Andrea Belfi: I like hypnotic and challenging acoustic experiences, where people can just sit and float
Andrea Belfi is a drummer, composer and electronic musician. During the last twenty years he developed a unique style of drumming, his hypnotic rhythms and textures create immersive sound worlds where the listener can float in. He has released five solo albums and more than fifty collaborative records on labels such as Room40, Miasmah and Häpna. Andrea has a profound connection with Sweden, his last album ‘Natura Morta‘ was partly recorded at Elektronmusikstudion (EMS) in Stockholm and now he will be a vital part of celebrating 15 years of Room40 just a few steps away from the very same studio. We spoke to Andrea about his influences and recent interests, Stockholm, synthesizers and a special instrument called trimba. You can also get a sneak peek of what to expect from his performance at Fylkingen. If this would not be enough, he even prepared a guest mix featuring some of his favourite pieces.
Could you tell us a bit about your early influences? How did it all start, how did you become interested in music and what made you start experimenting with sounds?
I started playing drums at 14. Some friends I used to go skateboarding with needed a drummer for their punk rock band. So the first reason I got into music was somehow more social than just musical. I went through lots of hardcore, punk, rock and electronic music, until I discovered Gastr del Sol and subsequently more experimental and improvised music while I was studying contemporary art in Milan. The first more “far-out” experimental music records I bought in 1998-2000 from Giuseppe Ielasi’s distribution in Milan, were ‘The Radio’ by Steve Roden, ‘Hotel Paral.ell’ by Fennesz and ‘Den’ by Taku Sugimoto and Kevin Drumm. Those were among the most influential artists for me at that time, together with Dean Roberts (‘All Cracked Medias’!), Axel Dörner and Oren Ambarchi. I started experimenting with sounds because I found my mean of expression, and I wanted to make something with this marvelous opportunity.
After getting this impulse, how did you get started?
After I quit the Academy of Fine Arts, I moved back to Verona in 2001, and I started improvising with percussion, contact microphones and electronics with my friend Ciro who was playing the Roland 505 in a very abstract and unique way (we got in touch through one of the first music chat forum!). At the same time I also self-released my first solo and only electronics record called ‘Ned N°2‘. In those years I spent lots of time at Valerio Trocoli’s house in Bologna, where many interesting people hung out together: Claudio Rocchetti, Stefano Pilia, Dean Roberts, John Duncan, Domenico Sciajno and many other interesting artists. At his place we were listening, playing and recording music, smoking pot… it was a nice and, somehow, fruitful period. Then I started playing solo live sets with this material as well. The big change happened when Häpna released my second solo record in 2006, because that’s when I really started confronting myself and my music with an international audience.
You often times collaborate and you’ve been part of numerous groups. What is that you like the most in working with other musicians? Is there someone you haven’t worked with before but you would love to?
Working with many different musicians is a great opportunity to be challenged and grow as musician and person. I was lucky to always find deep and interesting (and interested in various forms of art) people on my way so far. I’d love to find a way to record some drums for and produce something with Steve Roden, Keith Fullerton Whitman or Peder Mannerfelt for example, and to work more with singers/songwriters like I did with Carla Bozulich. I’d love to do play some drums for Peter Broderick’s amazing songs for example in the not so distant future.
What are you interested in these days? What are you working on currently?
I’m interested in what is happening in Kurdistan, and the type of ideas Kurdish people are trying to realize despite their situation. I’m interested in Congolese music and meeting new and interesting people. I’m playing some shows with my solo, with Circuit des Yeux, with a trio with Lori Goldston and Aidan Baker, with Vert, and with a Moondog tribute trio called Hobocombo. I’m working on a new BBS album with Aidan Baker and Erik Skodvin, planning the release of a new The Swifter album with Simon James Phillips and BJNilsen. I’m also building some Trimba, the triangular percussion Moondog conceived in the 50’s.
Where does your fascination for the trimba come from? How is your version going to be special/different?
