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    History & Mystery of Elektriktus Interview with Andrea Centazzo

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      The Elektriktus album "Electronic Mind Waves" was, and may still be, a bit of an enigma when it comes to 1970s electronic music albums. What may be seen as a ripple in time, was really just a single thread in the long and dynamic career of the artist, Andrea Centazzo.

      Only in recent times, when the interest in 70s electronic music and many of the albums produced then became an interest of record collectors, did we learn who was behind this music that still stands up quite well today. We had the great opportunity to interview Andrea about his Elektriktus project, how it came to be, and what he is doing to bring this music into the present with his plans for a new Elektriktus album and live performances coming soon.

       

      Andrea Centazzo - Elektriktus

       

      How did you get into music and ultimately create the  "Electronic Mind Waves" album?

      I can date the beginning of my pro career in 1972 just upon my return from the Swiss Jazz School in Bern Switzerland. I was born in a little town in the north-east of Italy. It’s where I literally suffered for 20 years before to find the way to escape. Almost a village with no music scene, no music schools and especially very little and low quality avant-gard/electronic music. The Swiss School was the first attempt to make music my reason of life.

      I can’t really say that I had at that time “motivating factors’, but just the need to express myself in a different revolutionary way! This was also reflected in the life style of those years in Italy where the young generation was trying to break the rules and cut the chains with the past.

      Before 72 I was an amateur musician... first I studied guitar, then clarinet and finally somebody proposed me to play drum in the school band and I accepted… We were used to play for the school parties, for friends and rock venues… very local and very amateurish. Actually I was the only taking it seriously doing the booking, talking care of the equipment, searching for songs, etc…

      When the idea of Elektriktus came up I was already one of the top in demand Italia Jazz drummers playing with most famed group there: Quartetto Giorgio Gaslini. But avant-garde jazz was just a part of my interest: I was attracted by the new technologies both in music synthesis and music recording. So with the money I was making as jazz drummer I built up my studio (starting with a Tascam 4 tracks and after a 8 track and a couple of Revox) and I started experimenting with sounds. In ¾ years I had enough material for releasing few LPs but at that time the problem was finding a label. Luckily enough I was signed as jazz artist by a label, PDU, that was also importing in Italy the Cosmic Rock/Kraut Rock from Germany and the producer liked the less percussive tracks I produced and decided to release Elekctriktus, mimicking the name of my other previous jazz record (Soft-Machine-like) named ICTUS. We decided to keep it anonymous since the avant-gard jazz scene at that time was very selective and conservative being politically motivated.

       

      The 70s were difficult times in Italy, politically. Did this have on effect on music at the time?

      Absolutely!!! the avant-garde music we were playing at that time was considered “revolutionary music” and we all were involved with the leftist movements. As matter of fact we were playing in rallies, factories, universities and always under the banner of “revolution now”. The audience at that time was curious and open and they can listen rock and avant-garde at the same time. We went so far even doing concert where the top free jazz groups played along with the most innovative electronic classic composers (Nono, Maderna, etc.) and the top rock musicians. Now all that is gone killed by internet. The audience curiosity is dead and the people is manipulated by the corporation and media and they listen with the attention of zombies.

       

      Was making Electronic music with a synthesizer seen as different from making Electric music on guitar, organ such instruments at the time, or a continuation of what electric began?

      Being a drummer and a mediocre keyboard player I was looking for something that could escape the traditional instrumental boundaries and the pure electronic sound gave me that possibility not only because I could use different kind of controller but especially because I could move out of the traditional octave division.

       

      What was your first encounter with electronic music, and who were the most recognized electronic artists of the day?

      By 1973 I had already released a couple of LPs (ICTUS with a keyboard player and Fragmentos a solo album with a couple of trio tracks). At that time I was the creative designer and director for the Italian Cymbal brand UFIP and with them I was presenting their products designed by me at NAMM and Musik Messe (the 2 main shows for music instruments). There I discovered a new universe of sounds. I became friend of Antonio Monzino Italian distributor of the main US brands and notably of the Moog Industries. I fell in love with the Minimoog but at that time it costed like a sedan! Antonio told me “give me your recording and I'll see what I can do”. To make a long story short, Bob Moog loved my recording and he gave me a free Minimoog!

