Luca Nasciuti is a London based composer trained in electroacoustic composition, classical music, visual and performing arts. He holds a MMus in Studio Composition from Goldsmiths University of London, and a BA (Hons) in Music with Performing Arts from University of East London.
His work spans installation, video, and performance art, focusing on the legacy between acoustic and electroacoustic sound, and the interplay of sonic and visual practices within site-specific contexts. His practice evaluates notions of phenomenological reduction and symbolism in composition and sound art whereby the architecture of the work is defined by and built upon the cultural and imaginal information found in field recordings. Luca is curating up-coming festival Sonic cueB, which will take place next week in South London. In the dawn of the event, I could not find a better opportunity to talk with Luca about music, creativity and other issues.
I was leaving East London quite late on Thursday evening. I was excited, because I haven’t seen Luca for a while. We have developed our friendship at the corridors, cafes, performances and pubs whilst studying together for five years. So I got few bottles of wine and headed towards New Cross, South London. The minute I have entered his flat, we started conversing without barriers and it seemed that we are still studying together, because thoughts and words were spilling faster than we could think. In the ambience of BBC’s radio channel 3, we opened our wine, dined chick-pea flour gnocchi and headed upstairs to his room-library-art workshop-studio.
Luca, please, introduce yourself.
You know these things already, don’t you?
Yeah, but still, how would you like to be introduced?
So you want me introduce myself formally?
No, I want to hear how would you identify yourself for the people who don’t know you.
OK. I am a composer. Electroacoustic music composer. Or maybe, I am electronic experimental music composer, if it sounds better. I am based in London where I have studied and where I’ve worked for over eight years now.
What is the definition of electronic experimental music. For me, it is a very difficult term and there are many controversies around it.
Yes, I agree, it is a difficult term. But at the same time, I think, it is an easy term to describe something that is quite wide. Electronic experimental music can mean a lot of things. Even some of so-called classical contemporary music can be experimental. And in that respect, I think, that is the type of music that tries to do something different, on a larger scale, to do something new in terms of the sound. And of course, just to be positive about things.
If I think about electroacoustic music and what people do now, as opposed to the way you think about electroacoustic music, as the music that comes out of the universities, then experimental music fits much better in this context, because it’s so far away from the academic world now. And that is why it seems to work better. It is probably more approachable as a term as is electroacoustic music. But of course, most of the time, when you say electronic experimental music, people say “what?”
But that is mainly because it is a very niche group of people that understand electronic experimental music.
But I could say that Ricardo Villalobos creates electronic experimental music. However, in general, he is defined as minimal techno artist. And then we have Jo Thomas for example; who is completely different from Villalobos, but still is defined as an electronic experimentalist artist. What experiments do you do that define you as an experimental electronic artist?
It is true. It is very hard to explain because it means many things, so you can’t really pin it down to something specific, because people do things in a lot of different ways and use different kinds of technologies, techniques and philosophies.
So in my case it is very specific to the way I work as for everybody else. In my situation, it’s the fact of using found sounds and why I experiment with them in that specific manner. I think it is important to contextualize what coexists in-between the sounds that we use in the World, that are actually telling us a lot of things. And then, we have the electronic medium and what comes out of your recorded sound, what is lost, what stays and why you decide to lose some things and keep others or transform them into something else, new. I like to use the term dramaturgy because I feel it fits perfectly and helps to explain the way that you as a composer structure the piece. And here again, by structure you can mean so many things, in terms of following a specific narrative. So I decide to use a specific sounding-world and then I am developing a narrative around this sound-world. That narrative leads me to create something with specific structure that works in a very specific way because of the way I personally relate to this sound. Music creation is a very personal process.
It seems for me that these days the notion of composer is undermined, maybe even disappearing. I mean that composers do not have so much attention as they used to have, let us say 30 years ago. People are not concentrated on the recorded piece or even about the composer’s ideas when the music was recorded or the process of how the piece was developed.
You mean that people think about them more as musicians as opposed to creatives?
Yes, something like that. I want to talk about the XXI Century’s composer: Where is s/he? You have people who create music – the composers who think about all the details and narratives as you have mentioned. But they also go public and perform with their laptops, instead of giving other people to perform their music.
I think that this is a very blurry issue, because especially now it is more common to see an electronic music being arranged for the classical orchestras. As an electronic music composer can be delegating other people to play the piece for you and you may or may not arrange it for them so that acoustic music instruments could play it. Maybe that becomes clearer as a definition of composer if you can say it in a more traditional classical world as having a composer who wrote the piece but is sitting in the front row and listening to it’s execution. I guess it is problematic because if you say that you are a composer, but then you also perform, that makes you a musician, but you perform your own pieces. But then, are you a composer still? To complicate things, if you are doing free-impro, who are you? If you look at it closer and simpler, you get more people who say that they are artists.
