Chain D.L.K.: Now you’re quite well-known as an experimental/improvisational musician, but a while back you were the guitarist of Afterhours (a famous alternative rock band hailing from Italy). What kind of background have you got and what kind of path did you follow to get where you are now?
Xabier Iriondo: I was into American rock ‘n’ roll music at the age of six, through original 7″s from the ’60s, and then I moved into hard rock and psychedelic bands (Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, etc.) in my teen years. At the age of eleven I happened to listen Bruce Springsteen for the first time (probably the album was “The River”) and it became one of the biggest musical passions I had had in my life. I saw Springsteen on stage 15-16 times (I’d begun with the big concert in 1985 at the S. Siro Stadium in Milan) and every time was a new, incredible experience! At the same time (1984-5) I started listening to U.S. (Hüsker Dü, Black Flag, etc.), U.K. (Damned, The Clash, etc.) and Basque (Kortatu, etc.) punk rock music and went to Squats to see live concerts. In 1988-89 I saw two Italian bands on stage that influenced me for the rest of my life: Ritmo Tribale and Afterhours. I decided to become a musician and I bought a used electric guitar and amplifier. After two weeks I played my first concert with a small band (drums and two guitars). In three years I became the guitarist of Afterhours and formed an indie-rock band called Six Minute War Madness. I continue to have the same feeling with the music and the sound that I had in the past; I play only things I love. I play with friendly people with an open attitude to the music. Pop music or avant garde are pieces of the same puzzle (when I was young I loved to make big puzzles!!). I’d begun creating and playing prepared string instruments at the end of the ’90s and now that’s one of the favourite things I love to do…playing alone or with other people with my “creatures.”
Chain D.L.K.: That’s another thing I wanted to ask: you opened a sort of shop/concert hall called Sound Metak, right?
Xabier Iriondo: Soundmetak started its activity the 16th of October, 2005. It’s an idea, a dream, another way to embody what’s always been my way to perceive music. A sort of collection of musical shapes and techniques to reach a contemporary avant garde/artistic expression. Soundmetak is a shop with an artisan attitude with which we propose objects/instruments/items and events. The philosophy is similar to that of an artisan whose essence is the intrinsic ambivalence of the god Janus (the two-faced god), the subject born out of rough matter (nature: wood, metals, etc.), and through art the artisan creates the conditions of its future shape (the opus itself). A place, a space where you can preserve, keep together (“metak” in Basque language means “bundle of wheat”) objects, instruments to share them with other people with the same philosophy toward art and music. In this place/centre Soundmetak fuels cultural/artistical events, performances, concerts, seminars, etc. (http://www.soundmetak.com)
Chain D.L.K.: You emphasize the art and music connection, but don’t you think this could be misleading? I mean, many musicians and many artisans, too, wouldn’t agree with that.
Xabier Iriondo: I really don’t care what other musicians or artisans think about the whole “art and music connection” that I consider indissoluble. Music is intelligence applied to sound, but I think that without a subjective expressiveness it can’t be considered art. I think an artisan, a blacksmith, a woodworker giving shape to raw material is doing something really close to the work of the musician whose “raw material” for forging a song is sounds, frequencies, rhythms and melodies. Art and music get fused since they’re intrinsically linked together. A commercial is not art since it’s not designed for the pure expressiveness of the subject but just to subliminally influence people to buy something. A wardrobe produced by the Ikea company is not art since it has been created to be easily sold with a competitive price, and to get that result they’re forced to do anti-artistic choices (like exploiting the work of Third World people or using economic but poor materials, etc.). I believe art means to use your own creativity without any other goal but the pure expression of that creativity. In music it happens quite often.exciting!
Chain D.L.K.: What about the ’70s? The experimental scene of that period should be a heavy influence in the makings of much of your latest material.
Xabier Iriondo: I’ve been deeply influenced by the experimental scenes from the second half of the Sixties and from the early Seventies. Basically I refer to the concepts involving hybridization between music and art, it was a hugely propulsive force in that period. And I’ve always loved certain art scenes/schools: Warhol’s Factory, the oeuvres of Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart, phonology laboratories in Colonia and Milan (around the end of the Fifties). One of the most intense influences for me was when I listened for the first time to the double LP Focused On Futurism on the Cramps label, discovering the wonderful recordings of “intonarumori” projected by Luigi Russolo.