      Before that, though, I bought a cheap used GEM keyboard and I got from an Italian instrument maker the Davoli Synth a cheap imitation of the Minimoog.

      With those 2 instruments and a lot of time and creativity I composed and recorded ELEKTRIKTUS.

      As I said before my inspiration came for Stockhausen, Nono and those guys more than from Tangerine Dreams and so... even if I ended up doing a double bill gig with Klaus Schulze.

       

      Photo by MASTER RENZO CHIESA.jpg
      Photo by  Master Renzo Chiesa

       

      What attracted you most to using synthesizers, and when did you decide to start working with them?

      While I was committed to my jazz percussionist career, in the same time I was attracted by the new electronic music scene raising from Germany and England.

      A step ahed after years of classic electronic music.

      Actually I have to say that my first encounter with electronic music was in 1958 when I was 10 years old!!! My parents brought me at the Universal Exhibition in Bruxelles and I had the chance to listen to Edgard Varese Poeme Electronique played on a 12 channel system in the French Pavilion. An unforgettable experience that came back to me years later when I started to be involved with electronics!

      As I said with the early earning of my percussionist gigs I had the opportunity to buy one of the first 4 tracks recorders and a couple of primitive keyboards. And in the silence of my recording studio in the country, I started composing, playing and overdubbing.

      That’s how Elektriktus was born.

      At that time we didn’t have (and we couldn’t even imagine!) computers with recording and editing programs or automatic loops, effects and samples. So when free from gigging around, I spent months working in my studio.

      The producer of my first jazz LP, titled ICTUS, didn’t want 2 albums so different in style under the same artist name; so we opted for Elektriktus (blend of Electronic and Ictus) in the hope that it could follow the path of the much more famous German Cosmic Couriers.

      But unfortunately due to a lack of promotion and a bad distribution, the LP remained almost unknown and forgotten. As naive as today it can sound, it was the first experiment in connecting acoustic instruments to the electronic ones in my sonic space; a technique that is now highlighted in my last multimedia concerts where I play percussion and a Kat Mallet blending samples from my Mac and the acoustic sounds.
       

       

      Was composing solo with synths a new idea at the time, or was it no one else knew what to do with them?

      I think that just few musicians where working in that way for 2 main reason: the cost of the equipment and the wave of the period that was more toward groups than soloists with some notable exception like Mike Oldfield, Klaus Schulze and few others. I'm talking of 1970-1975.

      From me was kind of improvising-composing. I had some vague ideas at the beginning of a piece and I was driven more by the necessity to overcome the technical limits than a real compositional scheme. So basically the machines were leading me, giving me just some possibility and I had to cope with it.



      There is a marvelously atmospheric sound, but I also hear elements of funk, jazz, and world music on the album. What was your vision for bringing these ideas together with synthesizers? 

      I never posed the question of genres to myself! I always did what I felt compelled to do with no compromises and no special aims. And here, I have to say again, the instruments were leading me.

      My music is first conceived as a pure expression of my self and then if this can please and satisfy the audience, I'm happy.

      Obviously as listener I was into many different kind of music: starting from Jazz to pure electronic to classic and, not last, world music discovered with some Balinese music recordings. That came back in the 2000 when I had that chance to compose for Balinese Gamelan and perform with them.

      Unforgettable experience.

      But even there I used electronics, playing samples with pads. That has been a constant in my music.

       


      The mix of live drums with synthesizers sounds great. Which came first, the beats or the beeps?

      Ah, ah... this is really a good question! Being at that time a jazz percussionist I would say the drumming but I remember that it was not in some tracks. Some tracks started with laying down a sample & hold sequence or making a generator beeping. Some instead had first the drumming. So I can say that again was the situation of the moment inspiring me, not a preconceived compositional scheme.