So you simplify everything and consider yourself as an artist? Who are artists these days? If we look at the past, lets say Fluxus movement, Dadaists, the Minimalists of 1960’s, they are the ones who are remembered as the artist. Is it much easier to get this “artist” badge these days? Because, in general, today there is this notion that anyone can be artist, anyone can make music in their bedroom and so on.
That’s not a question anymore because who can and who cannot be an artist or musician is not for me to decide. But if you need to describe what you do, and then give yourself a title, or people giving you a title, I think artist is a term quite commonly used. When it comes to electronic music it does imply that you can work in another medium as well. For instance, lets say that you do audio-visual work. In addition you can say that you are a musician, a composer, artist, programmer. Plus, you do interactive works, which include sound and/or music. If you say that you are an artist, this makes it easier to describe yourself and it is more inclusive in this way. But whilst defining someone as a composer, you have to be very specific as opposed to an artist where you can be doing so many things instead of more traditionally created compositions. You have installations, space performances, interactive stuff, site specific work, you name it. So maybe that is why it is easier to describe my self as an artist.
I think that in this digital culture it is more difficult to get known as an artist.
I don’t agree with you. I think it is easier to get hold of people. Therefore, if it is easier to make contact with people, it is easier to get an exhibition or opportunity to do something you want. If I think of myself 10 years ago when I was in Italy, I didn’t had an opportunity to approach somebody, for somebody who is just starting, what do you do? Today I have all the abilities to talk about what I do and share this information. Today I can just send an e-mail, and it simplifies everything and I really mean it. I think that there is a great opportunity today to be able to do things you like anywhere, as opposed to 10 years ago when everything was very confined, the space you were.
But maybe this confined space works better for an artist? Because when you have the whole World it is easy to get lost. If you are confined, lets say, you are London based artist, the other experimental artist they know you of course, they invite you to their installations or exhibitions to perform. Today, there is so much on offer, the whole fucking culture is “on-offer”, and that is why I think it is easy to get lost, to turn into the number. When you live in this confined space, everybody knows you: That’s Luca Nasciuti, Guy Harries or Jo Thomas.
But have in mind that in this case you have to be in the right place. If you are living in a small town, with very small or even non-existent musical culture that you prefer, then what would you do? Today it does not really matter where you are based, because you have a chance to do things that you want to do and to talk about yourself and your work. You have all abilities and opportunities to communicate in great distance with other people. Today everything is happening everywhere, it doesn’t really matter whether you live in London or Berlin, because if you are willing to go anywhere, you can do it.
Let’s talk about what influences you. I know that you come from Radiohead background; you love music of Xiu Xiu, Bjork, Tom Waits. But you call yourself an experimental music composer. Is there a relationship between experimental music and pop music?
When I was growing up, my mum used to make me to listen to classical music because I was playing cello. That is why I was growing up exclusively around classical music. I had no idea what the World was outside classical music up until I was 12-13, when I have discovered MTV. And I was like “oh my God, what the hell is this?” Since then, I was buying a lot of stuff that figured on MTV. Obviously, I couldn’t really listen to anything on-line. And that’s how few really good things came out of MTV for me. Bjork was one of them. When I saw and heard Bjork, I was blown away.
In your teenage days, obviously, you form with the groups of friends. I had a friend in Rome, who had a friend who somehow managed to get this amazing music. Every time she got back to my town, I was begging her for some new music. And she introduced me to Xiu Xiu, Sigur Ross, Portishead and many others. At that point I was very much relying on her to give me some music. She used to listen to more experimental and alternative pop music. And of course I got into it myself. That’s how I was gradually moving from classical music to more experimental music, avant-pop. I think everything influenced my taste – people I was hanging out with, music school, MTV, record shops. The fact is that I still listen to a lot of music from my teenage days and I really enjoy it. In the 90’s, some artists just changed everything completely, radically, in terms of music. And 25 years later, some of them are still here and they are still kicking. Which is amazing.
Do you recycle your influences? Do you think that the artists that you listen to reflect in your music too? Or you are completely separate from them?
I don’t think that it is possible to be separated. I don’t make conscious decisions of citing anybody, but surely it is there. The kind of music that I listen to, creates the music World that I am living in. I am sure that it is reflected in my own work.
