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May 12, 2015

Neel's Cosmic Reflections

Phobos capped my attention long ago, it’s a very strange moon that gravitates anti-clockwise and extremely fast around Mars. There are some points regarding it that are very interesting. For example, at the end of the 1970s a group of Russian scientists conducted analyses and studies regarding Phobos. At the end they realized that Phobos had a hollow interior, for them it was an artificial satellite. A few months after the study was published, a meteorite crashed close to their laboratory. After exams of the carbone 14, they realized it was coming from Phobos. Coincidence? During the cold war space programs from USSR and the US were both studying Phobos. Why spend so much money on what seemed to be just a piece of stone? They sent probes, but contact was lost when they arrived in it’s orbit. So at first I had an interest for this mystery and then Gulliver’s Travel came to mind. Partly, it’s a story of a giant that I read when I was a child, and strangely the landscape that is described seems similar to Phobos. It was not discovered at that time. I went further into my inquiries and realized that others had made those links as well. I found and read the book again and again. I was shocked, it was Phobos. There is something behind this moon, for sure there is something going on.

There are so many things that came together to translate these ideas into my music. After a whole day of mastering techno music, the last thing I wanted to do is techno with a kick. I wanted to experiment with music and make a soundtrack of something. When I started making this album, I just imagined that I was on Phobos. Before doing the album I wrote sixty pages of what this album should be, there is a strong narrative component. Each track is a path through it: landing, craters, mountains, etc. It was a challenge, describing space in music is kind of cliché nowadays. I wanted to make something that would be between an album and a soundtrack, minimal but with a full spectrum of sounds. I used all the possibilities of my studio from very vintage machines to digital components. When I could not find the sound to describe exactly what I wanted, I built my own instruments — it was an interesting experiment. The concept came first and I knew exactly what sound I needed. I wanted to be stark with it while listening to it in my studio and be completely immersed in a three-dimensional sound, but on a stereo interface. I was paying enormous attention to the details, I could spend a week manipulating only one sound.

I didn’t want to put out the album at first, it was something I was creating just for me. Something I could find myself in at the end of the day. Spectrum Spools somehow received some sketches of it and the manager of the label thought I was insane not wanting to put it out. He didn’t give me a choice. He said “either you work on it more or I put it out like this”. He wanted to make me work! I didn’t expect this recognition from people and I realized that a lot of people were ready for something like this. It could have been a similar album from someone else; people wanted this type of music. And then, there was the second step of the video. The last thing I wanted to do was make a video showing space. I worked with a friend of mine named Yko, we shot most of it in a kitchen in Berlin. We had 45 hours of rushes and we came up with an idea: when you focus on something in the small details, you can see the universe, in the microscopic you can see the macroscopic. We were in a kitchen and we could see Mars. I finally received the final video a week before my gig at Mutek last year. The first time I saw it completely was at the show because I wanted to experience it for the first time with a crowd. It was quite an experience! I was working with a very complicated modular synth. At first I wanted to do only one representation per continent. I actually did more, but next week is probably going to be the last one. Now I want to write another concept.

Having a concept is mandatory to have a strong identity. Nowadays electronic music is going really fast. I have the impression that the new generation forgets the most important thing, which is the music. I would tell them to take their time and do something that has a unique identity. Work hard, then take one week off. Listen to it again. Get the point. See if you are there. Go to work again. I’m never in a rush when I make music. I don’t want to be a superstar DJ, I’m doing it for myself. The industry is mostly based on marketing and on the image, music comes after. To have the hype you have to put a record out, doesn’t matter what. You have to tag your name on a label etc… Of course all of it is not like this. There are a lot of young people with huge talent and a proper approach to production. There is an interesting new generation in Italy. I also have been working a lot with young artists from Sweden. Acronym, Varg, Northern Electronics… They have a really strong identity. They love what they do and I feel really connected to them.

Many young producers move to Berlin. I don’t get the point, it’s over-saturated. Of course you can meet a lot of artists there and learn a lot. But I did Phobos, in Rome, my city, my home. The environment that surrounds me gives me a lot of inspiration. Why should I move? I love Berlin, but I don’t need to go there to create. You can have computers and machines anywhere, you don’t need very much else to produce. I teach sound design and sound engineering to people, but the first lesson is always: what matters is ideas. The machine is nothing, it’s the person behind that counts. You can use a shitty laptop or a twenty thousand dollars modular synth, if you don’t have an idea it doesn’t matter. I can give them all the technical aspects that they need, but if you don’t have the idea you are lost, it can not only be technical. There are no rules. I like to use vintage instruments, but everyone has their own way. There is a fashion point with analog these days. Analog synths and digital synths give different sounds. Some things can only be done with digital. It just has to fit your idea. Of course using a plug-in to emulate a TR-303 makes absolutely no sense, you don’t get the point. I don’t think you have to have limitations, but you have to have a way. If your way is written in your mind you will know exactly what you need. If you don’t know where you are going, you will try many things, but after a while you will realize you are still at the starting point.

— Neel

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