Modern Mythologies - a talk with Raffaele Pezzella

Modern Mythologies - a talk with Raffaele Pezzella

September 16, 2020

Written by:

Miron Ghiu

Edited by:

Dragoș Rusu

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Raffaele Pezzella organises streaming radio sessions (more than 200 as I write this) for promoting the artists he finds and/or curates across the world under the umbrella of the "Unexplained Sounds Group label, or the Eighth Tower Records sublabel. He started the Unexplained Sounds Group back in 2015, an currently the imprint has reached more than 50 releases in its catalogue, published mostly on CD and as digital download. The label was recently described by Bandcamp as a "global network of aural disorientation".

Raffaele focuses on experimental music, whether it is ambient, abstract or drone. He is in a constant search of new sounds from various countries, and more often there were certain distinctive areas in his interest and inner map, such as Iran, Indonesia or Lebanon. He also started V.A. series of compilations (the Sound Mapping) including large areas such as the Balkans, the Middle East or Africa. Also notable in his distinctive catalogue is a compilation dedicated to "Witchcraft & Black Magic In The United Kingdom" (a material which reflects on a practice which dates back to the seventh century) and the catalogue of another new label that Raffaele started in 2019, ZeroK, focused on drone ambient music inspired by sci-fi and scientific documentaries.

Raffaele is also a musician under the Sonologyst moniker, composing his soundscapes with the use of digital methods, as well as turntables, a trumpet, electrified strings instruments and his own voice. His latest album, "Phantoms" (the 15th one since 2013), deals with avant-garde influences, musique concrete and drone ambient. He beautifully describes it as a "dreamlike mental landscape of nonsensical memories, a metamorphic passage from the blackness, the shadows of a lost beauty. Everything frozen in the stillness of phantom recordings".
The underground Italian music is always in turmoil.
Raffaele Pezzella at Radio 1, Prague
Raffaele Pezzella at Radio 1, Prague
In order to get a better understanding of Raffaele's work, as well as to find out his own view of the world, I had a chat with him, mostly comprising a few exchanges of emails.

“I don’t have a specific favorite instrument or gear”, he tells me. “Throughout the years I changed instruments many times, from guitars to synths, or string instruments built by friends (such as Massimo Olla) or trumpet.”

When approaching the composition process, Pezzella’s favorite method is “to dream the music at night while I’m asleep and wake up in the morning to understand how the hell to make it real.” He prefers to focus his attention on how to get out what he has in mind when he’s feeling inspired by something. “Currently I’m mostly fascinated by the human voice – that is the most rich and natural instrument. And I’m also thinking of commissioning parts of compositions, under my guide, to musicians playing instruments I couldn’t play, and then arrange the recordings. It’s probably an approach closer to a composer or a sound artist than to a musician, in the strict sense of the word.”

During the Covid-19 outbreak, Raffaele, as most of the musicians and artists, spent much more time in the studio, but admits that he had a very focused work schedule before the pandemic too. “The same is for my labels; if they improve or not is due to the project's quality in the long term.”

He first held a guitar in his hands at the age of 15, while he was a fan of rock music. It was the biography of William Burroughs that stimulated Raffaele's imagination and attracted him into the vast world of experimental music. “I was extremely fascinated by his experiments around tape recordings of voices from dead people. Since that moment there was a click in my head. It was the right moment when I put aside The Dark Side Of The Moon by Pink Floyd, and focus on the next one: Ummagumma.”

It has been argued that myths function to form and shape society and social behaviour, as well as the opportunity to provide a religious experience. By telling or reenacting myths, members of traditional societies detach themselves from the present, returning to the mythical age, thereby coming closer to the divine. Pezzella's musical universe incorporates myths, as well as many cultural movements from the past. “Of course, I can be influenced – consciously or not – by some of them, like dada movement, musique concrete or surrealism. If I should quote only a few music artists, they would be Terry Riley, Jon Hassel, Brian Eno, Pierre Henry, Philip Jeck. My music is also highly inspired by other forms of art, such as cinema, literature or painting, as well as philosophy and modern mythologies. This is an aspect that, starting from my latest album Phantoms, will be even more evident in the future.”

Pezzella admits that to him there is (almost) nothing more satisfying than finding unknown music around the world – especially music from non Western countries – and make people become aware of that. “It’s like the work of an archeologist of contemporary times. In terms of digital and/or physical ways to publish, they are just different media, and there’s not a precise prevalence of one on the other. Of course many people say that digital streaming is the future, but that is very true for commercial and entertainment music. In the experimental / avant-garde music field – a small niche compared to the mainstream one – people still like to have physical supports, such as CD, vinyl and tape, because they materialize a cultural passion through them. Actually, when we’re out of home, all of us often listen to music through headphones connected to a smartphone, and many people don’t have space in their places to store hundreds of records, or money to buy them. The way we make use of music depends on many factors; then the coexistence of both ways is a good thing for all.”
Witchcraft & Black Magic cover
Witchcraft & Black Magic cover
Noise evolved all around the world, in accordance with the development of technology and equipment to produce sounds and noise. I am aware that there are various interesting underground scenes all over the world. Nevertheless, I am curious to find out what are, in Raffaell's opinion, some of the most thriving ones. “It depends on what you’re searching for in terms of music”, he replies. “In my very modest opinion, I found in the entire area of the Middle East many reasons to dig the scenes, or simply to search for isolated musicians who can plant the seeds for a scene that will emerge later in time. Of course, a region like the African continent has a different approach when it comes to experimental music, probably a very interesting one as well. And my radars are pointed towards both of those regions. Indonesia is not a surprise to me, since it is known as being a country with a very rich music tradition, and at this time we’re chatting, the Anthology Of Contemporary Music From Indonesia is out.”

He also recently released an album by Mario Lino Stancati through his own Unexplained Sounds Group label. “Stancati is a multidisciplinary artist who crosses the music genres with the simplicity of a young child playing with various kinds of toys. But there are many others, like Gabriele Gasparotti, who have something new to tell in the alternative music Italian panorama.” But when it comes to the contemporary alternative scene in Italy, Raffaele reflects on its complex status. “The underground Italian music is always in turmoil”.

I noticed that when speaking about musicians such as Sun Ra or Moondog, Pezzella refers to them as "anarchic geniuses", meaning musicians that are thinking with their own head, not aligned with any form of power, organized or not. “In the contemporary society, we are under many threats: permanent economic crisis, global warming, pandemics, privacy violations, not to mention terrorism and wars. In this scenario it’s inevitable that an anarchist is probably also a paranoid, or like William Burroughs used to say, someone who knows a little of what's going on. I like to use the expression post apocalypse existentialist in place of anarchist. It’s referred to a new form of existentialism with elements of anarchy, post industrial and post apocalyptic culture.”

About the Author

Miron Ghiu

Bucharest DJ, sound designer, musician, journalist and a vivid passionate of technology and music.

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