You are all connected through music, like one huge continuous organism. And you are all spreading the same message.
Why you don’t like the word message? I am the message kind of person. Every music piece that I have created or attempted to create needs to have a message. For me, music should have a message. Whether it is paranoia on tube stations, noise pollution, or political injustices.
I think that it is true. I agree with you. But it is very difficult for me to picture what the listener would think about whilst listening to what I do. I can sort of give, or at least I can try to provide with something like a picture. But not a detailed picture! Music piece cannot be very specific because I would like my listeners to make up their own minds. I want them to get what they want from my music because when you listen to a musical piece, you bring in yourself and you read it the way you can only read it. You hear it the way you can only hear it, because I can’t hear the same way that you can. Still, we are not even talking about listening now. On the very surface, it is a singular experience. Unless, I say something in terms of wording it out for you, then it becomes very specific. However, when it comes to sound, it is very tricky to give an idea or to give a clear message.
But that issomething I want to work on in the future. To a certain extent, one of the things that I never had a chance to do, is to be political about things. So far, all I have created is very personal – the things that only I see and I feel. And I wonder how it would be, if I went towards something bigger than me, wider themes and issues. And why I would choose to use certain sounds, and how I would use these sounds – which I think is very important. But, you can always say that everything is political, because personal can be political. We know all that, don’t we? My music, clearly, has never been directly involved or been political in any ways. But this is because I like the mystery. I don’t want to give everything away. At least, as a creator, you give listeners a chance to see and hear everything differently, otherwise you just forget about it. If as a listener you don’t even question anything, then the very next minute you will have forgotten the experience you just had.
But even the artists that we are talking about here today have messages. Xiu Xiu relate to urban depression, Radiohead criticize our obsession with capitalism, Bjork reflects nature and human relations with technologies. Is it more difficult for experimental musicians to spread that message?
I don’t think that there is ‘easy’ or ‘difficult’. I think that there is just the choice that you make.
We have studied together for five years and at that time; we met many good artists. However, not many of them are recognized. We understand that artists need to pay their bills too. Do you think that in this climate it is more difficult to break through?
I think it is.
As an artist, what do you have to do to get public’s attention? We are talking here about the age of the Internet and Paul Virilio’s prophesized Information Bomb. Available technologies and the extensiveness of the music market spoiled the people. As a result, it can be difficult to become successful because the listener is more demanding.
I think it has to do with what we have in mind as being successful. I am happy that I am doing allright now. I am not famous. I am not earning a lot of money from music but I am creating and I can perform. Everything is fine for me. I love what I do. And it’s the only thing I do, really, because that’s what I do full-time and in my spare time. 24/7 I am doing things related to what I want to do. Which is good. And money-wise I don’t particularly mind. But other people have different standards. Some, in my position might say that “I am not doing anything”. Some may think that they are successful when they appear on the TV screen. Others think you are successful when you make £80.000 a year.
What else inspires you outside the music? For example, you have feminist artists, eco artists, black artists, gay artists and their bodies and sexualities reflect in their art. Do you consider yourself as one of these? I think that art is related to the artist and his lifestyle that he or she is practicing.
I don’t even know whether is something there particularly relevant. I never really thought about it in this terms. I think that I am privileged to be in the position where sexuality is not an issue. That is why I don’t need to bring it up as a problem. Or as anything, because that’s just who I am. To simplify, I am not doing anything because of that, because I am gay.
I was surprised to find out that gay camp was furious about John Cage because he never spoke in their words as being a gay camp representative. He was always incognito and quiet about it. However, gay people thought that he could and should be acting as their celebrity representative to ease their lives.
Yes, but these were also different times. I mean today, what reasons would I have to say: “Hello, I write music, I’m gay”. I don’t see the point, I really don’t. Tell me, what elements make music as being gay music? Obviously, there are issues in this society, in general. Talking big picture, western world has problems; we have localized problems, rest of the World problems, problems everywhere. I think if I were to talk about problems related to homosexuality and the way this works today in our culture, I don’t think that this is something I would necessarily be doing through my music, because it is more important to talk about it rather than express it musically. So if there is a problem, I rather say it. As I am doing now. But I have been lucky enough not to have to prove any of that because it is not necessary for me to do that (in my own environment). I don’t think that my work depends on it. That is why I don’t need to be saying that I am this or that or the other.
Let’s move to your current event – Sonic cueB. How did you get this idea to organize a festival? I know you as a composer not as a music festival curator. What is the main idea behind the festival?