      I can add that the producer asked me (actually imposed me!) to skip the tracks with more percussion and lower in the mix the drumming in the tracks that were released in the LP. He was freaking out that ELEKCTRIKTUS could become “another crappy experimental avant-garde recording” (his words!).

      But since I never trashed a tape in my life all the remaining tracks and/or sounds were later released in the triple album INDIAN TAPES that won in 1980 the Award for best Jazz Percussion Album by the Italian Music Critic association. And surprisingly won also the “Wax on Wax” poll on Downbeat Magazine... the second was M'Boom Percussion by Max Roach!!! I had to excuse myself with Max!! He was so kind that he said that I wished to have done something similar. What a great musician and exquisite soul!



      In addition to synths, I hear what sound like sequences and other electronic patterns. Is this the "Frequencer" mentioned on two track titles. Was this a unique device or something else?

      That was the already mentioned cheap Italian Synth named Davoli-Synth from the name of the producer Davoli a company also making amplifiers and such, very well established in Italy at that time when importing US or Japanese instruments was costly. It had 2 oscillators and a function that made the oscillators playing randomly. Not a sample & hold function but something more primitive. Using 2 Revox in series (one recording and the other playing the same tape -Terry Riley style-) I added echo layers to the simple note pattern creating what sounds like a rich texture of notes.

       

      Davoli Davolisint Synthesizer


       

      What other kinds of electronic instruments were you using on this album and how did you choose them, or did they choose you?

      As I said this Davoli-Syth and a GEM (another Italian cheap brand) Keyboard were the only 2 instruments employed in ELEKTRIKTUS. We can definitively say that they choose me since I couldn't afford something costly like a Moog or ARP synthesizer. Frankly I cannot remember if I also employed one of the very first drum pad/synth called Synare. It was something like a Roland Quadrapad with a oscillator and a lot of unwanted noise. It was producing those kind of percussive sounds later elaborated by Dave Simmons in the early electronic percussion. I didn't have the MiniMoog yet. Unfortunately!! That could be heard in Indian Tapes while the Synare could be heard in Realtime the LP with Alvin Curran and Evan Parker.

       

       

      synare.jpeg

       

       

      I hear some wonderful phase shifting, delay, and effects. Where was the music recorded and what kind of gear was the album produced on? 

      All the effect were done as I explained before using 2 Revox stereo tape machine. At that time I didn't even had a reverb chamber!! Too expensive. The only available was the AKG but it costed the equivalent of today $6000!! the phase shifting was done with a MXR guitar pedal: since it was a mono pedal, to make the synth sounds stereo, I had to double a track playing it with one of the Revox slightly delayed. You cannot imagine how many attempts I had to do to get the effect I needed. All was done manually by just one person.

      The music was recorded in a farm 600 years old on the countryside. I rented the place for living in and I just acoustically treated (cheaply!) a room with some curtains and some glass wool. That not only for the sound but also for the heating! The place (close to the mountain with a rigid winter) didn't have a heating system and in the studio I had just a stove where I had to burn the wood that I collected in the nearby forest and chopped! Those were heroic times and nothing could stop me! I was young, healthy and with a vision.

      The final master was done in Milano in a pro studio after I had the record deal signed. There I could add a bit of reverb form an AKG chamber. But obviously it went on the final master. A different story than having a reverb unit available when mixing.



      The cover, that appears to be real artwork, really stands out from modern digital. Who did the artwork and does it have any relationship to album?

      I was very pleased with the cover but I had nothing to do with it.

      I was just a poor young musician from a small town and I had no decisional power on anything.

      The graphic artist was Paolo Tallarini, a famous cover designer working for the major labels in Italy.

      Most of the top pop music covers were his own. I suspect that he found some stock painting and just elaborated it a bit... He didn't even bother to credits himself on the cover. I think he did this cover because the owner of the label was a super famous Italia pop singer and he was doing for her all the covers on the catalog.

      I suspect once more that he probably did it in a couple of hours...