Chain D.L.K.: Speaking of the Seventies, Ikea-style mass production and musicians: what do you think about the works of Ennio Morricone, Burt Bacharach, Nino Rota, Piero Piccioni for movies that sometimes were bad movies? Do they belong to popular culture following the artist/artisan, or that of commercial production?
Xabier Iriondo: The musicians you mention belong to “pop”-ular culture. Filmworks have always had a certain impact on me, both the most famous and the most unknown, I always find Morricone has his personal touch: unusual timbric/melodic research, and the massive use of concrete sounds and ethnic instruments turned his works into real gems of popular culture. What turned them into a popular jewel is the beauty and their originality, and not just something related to soundtrack listeners. Unfortunately, considering the incredible number of soundtracks they all did, the quality got lower because of mass production — I’m generally referring to the western and horror “B” movies for which these people have composed. Recently I’ve discovered a CD collection of Morricone’s works for Pasolini movies (it also features some unreleased material for “Salò”, etc.). The timbre, the imprint of the composer is naturally evident but with some considerable differences, if compared to the soundtracks of the same period. During that period Morricone, being part of the “Gruppo di Nuova Consonanza” ensemble, was getting deeper into modern composing techniques which he re-utilized in his soundtracks. His incredible sensibility toward these timbric ideas contributed so much to the creation of this popular idea of Morriconean sound so diffused nowadays in the rock/pop circuit.
Chain D.L.K.: I’ve seen you’ve taken part in the soundtrack to both a documentary on the holocaust of Gypsies and a concept DVD (together with Gianni Mimmo) concerning the sinking of the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk.
Xabier Iriondo: The sound on the documentary commissioned by Opera Nomadi on the Roma and Sinti’s holocaust and titled “Porrajmos” happened by chance. Back in 2003 I took part in a project borne out from an idea of Andrea Viti’s (ex-bass player of Afterhours and Karma). Our aim was to put together a group of artists able to play improvised soundtracks. The ensemble (11 persons) composed by professional musicians coming from different backgrounds (jazz, rock, classic, ethnic, electronic music, etc.) composed about forty minutes of high quality music. Together with Viti, I mixed everything and 15-20 minutes [of it] became the soundtrack of “Porrajmos”. The concept DVD/CD behind the Kursk [debacle] came out of both an idea of Gianni Mimmo’s and from the common interest in this drama (the death of the sailors aboard the sub). Around 2004 we met up in an old church with Angelo Contini (great trombonist friend of Gianni) and we improvised together. From that mix the whole Kursk work took its shape (launching, navigation, life on board, damage, point of no return) and it’s going to be out quite soon on Gianni Mimmo’s own label, Amirani records.
Chain D.L.K.: Where do you think the music of the present/future is headed?
Xabier Iriondo: I must be honest, I’ve no perfect idea of how it could evolve! Perhaps the only thing I’d like for the future could be a new way of interpreting the artist/musician. I think that the technological and cultural means of today can offer the possibility to interact with sound in a direct way (not just as a listener/consumer but also as a protagonist/maker). It’s possible that the image of the “classical” musician/composer will remain linked to the academic world and the new “non-musician” profile will be of one who creates/steals/shapes melodies and rhythms, but that’s what’s already happening now.
Chain D.L.K.: This “non-musician” and all this creating music, “stealing” and reassembling sounds in a new way, is it a good thing or a “plague,” as some conservative people said?
Xabier Iriondo: To re-assemble or to steal music from somebody else has been a technique commonly adopted for the last thirty years. It’s true that during the last fifteen years through some genres, mainly hip-hop and dance music, we’ve seen a massive use of samples coming from this or that artist (stolen and not). But honestly I can’t see that as a problem. Creating music means to play an instrument but at the same time having ideas on sounds, timbre, rhythms and to combine them, with your own material or with that coming from somebody else. I’ve never been interested in what conservative people think, above all in music. The modern technological possibilities of “composing” music without being musicians opened a whole world of possible directions, breaking down the wall (a frail wall indeed) of musical academism.
Visit Xabier Iriondo on the web at:
[interviewed by Andrea Ferraris] [proofreading by Benjamin Pike]