On a 2006 tour I spent an evening at Nicolas Marmin’s house in Paris, where he played this marvelous music from Moondog. I remember it was one of these unique experiences of discovering something special without any previous preconception or infrastructure behind. In 2010 I started a Moondog tribute trio called Hobocombo, then three years ago I got the chance to work for a couple of months in a frame-drum workshop in Berlin, called Davidroman Drums. My wife suggested me to build the Trimba there, and David, one of the two workshops’ owners helped me to build it with his know-how. A few months later I got my first great sounding Trimba. It’s difficult to say whether it sounds exactly like the ones Moondog had, as he had more than one and they changed sound and shape over the course of his career. I only can say that my instruments sounds great, and that it’s a beautiful conceived instrument. As soon as I started playing it, it became clear how its sounds, shape and the technique to play it are some much connected together in a coherent and organic way.
Do you listen to a lot of music when you are not working on your own or do you find it overwhelming? Could you give us a taste of what do you listen to nowadays?
I go through different periods, depending on how much music I’m working at. I usually listen to lots of music, and at the moment I’m into records like Byron Westbrook ‘Precipice’, Tod Dockstader ‘Luna Park’, Ennio Morricone ‘Manuela’, Peder Mannerfelt ‘The Swedish Congo Record’, Ame Zek ‘Streams’, Circuit des Yeux ‘In Plains Speech’, Charles Cohen ‘Brother I Prove You Wrong’.
You have a special connection with Stockholm. You’ve released music on the Swedish Häpna label and EMS studio was a vital part in creating your last album ‘Natura Morta’ (Miasmah, 2014). How did this relationship between you and Sweden start?
It started about ten years ago, when Johan and Klas from Häpna looked south and released records from Giuseppe Ielasi, ¾ hadbeenliminated, Sinistri and my ‘Between Neck & Stomach’. I played there for the first time at Ugglan in 2006, presenting the previously mentioned album. It was part of a European tour, where I also met John Chantler in London, the same person who is now bringing me back to Stockholm for the Openframe festival.
The EMS residency happened because Mats Lindström saw me playing in Barcelona in 2010, and I expressed interest in working with the amazing synthesizers they have there.
Last but not least, I bought my Clavia Nord Modular Synthesizer made in Stockholm in the year 2000, and I’ve been using it as my only electronic sounds source so far…it’s a pity that Clavia stopped developing this great machine!
How’s your relationship with synthesizers and gear in general? Once you own one it’s quite difficult not to get sucked into the world of wires and patches… how does this work in your case?
I’ve never used anything else then my Nord Modular as electronic sound source, except when I was at EMS working with the Serge and Buchla, and when I got a Korg MS-10 for a couple of weeks. So I’m not using any analog synth neither too many wires, only virtual ones, except a couple of jack jack cables…I recently discovered how good is working with the Roland SPD-SX, which is a great useful and flexible tools for drummers who works with electronics as well. In general I like sounds and timbres from both of my synthesizer, my good old Ludwig Super Classic drum kit, a limited number of cymbals and percussion, and I think these are sufficient to realize the music I want at the moment, so I’m not really into an analog synths buying compulsion.
What should the audience expect from your performance at the ROOM40 Openframe in Stockholm? What did you prepare for this occasion?
I’m presenting an electroacoustic live set with drums and electronics. I composed a sequence of events that can be enjoyed as one long piece with lots of improvisation inside it. I like hypnotic and challenging acoustic experiences, where people can just sit and float, like an Eliane Radigue record but with drums and percussion in it.
That sounds fantastic! When it comes to you being in the audience, what do you like to experience the most? Any exceptional performances you’ve been to, something you will always remember?
If I think about two shows that changed my life, those are Cellule d’intervention Metamkine in Florence in 2001 and Neurosis in Verona in 1996. I still have goosebumps when I think about those gigs. I mean, when you are young and discover something magic it stays in yourself forever… I like when a show has narrative, energy, and when it gives surprises. A great gig is the one that brings you back the same feelings when you think about it after days, weeks, years.
If you would have to choose one, what would you pick as your favourite album cover?
I would say Gastr del Sol ‘Upgrade and Afterlife’ cover, with Roman Signer’s photo. Just impossible to forget and to separate from that album, which changed my life.
(Click on the photos for larger size!)
Can I also say Minutemen’s ‘Double Nickels on the Dime’ cover? I say this not only because I play with Watt and when I see it reminds me of his hilarious stories and addictive personal energy, but also because it is one of the first record covers I ever noticed when I started listening and buying music on my own. For the same reason I’m very attached to the inside photo of ‘Portrait of Past’s self titled album on Ebullition.
GUEST MIX by ANDREA BELFI
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