Bruno De Angelis of the mystical UK electronic project Mana ERG is at the airport every day, but he’s no frequent flyer – not on planes anyway. Actually, being at a frantic travel hub is his day job, and it’s one of the strange ways he informs the often entrancing, off-kilter atmospheric electronica of his latest album, “The Blind Watchmaker”. A shadowy presence, De Angelis doesn’t make it easy to nab an interview, and this one took patience. Below, De Angelis gives CHAIN D.L.K. a rare look at what makes his experimental brain go tick tick tick.
Chain D.L.K.: First off: why is your project called Mana ERG?
Mana Erg: The words Mana and ERG are totally unrelated to each other. “Mana” in Polynesian cultures is some supernatural, or should I say “extra” natural force that an object or a person may possess. Some “out of the ordinary” quality about something or someone that makes them special. “ERG” on the other hand is the unit of measure of kinetic energy. So one word indicates something rather vague, not fully understandable by logic, almost magical, while the second one is a scientific term that can only refer to something precisely measurable, something that is very “western” and rational. These two contradictory elements are both present in my mind and, as a consequence, in our music. I suppose I could have chosen two completely different words to express the same concept, but when I put these two together they sounded just right…
Chain D.L.K.: How did you get started in music? Why are you still doing it?
Mana Erg: Since I was a child I was fascinated by what other people considered “noise” and used to hum little tunes while the washing machine was going in the background as a continuous loop, or a pneumatic drill was doing a “solo” across the road… Getting interested in industrial music was such an obvious next step… It’s such a pity that so much so called industrial music nowadays seems to have lost that experimental edge in favour of dancefloor clichés. Not to mention those nursery rhymes melodies… I can’t believe that anybody over the age of 14 likes this futurepop stuff dressed up as industrial… This is why, I suppose, I’m still making music: I just don’t like 90% of what’s available…
Chain D.L.K.: How do you write a song?
Mana Erg: It’s almost always the “ERG” element that starts a song. What I mean is that I almost invariably start with a sequenced loop: it can be a synth, a bass, a drum loop or all of these, and the result is a very clinical, mechanical sound. Sometimes nice and clever, but basically dead and meaningless. The lyrics are often scribbled in a hurry while I work at my day job. Working part-time at a major international airport, I get a chance to talk to many people from many different countries. These people can often be distressed, ill, desperate, furious, crazy, scared… it’s hard to believe what can happen during an “ordinary” day at an airport… My songs are often based on stories that these travellers tell me. My lyrics are full of their sentences…The next step in the construction of a song is to try to sing these lyrics over the loops I’ve already got, while playing the guitar, until they sound right. Later on in the process my collaborators Joe (Erber) and Tiberio, who are my production assistants, add extra keyboards and guitars, while my DJ friend Lee (Stacey) sometimes adds some groovy drum loops on top of mine. The result can be quite nice, but very often I feel that something vital is still missing. These songs can remain in limbo for weeks, if not months, then one day something happens that I can’t really explain. It’s the “mana” effect if you like… It’s like a sudden intuition that has nothing rational about it: my mind seems to go into a trance and my hands seem to know what to do. At the end of this process the song is completely transformed, sometimes beyond recognition. It was like a robot, and now it’s like a living thing… If you asked me what I did to it exactly I wouldn’t know what to say. It’s the plain truth: I wrote the song, performed it, recorded it and I just don’t have a clue as to how I did it.
Chain D.L.K.: What’s the music scene like where you live? Is that influencing you, or causing you to run in the other direction?
Mana Erg: I live in the Sussex countryside, in the south of England, and the local scene is made up of chickens, sheep, rabbits, horses, blackbirds, crows, magpies, and a few cows, but not many… Blackbirds are definitely the best singers, and chickens are great scratchers. I just wish that cockerel would shut up sometimes…
Chain D.L.K.: What are you listening to now? What’s made the biggest impact on you as a musician?
Mana Erg: Joe Erber, our piano and keyboards player, is an endless source of music and information and thanks to him I have been able to hear basically anything you can think of. We often discuss what we hear and get ideas. I must say that I very rarely like what I hear 100%. I think I’ve got a producer’s mentality and keep thinking: “…oh no, they shouldn’t have done this at this point… they should have done that instead…”. On the other hand, if they followed my advice their sales would probably drop dramatically… The musicians who have influenced me the most are not the ones that I’m always being compared to. I would say that the biggest impact on me were The Residents, Clock DVA, My Bloody Valentine, Laibach and Recoil.
Chain D.L.K.: How did “The Blind Watchmaker” come together? I. e. how long did it take to record?
Mana Erg: The album took 18 months to record and there were times when I thought I would never see the end of it: the music was getting more and more complex, almost against my will, and it took me ages to work on little details that most people will not even notice at first.
Chain D.L.K.: What was the most challenging song?
Mana Erg: Probably “Novi Mir”. This is the song that in a way embodies the whole album in its attempt to cross over not only genres but generations. I don’t see Mana ERG as an “industrial” or “electronica” band anymore. What I’m trying to do is to make music that matters to people who live on this planet in the 21st century, using whatever instrument available: whether it be a guitar, a computer, a piano, a washing machine or whatever…
Chain D.L.K.: Where does this album fit into the musical spectrum?
Mana Erg: Mana ERG must be some kind of reviewer’s nightmare when it comes to explaining to their readers where we fit musically. I would say that our audience is made up of people who are open minded and who are interested in music and not in sub/genres or fashions. It is precisely for this reason, I think, that industrial and electronica fans are the most likely to appreciate what we do.
Chain D.L.K.: What’s the last great movie you saw?
Mana Erg: There’s quite a few… but my favourite is not so recent. I don’t know exactly why but I really like “Apocalipse Now” above all others. By the way, at the moment I’m writing the music for a short film by “underground” director Paul Tarragó, and it feels so strange to have to adapt my music to someone else’s images. I would prefer it the other way around. Any surreal video makers out there who want to give it a try?
Chain D.L.K.: Anything else?
Mana Erg: If you get a chance to listen to Mana ERG’s music, close your eyes and let your mind come up with its own images. You might discover you were a video maker and didn’t know it!
Visit Mana Erg on the web at:
[interviewed by David Weiss]