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Tumble (Andrea Belfi + Attila Faravelli)

Attila Faravelli + Andrea Belfi at Spectacle (Photo: Susanna Bolle)

Tumble is the Italian duo of Andrea Belfi (drums, electronics) and Attila Faravelli (electronics). Together they create deceptively complex pieces out a pitter patter of beats and electro-acoustic hisses and fizzles. Their compositions seem to come together so naturally that it’s almost as if the rhythmic patterns and textures cohere — or perhaps tumble together — of their own volition.

Earlier this year, Andrea and Attila came to Boston for a concert at Spectacle in Chinatown, as part of Non-Event, a series that I co-curate. Originally, the plan was to have them do a live set on Rare Frequency, but, alas, it was not to be — a scheduling error nixed that idea. However, they generously sent a recording of their set at Spectacle, which will air on RF on 5/19/2011. They also answered a few questions, in fascinating detail, about Tumble and their other musical activities.

Could you tell me a bit about each of your backgrounds? I’m particularly interested in how you ended up working with the instruments and equipment that you use today?

Andrea: When I was I kid I used to play drums in punk/hardcore bands, with a D.I.Y. attitude, self-producing our own music and fanzines. I think this was my first attempt in the search for something “new” or “different” (even if it was absolutely recognizable as a particular musical scene, nontheless we were only 14 or 15 years old…). Then later I became a big fan of a lot of 90’s American (post-)rock, such as Gastr del Sol, Shellac, Tortoise etc…a lot of music from Chicago.

In 1998-99 I studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Milan. There was a professor there, Alberto Garutti, a very talented artist and teacher, who introduced me to the world contemporary art. He was the first mentor to half of the current important young contemporary Italian artists, such as Giuseppe Gabellone, Paola Pivi, Patrick Tuttofuoco. In the meantime I continued to study drum technique.

Another big change in my musical experience was meeting musicians like Giuseppe Ielasi in Milan and Valerio Tricoli in Bologna, around 2000. I used to buy music from Giuseppe’s Fringes catalog in Milan and played/experimented/wasted time at Valerio’s place in Bologna. It was a great time in terms of discovering a new musical world — it was very exciting.

At that time I started working with electronics, and I was dividing my musical life in two: drums and rock’n’roll on one side (I’ve never quit playing in loud rock bands), and synths and contact mics on the other side.

It was only in 2004 that I started working with drums and electronics together. I had to play a few solo concerts, so I had to find a new way of improvising all by myself.

It happened that I also started using beats and rhythms in my electroacoustic music, after a long period spent paying my debt to Berlin reductionism/hectzeitmusik (no beats, no recognizable musical structures).

My current live set evolved from the one I conceived in 2005 for the European tour I shared with 3/4hadbeeneliminated. For that tour, I had the following key principles: “I want to ask venues for only one speaker,” “I need to be totally independent from the 3/4 live set,” “I want to play a sort of dub style rhythmic music with reductionist sounds,” “I want to create a very intimate atmosphere,” “I want to look like a sort of an electroacoustic/experimental version of a one-man-band.” That’s how it started. I still have the same set, using my feet as the rhythm section (bass drum on the right foot and bass pedal synth on the left foot), and my hands as everything else (snare drum and percussion on my right hand, all electronics and loops on the left hand).

Andrea Belfi live at Spectacle

Attila: My family was devoted to classical music and I grew up going to classical music concerts. Acoustic-only sounds and live sets are my ‘background’ and that’s the reason why, I guess, I’m now trying to get something similar to an acoustic instrument from my live set-up. I’m not talking about a replica of the kinds of sounds you can get from any one specific instrument, instead I’m interested in the way acoustic instrument propagation’s behaves. When playing, I put 8 different prepared speakers very close each other and I send sounds to them from a computer. I chose not to distribute speakers around a space, because I’m interested in the way sounds get cohesive when many individual sources are placed at the same point in space, similar to the way the many strings of a piano blend together in the same organic resonant box. Also, playing a pile of speakers is less similar to the director of an orchestra, or to the sound projectionist of an accousmonium, who stands in a perfect position for hearing everything. In place of having one person playing through many speakers I prefer the idea of playing one single instrument made of many speakers. This way you can’t get total control over everything and that’s what I find stimulating.

