[ Interviste / Interviews ]
Interview with GIUSEPPE VERTICCHIO/NIMH, by Gianmarco Del Re.
GIANMARCO: Giuseppe Verticchio lives and works in Rome. He began playing electronic music in 1994 and adopted the moniker Nimh in 2001. Over the years, he has released many albums of different nature containing elements of experimental music, ambient, dark-ambient, industrial, electronic, isolationism, and ritual-ethnic music on labels such as Silentes, Malignant, Eibon, Rage in Eden, Amplexus, Synästhesie Schallplatten…
GIUSEPPE: A lot of friends I would say. Over time there have also been a few less successful encounters, but all in all, it’s been a great occasion to meet like-minded people. There were a bunch of us from Rome who all met through Gianluigi Gasparetti’s magazine Deep Listenings, while I was taking my first steps within electronic and experimental music by producing CD-Rs and we were looking for a way to promote our work. I remember that back then, just to be able to upload or to hear small excerpts in real audio on the net was a great achievement, as MP3s didn’t really exist. Being a computer programmer by trade, I started Oltre il Suono with no real ambition other than to promote not just my own work, but also my friends’ releases. I used to meet other musicians in a natural way, as friends of friends or sometimes I would personally get in touch with artists whose work I admired. In a sense, Oltre il Suono functioned as a sort of proto-mySpace where every single artist had a page, with photographs and real audio excerpts. The only difference being that with mySpace artists maintain their own pages, whereas with Oltre il Suono that responsibility rested with me. In the space of a couple of years the project took off and several musicians started getting in touch with me directly, which forced me to redesign the website as I no longer had time to update everybody’s pages. With the advent of mySpace this was no longer necessary and my website reverted to carefully selected reviews.
GIANMARCO: I get the impression that you were interested mainly in self produced music, is that so?
GIUSEPPE: We are talking about a very small scene, with only a handful of labels active back then, such as Stefano Gentile’s Amplexus and Stefano Musso’s Hic Sunt Leones amongst others. Oltre il Suono was a way to promote music with little visibility at a time when Internet was still in infancy. Initially I was concentrating on CD-Rs and self produced albums, but since it became clear that the life span of CD-Rs, and especially new generation ones, was somehow limited I started focussing on CDs. I have always been interested in well produced music, though, with good artwork and good overall packaging. Unfortunately, there were many people who were actually doing things in a haphazard way releasing low quality products.
GIANMARCO: What is the future now that MySpace has virtually died?
GIUSEPPE: Personally, I still have my own mySpace page. I am not too keen on Soundcloud, I find it a bit sterile and Spartan, and I am not too interested in Bandcamp either. I make music out of passion, I am not into it to make money and, even though I do have a limited number of copies of my albums for sale on my personal website, I am not looking at selling my work directly as with Bandcamp. My aim is still to release music and get some feedback from listeners.
GIANMARCO: In your interviews, talking about your working method, you frequently stress that you always strive to make something new.
GIUSEPPE: I have never been interested in making the same album over and over again. There are a number of artists who might’ve started as interesting only to end up repeating themselves, producing the same sounds, with the same musical approach, and the same method, and after a while I begin to find them a tad tedious. I don’t like clichés. I hope that different musical influences can be heard in my own music, both within a single album and from album to album. I try to develop something new each time I record an album, but nothing is ever pre-planned. I might bring back a particular instrument from one of my foreign travels and then start experimenting with it and for a while that might become my main focus. Another input to try something new could be a new software or even just a plug-in. Collaborations are also fertile ground to experiment.
GIANMARCO: Do you ever start working on an album only to realise halfway through that you are covering the same ground you have covered before and therefore chuck it all in and start again from scratch?