It all goes back to the days when I was studying my master’s degree. A group of us, music students, decided to put on a show together. Therefore, we were inter-connected with cueB Gallery, The Brockley Mess Café, and Brockley Max festival and as a gang, we have organized our few day showcase. It was lovely, funny and went really well. So, I decided to do it the following year, but slightly bigger. Simply, I have started by thinking about whom I would like to have playing in the festival. What kind of festival is it going to be? What kind of things are going to be there? Later, I have decided to invite artists from Europe. My main idea is to have emerging artists who can perform together with established ones. The place is nice, very intimate, but you also need to have a right set of mind because this is not a Royal Albert hall.
Why do you think the artists are interested to play there? A small confined space accommodating 50 people, somewhere in South London. Still, the line-up indicates that they are coming to play literally from all over the World.
I am grateful for the interest from the artists’ side. From the very beginning, since I have contacted them, all of them knew that I was setting up, but at that time I didn’t even had any funding. When I got in touch with them I have explained the idea behind the festival and that I was planning to raise funding and offer a small fee for the performance. And obviously, the fees are, well, quite low to be honest. Some people are coming to play from Italy, Iceland, Lithuania, and they have a lot of expenses. I wish I could offer them more.
I hope that they will enjoy what I am trying to do. That is to get them together. One thing that I always love when I go out to perform is to get somewhere where I can get involved. I mean, not just to go to play, but I like to get a feel of the place you I’m in, because every time it is different. That is why; the artists are going to spend a day together, not just playing. Starting from noon, I want them to eat and talk and walk around together. Some of them got very worried when I have mentioned that. “What do you mean we have to do something together?”
Yes, really, what do you mean Luca?
I said to them, that they shouldn’t be worried about creating anything. If they want to play, they can develop something together. Or they can also talk to the audience about the day that we have spent together. It will be very approachable. The venue is small, you have your beer if you want, and all is very informal and intimate. Plus, you get this informal environment to perform where you can say to the people that we have tried to do this and that and it did or didn’t work. That is the whole different new light. And I think it’s nice you can do that. And I really want to do that.
Why you are not performing?
Because I just want to focus on the curating and running the whole festival. In the past, I have organized a performance in Dalston. I have also decided to perform there. It was too difficult and stressful, even though I have played with my friends. At cueB, I just want to be there for them, for the artists. That’s all I want to do. And I think it is important that I’m there not as a performer too, but as the one who will be there anytime to support the artists.
I wish you good luck Luca. As a writer, what I’m worried about, especially in this culture, is the money issue. It is very simple – we all need money. I am not talking about financial profit, I am not talking about buying a car after this event. The fact is that everybody needs to get paid, because of the journeys, flights, hotels, the food, booze.
I have set a fee aside for the artists. Everybody else, myself included are working as volunteers.
But I want to talk about the other side of the money. The majority of the people today accept a musician as the one who does free labour. There is a kind of free musicianship culture. Even venue owners or event organizers approach them with the statements such as: “We will give you some beers, and you will play us some music tonight. We are a good venue; we will give you some listeners.” How do you cope with the artist management issues yourself?
Obviously, I am happy that I got some funding from Sound and Music, The HInrichsen Foundation, and the Gane Trust, 2/3 of it, is funded. It is quite a good chunk. I have always been very frank with everybody telling them : ‘this is what I want to do, for these reasons, what I can offer is this amount. I would love you to come and play if you can and if you are willing to’. Obviously, they are compromises to be made, and to some extent I feel sorry, because I wish that I could give them more. So that is one of the reasons why I also needed funding, because I wouldn’t be able to make the event happen. Or maybe I would just have to do it with people only from London. But I wanted to make an event that is worth going to and I needed people that could come from somewhere else because they will bring something new for us.
The Sound artists’/composers’ community is very small. We know each others. Even if we don’t personally, nevertheless, we know the names and what we do. So I think it is good and beneficial for everybody to have this event happening. And I hope that I will be able to do it again next year. Maybe even bigger, of course. More workshops, especially for the locals here, in Lewisham, working with college, schools. The idea is to have a regular festival. It has to happen because I want it to happen, because I think that it’s a good thing. But returning to this year, the line-up is amazing. Every artist deals with the electronic music in a different ways.
Luca, we are talking for almost two hours. You know that I could talk to you non-stop. You have so many things to say and as the interview conductor I am blessed. But if our conversation will be too long, I am afraid that nobody will finish reading it. Besides, the room is getting too smoky, I want some more wine and I need to catch the train. See you at the cueB!