Not Just Noise: Carlos Giffoni
Written by Bwog Staff
Bwog’s not sure what it thinks about noise music. After all, what separates it from, well, normal noise? Music correspondent Jamie Johns tries to get at the mystery in this e-mail exchange with Carlos Giffoni.
Since the early 2000s, Carlos Giffoni has been at the center of a burgeoning noise scene in New York as a musician, festival curator, collaborator and label owner. He’s released numerous solo recordings as well as collaborations with legendary Japanese noise master Merzbow, Sonic Youth members Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore, and renaissance man Jim O’Rourke to name a few. Oh yeah, and Giffoni’s also in two noise supergroups: Monotract and Death Unit, featuring members of Mouthus and Hair Police.
In most of his solo work and collaborations, Giffoni uses a mixture of computers and analog synths to create music that can be aggressive or gentle, throbbing or static. In 2004, he started No Fun Fest, a three day festival of noise musicians and sound makers which just celebrated its third year. On top of all this, Giffoni runs his own record label, No Fun. Is Carlos Giffoni an over achiever? Probably, but he would never let you know it. Whether or not noise music is your thing, Giffoni is definitely someone to admire. I spoke with him via e-mail over the past week and asked him about his music and extra-curricular activities in anticipation of his show at WBAR tomorrow, November 15th.
Full interview after the jump!
Bwog: How did you get interested in noise music/creating and supporting noise music? It seems a lot of people start out listening to more “traditional” music and then working their way up to noise, was this the case with you and what music was particularly influential for you?
Carlos Giffoni: I’ve been involved in playing in different kinds of bands since I was 14 and I was always interested in the more experimental sounding stuff. I was in Venezuela until I was 17 so at first it was harder to find but I got my hands on as much as I could, the more predictable stuff was always boring to me. I didn’t really work up to noise but rather searched for it until I found it. Music particularly influential for me in my teen years: Sonic Youth, Boredoms, Merzbow, Masonna, anything on the Bulb on Hanson records catalog and dozens of acts I started to meet while going on tour in the US when I was 18.
Bwog: How much improvisation do you do onstage?
CG: It really depends on the project I am presenting. My solo work when presented live is a combination of both prepared structures and improvisation, so the structure is pre-set (no backup tracks, all live, always different) but even then I might find something interesting while I am playing and go with it, so this pre-set structure is very elastic. On the other hand, most collaborations are 100% improvised, except for specific projects like Death Unit where there is a good amount of planning involved, or Monotract where there is hardly any improvisation at all.
Bwog: Your releases have been a mix of both live recordings and studio recordings, do you feel that the work you do onstage influences what you end up recording in the studio or do you see performance and studio work as entirely separate entities? What do you think is the benefit of a live recording over a studio recording?
CG: I think it is quite the opposite actually. I spend a lot of time on recordings when I am working on a “studio” record. For example for my last full length [Arrogance] I recorded just under 40 hours of stuff before I felt like I had enough material to choose/work from. So the studio material always ends up influencing what I do live, it is where I polish techniques etc… and work out new ideas that are not ready to be presented live. A live performance is never the same as a studio recording though; there are so many factors like volume at a live venue, audience, acoustics of a room, atmospheric conditions that affect the sound of my analog synths… I find the live setting very interesting and important in my music, but for the most part separate to the studio work.
Bwog: One thing I really admire is the way you work with and support the work of tons of other musicians, either by releasing their records on your label or by performing and recording with them. How important is creating and fostering a community of musicians to you?
CG: It is just what I’ve always done. It is not the kind of thing I sit down and
plan, despite what it might seem like. I am a very impulsive person, I do what I feel like when I feel like it and that’s how the fest and other shows I set up started, that’s how 95% of the collaborations I’ve done have happened, that’s how the label and the releases happen. If I see something I like in a band/musician I go ahead and ask them if they want to work with me with a release on the label. So this community I might be fostering is just a side effect of doing what I need to do to feel alive/content with my work.
Bwog: Do you approach your collaborations differently from your solo work?
CG: Yes absolutely. Solo work is a dictatorship, while collaborations are based on ideas from multiple ideas and finding a common ground that works sonically and aesthetically.
Bwog: I just read that The Hook has closed down. Will you take No Fun Fest to another venue? What does the future hold for it?
CG: Yes, before The Hook closed we had already been talking to Knitting Factory and we are getting the entire venue for 3 days: May 16, 17, and 18.
Giffoni will be performing tomorrow, November 15, in Prentis Hall at 8 p.m.