GIUSEPPE: No. I work in an instinctive way but I don’t feel compelled to make something new just for the sake of it. Also, when I say I instinctively search for new paths, that is not to say that everything I do is intrinsically original. What is important to me, is that every time I set about working on a new album, I don’t fall back into some repetitive pattern. If you put all the 20-25 albums I released so far, solo or in collaboration, next to each other, you will notice that aside from a few analogies in my working methods I have always strived for some kind of development. Some albums are more ethnic, others more dark-ambient, while others more industrial.
GIANMARCO: I am quite intrigued by the ethnic side of your work. Could you mention some ethnic instruments you have discovered and utilised in your albums?
GIUSEPPE: The first ethnic instrument I picked up one was the didgeridoo, back in ’97 at a time when it was very difficult to find one in Rome or in Italy for that matter. I liked Steve Roach where he played the didgeridoo like the double album Dreamtime Return. Aside from that, I have played mostly Thai instruments as I have a brother who lives in Thailand, which has enabled me to travel extensively throughout the country. If I had to mention a few I would pick the Khaen, a Thai mouth organ, the Tzeebu a 3 string Thai banjo, the Soong, a 4 string Thai guitar and the Pin Pia a chest resonated stick zither with two to five strings, originating from the north of Thailand and which is actually very hard to find. I even wrote an article on Sandzine about it. It is quite complicated to play and produces a wah-wah effect
GIANMARCO: You are mostly self-taught, how do you get the hang of these instruments?
GIUSEPPE: Some are more difficult than other to play. For instance, I couldn’t work out the Tibetan trumpet, which I have at home and is very nice but I still haven’t been able to play it. Generally speaking, though, while not a virtuoso, I have been able to play most instruments reasonably well enough to be able to produce some loops or even more articulated melodies.
GIANMARCO: Do you have a classical training background?
GIUSEPPE: No. When I was a child, though, my mother used to get me toy instruments to play with. From then on, I picked up the guitar, which most of my peers seemed to be strumming in some way or the other back then. Little by little, I have been able to work out a few chord and wind instruments.
GIANMARCO: How important is it for you that these instruments are recognisable as such in your music and for the sounds to be, generally speaking, of organic nature?
GIUSEPPE: Many consider experimental and electronic music to be something produced by synthesis with a computer. One can fiddle around with filters and stuff, but personally speaking, while I am happy to work with electronic instruments and keyboards, as well as traditional instruments, such as guitars, what I try to do is always to uncover new sounds which, to me, should have an organic origin. This, for instance, is what happens with field recordings, which I take with my Tascam DR-05 and I then process digitally.
GIUSEPPE: Many of the sounds that I incorporated in my first “Thai albums” were actually audio excerpts from video recordings I took with an old Sony Video 8 videocamera. The quality was quite low, but by digitally processing the sound I could eventually extract something I was happy to work with.
GIANMARCO: Would you consider field recordings as simply adding texture to your music, or do they have a narrative function?
GIUSEPPE: It could be both. I can use the sound of rain, for instance, or that of an escalator in the underground, to add a certain percussive quality to a particular track, which might however be sustained by different and quite specific subject matter. In my more ethnic albums, field recordings are used to locate the sounds in a different geographical context. In the album Missing Tapes, for instance, field recordings can be kept in background or come to the fore depending on the specific track.
GIANMARCO: Do you ever use any Italian ethnic instruments?
GIUSEPPE: I don’t believe we have that many we could call ethnic. There’s the Sardinian reed instrument launeddas, which is difficult to find and to maintain. Other than that, we have the mandolin and similar instruments, but very often, people confuse ethnic with traditional and popular music, which is something I am not personally too keen on.
GIANMARCO: When it comes to ethnic instruments, how important is it to you that the original sound retains a certain element of recognisability while processing them?
GIUSEPPE: I don’t have set rules. Travel Diary for instance is entirely constructed from organic sounds. No synthesisers, not even an electric guitar. It consists purely of traditional Thai instruments, which are nonetheless digitally processed. It really depends on the circumstance. I can heavily process the sound of a Thai oboe, for instance, and treat it with all sorts of effects in order to achieve a particular drone, while at other times I can use the same sound by adding just a simple reverb to it and use it as melody and subject matter for the same track. In The Missing Tapes, on the other hand, ethnic instruments are mixed with purely electronic sounds.