Last year I did a residency with the Italian sound artist, Davide Tidoni, and we basically exploded tons of balloons almost everywhere just to hear how reflections affect sounds; since a burst is always the same and hasn’t any specific ‘character’, reflections gets more relevant than in the everyday life sound experience. During this short period, I better realized how strong the relationship between sound and space is. It’s like being surrounded by many mirrors (the first of are our ears) and every one reflect sound in a different way. Therefore I’m now researching in the field of acoustic mirrors, or reflecting surfaces. I work on the way different shapes and surfaces reflect sounds coming from my speakers and I address those reflections or resonances to the listeners. I move these reflecting objects with my hands and this gives me a feeling that I enjoy a lot more than just rotating plastic knobs on a midi controller.

How did the two of you begin playing together? I know that your first project was a soundtrack and was curious what was the film? Did that initial soundtrack influence your subsequent musical trajectory? 

Andrea: We started playing together when Attila called me, because he wanted me to play on a recording for a soundtrack for an Italian documentary. He wanted me to play some weird beats. We started playing these beats together, loose ones, loud ones, funky ones, many kind of rhythms, a sort of a collection of different beats. We had a lot of fun, as the room we recorded the material in was so small (5X6 meters), and it was full of equipment (drums, speakers etc.) and a lot of microphones (12 or more??). After a couple of months, Attila called me saying that the material was so good we could make an album out of it. That’s how it started, in a very natural and unpredictable way.

Attila: The documentary was based on a simple procedure: the director gave 70 teenagers 70 digital cameras and told them to shoot their everyday life. Every week they met and watched the material together, talking and discussing about the images shot by those very young guys and girls. The director never shot any footage himself. I was there one day of these meetings, one guy had filmed his cat and the director told him not to pass to another subject but to go deeper in that ‘subject’. Another girl brought some images of her very typical boring Italian dinner where the whole family eats while watching TV and the director asked her to focus on this apparently flat and repetitive episode. I thought that the result would have been so similar to YouTube to be unuseful, but the final movie was quite surprising to me. It looks like just having one person giving you a few coordinates could lead almost everybody to produce nice, intimate yet communicative results. He helped them to learn a sort of rough artistic language, which means nothing else than looking at what you produce, spending some time thinking about it and going deeper in what you would naturally do, just developing ‘your way’, which is already there (the way yourself look at things).

The director asked me for a music reflecting the character of this rough but dynamic images of teenagers depicting themselves. Andrea and I are no longer teenagers :-), but we liked approaching music on the side of rhythm, tumbling, and roughness, and I think working on this specific film was a good way to feel free to express these attitudes which were already there for us. Anyway, what’s on the album isn’t the same material that is in the movie. The director chose musical sections that fit well with the images while we chose to publish parts that to us worked by themselves.

What is the origin of the name Tumble?

Andrea: Listening to our material we started thinking about something bouncing; a trampoline, springs etc. We found the following definition of “trampoline”: “a gymnastic apparatus consisting of a strong canvas sheet attached with some springs to a metal frame; used for tumbling.” For us, “For tumbling” were the key words, the perfect image for our combination of our elegant, but wrecked drum beats and electroacoustic sounds.

What is the experimental music scene like in Milan today? To what extent is Tumble a product of this scene? 

Andrea: Milan is not only the place we met together. It is also the place where Attila was born, and the city where I studied (and hated a lot!). Milan is also the home of Die Schachtel, the label which produced our respective solo albums, and whichreleased our first TUMBLE release. I don’t really think there is a real scene in Milan, and it has never been. Now there is something more close to a music scene maybe…I think that there’s more people involved in using these experimental languages now than 10 years ago, which means more interesting concerts and events.

