me is about what doesn't regularly relate, and I sometimes need sounds that relate regularly only to have the freedom to subvert them.

I like to play in small groups, duos especially, but it has to be with musicians with whom I share something… friends, I mean. I like the process of finding a shared goal to be reached together. Bigger improv groups are more difficult, it's hard and unlikely to find a shared goal, and often they end up being too much about sound per se, and "beauty" and "making it work"… It seems to me that very rarely they can give much to the intellect, but that could be a strength: a big group can be a strong representation of nature, and chaos, but that happens when musicians start to produce sounds that don't regularly relate.
That's the thing: there's definitely too much Apollon and not enough Dionysus in experimental music today.

Some people see recording improvised music as a problem. Do you?

Definitely. Sometimes recording live sets is very similar to filming people under the effect of LSD or whatever: it's not even a document of the experience. It is nothing.

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