GIANMARCO: I read in a recent interview that you are more interested in sounds and timbre rather than melody and rhythm. Could you elaborate on that?
GIUSEPPE: I like to create a sense of melody out of heavily processed and richly layered sounds. There is something more personal in someone finding a melodic quality in a carefully nuanced drone, rather than something specifically designed to elicit a specific response on an emotional level. There’s a different kind of empathy at play, which runs deeper.
GIANMARCO: I am not an expert in computer programmes, could you give me an idea of the ones you use?
GIUSEPPE: I use a simple setup as I don’t like to have too many programs open. I need to have everything at hand, and if I have to wreck my brain trying to unravel the thousand functions of a software and the multitude of links to the instruments I loose the spontaneity of making music.
GIANMARCO: No Max Msp then?
GIUSEPPE: No, just WaveLab, and sometimes FruityLoops, a digital audio workstation. In the past I also used ReBirth, which emulates two Roland TB-303 synthesizers, a Roland TR-808 and a Roland TR-909 drum machine all at once, on albums such as Frozen, released on Afe, and Line of Fire, out on Silentes, but that was a long time ago.
GIANMARCO: Do you prefer low frequencies?
GIUSEPPE: Not really, I like a warm and well balanced sound. The most crucial aspect for me is the quality of sound with a good dynamic range.
GIANMARCO: In terms of effects, is it mostly delays and reverbs?
GIUSEPPE: At present I use a Boss multi-effects pedal with delays, reverbs, distortions, and chorus which I use for specific purposes when I have a clear idea of the kind of sound I want to achieve. For my next album I have used an electric guitar by distorting the sound while I play. Often, though, I like to record clear sounds and process them at a later stage with my PC.
GIANMARCO: You also do mastering work. Within this particular musical genre, in Italy, the only other name I can think of is that of Giuseppe Ielasi…
GIUSEPPE: I would add that of Andrea Marutti, who also does vinyl mastering, which is something quite different and specific.
GIANMARCO: What is your particular strength in terms of mastering?
GIUSEPPE: I wouldn’t be able to say. This is a niche market and we all know each other. Generally speaking, people who came to me have either heard my albums, or liked the work I’ve done for Stefano Gentile’s label Silentes.
GIANMARCO: What are the most important qualities one needs to have in order to deliver a good mastering job?
GIUSEPPE: First of all, one needs to have a certain knowledge of the specific musical genre one is working with and a certain sensibility in order to respect the sound of a particular album and to determine exactly where, when and how to intervene without prevaricating on the original intentions of the musician. The other fundamental requirement is to have a good stereo. Often, people master albums on small speakers and with a small woofer. I always rely on my tried and tested hi-fi stereo, which I’ve had for 25 years now. That is what I use to do music and listen to it.
GIANMARCO: Do you work with headphones on?
GIUSEPPE: No, I hate headphones… Well, they are handy in order not to disturb the neighbours and they are crucial when listening to a mastering job but in terms of making music, headphones always make music sound so much better and can give a false impression. The separation of sound on headphones between left and right channels makes for a totally different listening experience, and to judge the real sound propagation of an album I only ever trust my stereo system because I know it and my ear is attuned to it.
GIANMARCO: What would you say to those who recommend listening to their music with headphones?
GIUSEPPE: If an album has been made specifically to be listened to with headphones on, that is what one should do. Also, it is true that it is more economical to invest in a good set of headphones rather than a first class stereo.
GIANMARCO: You don’t listen to music on your laptop then?
GIUSEPPE: My computer is connected to my stereo.
GIANMARCO: In your interviews you often stress that music should have an emotional impact for you.