Attila: Milano, geographically, is the biggest city in Italy that is also close to the rest of Europe, which means that bands and musicians touring Europe often play in Milano (which is in the north, 40 minutes drive from Switzerland) and not in Rome for example, or more southern places. I work with many people who are originally from other parts of Italy and they finally choose to relocate to Milano. That said it is a city that expresses the most ‘productive,’ in economic terms, side of Italy. There’s a big market for bad contemporary art and fashion, but beneath this mainstream there’s a discrete and growing number of independent galleries and venues, some performances, and festivals, and a couple of very nice independent theaters. It lacks a ‘real’ experimental music festival.

How was your U.S. tour? Could you describe your impressions of your first shows?

Andrea: Our first show in US was at Experimental Intermedia. Even if we sold only one cd :-) (What does it meant to sell music nowadays??) it was actually a very good show. People were absolutely interested, and the context was amazing. We loved Phill’s place, it is very comfortable. Then we played in Western Mass and in Middlebury before coming to Boston. It is strange for Europeans like us driving in the middle of the nature for hours, I think Europeans subdued wild nature many years ago. :-)

But It has been a nice experience in so far as we’re playing good music and have had good audiences.

Attila: I felt like in the U.S. things are done in a more relaxed way. I mean, when you go to a show in italy you just have one person or two playing, be it Alva Noto or the last unknown sound artist, while in the U.S., not always but often, you get 5 performerss on the same bill and everybody is setting up between the different sets: every show just happens at the right time and nobody presses you while you are patching cables and preparing your instruments, in Europe you would have everybody silent waiting for you to set up as fast and as nervously as possible. Everything looks very natural and spontaneous, it definately lacks that sense of people being at an experimental music concert, be it the public or the musicians, just to be cool or hip, which is so common in most parts of Europe.

Attila Faravelli live at Spectacle

What lies ahead for Tumble in the coming year? Also, what other projects are the two of you working on (both together and apart) currently?

Andrea: As Tumble we are going to have a two week residency at Q-O2, were we will probably on a new live set and some material for a new record. Before that, we’ll play some shows in Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Apart from TUMBLE there are few other projects I’m working on at the moment:

  • ROOM40 is going to release my next solo CD in October 2011 and I’ll work on a new live set-up in the following months.

  • I’ve just recorded some drums and electronics in New York for David Grubbs’ new solo album that is probably coming out next year, and I’m going to tour with him and Stefano Pilia in Europe next July.

  • I’m playing with a Moondog tribute trio called Hobocombo, with which I recorded an album (unfortunately only distributed in Italy so far). It is a very joyful music project.

  • There’s an album of the band “Il Sogno del Marinaio” where I’m involved with the bass legend Mike Watt and my old friend Stefano Pilia, which is waiting to be released.

  • Zarek has just released the CD of the duo with Ignaz Schick, and it has received very nice reviews.

  • The foundation Oxylane invited me to be part of the BISAR residency project in Berlin from June through September. This will take place at the Kunstraum Bethanien.

Attila:

-I’m recording a new solo album by recording my speakers sounds and their sound reflections on different objects and surfaces.

  • I’m currently in Chicago working on the sound for a new film by Augusto Contento. In this documentary, he relates Chicago’s architecture and its musical scene. I’m trying to do the same with sounds. Technically I’m recording the specific way the physical structures in this beautiful city reflect and resonate and reverberate sounds using a technique called pzm (pressure zone microphones) involving the placement of microphones in direct contact with surfaces or in corners or holes flush with the surfaces. In these zones the sound pressure is considerably augmented and reinforced depending on the shape and size and material of the object, be it a single tile or the big ‘bean’ downtown. By using omnidirectional microphones you get a ‘sonic point of view’ cut out of the architectural shapes.

  • I’m working on some recordings I did of many site specific sound-art installations I’ve done with the Italian artist Nicola Martini for a vinyl release planned for the next months. We usually work injecting sound into materials through sound transducers, our activities are somewhere in between performance and physics.

  • I’m going to play some gigs with a duo I have with the Italian guitar player and electroacoustic musician Nicola Ratti and recording a new album in May/June. We are supposed to compose and play live a soundtrack for the summer sunrise at a very nice lake in Italy, we’ll try to be as romantic as possible. :-)

  • I was invited to a residency, during the summer, at the Tufa caves in Matera in the very south of Italy.

 

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