GIUSEPPE: That is crucial to me and I say this in a critical way towards a lot of experimental music that very often is just a collection of field recording or technically proficient digital sounds, which leaves me rather cold. Experimentation for experimentation sake doesn’t go very far in my opinion. I would like my music to have the same emotional impact of pop music.
GIANMARCO: Do you believe that there needs to be an organic element in the music for it to have an emotional impact?
GIUSEPPE: Generally speaking, yes. I can’t think of a single album in the past five years, produced in a purely digital way that has moved me on an emotional level. I find works that combine acoustic and digital to be more interesting and to have more of an impact. Also, I believe that music should be pleasing on the ear, that is not to say that it has to be easy, but if one is predisposed to certain atmospheres, one can appreciate difficult music as well.
GIANMARCO: Let’s talk about your collaborations now. You have already mentioned Andrea Marutti who seems to be one of your most regular contributors.
GIUSEPPE: Every two or three years we produce an album together either as Amon / Nimh or under the moniker Hall of Mirrors. He is a great musician and a great guy. The albums we have released together are quite different to each other as we always try to add new or different elements. The music itself could be seen as dark ambient.
GIANMARCO: How did you collaboration with Maurizio Bianchi come about?
GIUSEPPE: We met through Andrea Marutti as we both had albums out on his label Afe Records. At the time I didn’t know Maurizio’s work that well, even though he was very well known. He gave me a tape of pre-recorded material to work with and complete freedom. The outcome was the album Secluded Truths which came out back in 2005 as Nimh + MB. It was the first time that Maurizio had collaborated with another Italian artist. Stefano Gentile then suggested a split album, which became Together Symphony, which is the title we also used for the box set. With the split album I put together his tracks and mine and did the mastering for it.
GIANMARCO: What would you say is Maurizio Bianchi’s strength?
GIUSEPPE: Maurizio works in a rather “rudimentary” way. He doesn’t even use a computer, or at least he didn’t use one back in 2005. He has a piano, but uses mostly tape loops with which he creates a layered sound which might not be technically very sophisticated but has a deep emotional impact. In Escape to Bela Zoar, for instance, there’s a very simple 10-15 minute long drone track which is made out of a sample of what seems like a cello, which gives me goosebumps every time I listen to it. His sound has an organic quality to it and is never aggressive.
GIANMARCO: Which are the most interesting Italian artists in your opinion?
GIUSEPPE: I am not saying this because they are friends of mine, but all of the people I have collaborated with I have done so because I really rated their work in the first place, so I would mention Andrea Marutti, Pierpaolo Zoppo, Maurizio Bianchi, Davide Del Col, amongst others, as well as Gabriele Panci, even though he has been repeating himself as of lately. More recently, I would say Pietro Riparballi who contributed to Altered Nights, the album I did as Hall Of Mirrors with Andrea Marutti.
GIANMARCO: Speaking of Pietro Riparbelli, could you give me an idea of the working process on Altered Nights?
GIUSEPPE: Together with a number of other artists including Andrea Ferraris, Andrea Freschi, New Risen Throne, and Vestigial, Pietro gave us some material to work with, that could go from 10 seconds snippets to 10 minute improvisations. Andrea and I created the structure of the album and then added some of this material, adding some distortion or reverb or sometimes sampling some of it as with Vestigial’s contribution, which Andrea sampled with an Akai sampler and replayed with a Roland. We tend to work instinctively without thinking about it too much.
GIANMARCO: Any labels you’d like to recommend?
GIUSEPPE: I am obviously biased, but Stefano Gentile’s Silentes is a very good label, even if I haven’t liked every single release he has put out. Still, Stefano has been capable of reinventing himself moving from his previous label Amplexus to Silentes while retaining a very open-minded approach. He listens to everything without prejudice and has always supported me even in my more radical change of direction. Another label I rate is Boring Machines.
GIANMARCO: Is there anyone here in Rome you would like to mention?
GIUSEPPE: I can only think of Claudio Ricciardi who was in the ensemble Prima Materia together with Roberto Laneri.