      But the final effect was just the right one from the colors to the fonts.

       

      cover.jpg



      How did you finance the project, was it hard to get this kind of music published at the time?

      Since I was a well paid pro drummer (I would say that when I was 24 I made more money than now after 45 years career!! again: THANKS Internet!!!) I invested most of it in equipment. Nobody gave me a dime for this project and I was just lucky that the producer decided to release it.


       
      Was the electronic aspect promoted at release, and how was the album received in the press and from other artists? 

      The producer opted for Elektriktus (blend of Electronic and Ictus, title of my first jazz recording) in the hope that it could follow the path of the much more famous German Cosmic Couriers.

      But unfortunately due to a lack of promotion and a bad distribution, the LP remained almost unknown and forgotten. As naive as today it can sound, it was the first experiment in connecting acoustic instruments to the electronic ones in my sonic space; a technique that is now highlighted in my last multimedia concerts where I play percussion and a Kat Mallet blending samples from my Mac and the acoustic sounds.

      I was astonished few years ago to discover that Elektriktus is now present on the web on 8.000 plus pages. A sign that those were seeds well planted.

      So few years ago I decided to release again Elektriktus on CD and on LP limited edition trying remastering it more close to the original LP as possible.



      Did you preform this material live, or do any touring for the album?

      I never did so far. But this Spring I have a couple of dates in Europe.

      Not that much since I don't have contacts with any electronic music promoter. Unfortunately!! I hope that once the show is ready to go with videos, with a demo from the first 2 concerts I can get more gigs. Very hard and frankly at 72 I feel a bit demotivated to work like a crazy to get at the end a $500 gig...

      Actually if this will end in the hands of some promoter, it would be great.

      Here I am ready to perform! Write me!



      How long did you carry on Elektriktus, and did you continue working with synthesizers in other groups?

      I'm working now on a second album. But I'm taking it easy.

      Now making an album is almost an hobby since nobody buys CD anymore, producing LPs is effin' expensive and finally I have to pay the bills at the end of the month.

      Since those years all my music has been based on electronics both in my solo performances and in my group playing. Now I'm using a Mallek Kat percussion keyboard connected to 2 Macbooks with all my electronic sound sampled.

      I know that for a purist this is blasphemy.

      But if the purist is willing to pay the plane transportation of my synths and willing to hire a couple of roadies, I would gladly perform live with the old equipment.

      I had often the discussion that there's a difference between the original analogue sound and the digital sampling of it.

      It could be. Not for me and especially not for my purse!!

      So far I'm happy with my sampling: I'm traveling with two 50 pounds luggage and a backpack with the Kat. And that's all I can afford. Again: the purist benefactor is always very welcome!! Write me!

       

      83082399_3226030467412390_7772971996291268608_o.jpg



      You are still working with synthesizers and electronics today. How has this changed since the days of Elektriktus?

      Talking generally: the Planet has changed (getting toward annihilation) and it would be astonishing if electronic wouldn't have.

      First of all the digital recording changed the music world giving possibility to a multitude of asses to make music using other people creations. And in consequence celebrated the death of the copyright especially in experimental music.

      Second the sampling made easy to steal but also made easy to create for honest musicians.

      Talking personally: I changed, so the music has changed, Not that much but I was crossing genres all my life and I never had a steady career, because of this paying a very high price.

      One day was the free jazz man, the day after the electronic maniac and the third the new age guy when the forth I was playing with Balinese musicians.

      But a constant factor was the electronic that in a form or another was always present. Certainly since the 2000s it was easier playing around just carrying the Mallet Kat and a Macbook. I wouldn't go back especially in my financial conditions.

       

      Why do you think people are still interested in the early Electronic Music of the 70s and where do you see electronic music going next?

      The answer could be variegate: because the today music is boring, because they feel a ingenuity since long gone, because they like the LSD era, because they love those long hairs and mustaches...I cannot have a scientific answer. Certainly I'm happy people discovering what we did in those years. Things that still now could be considered avant-garde.

      Too bad that the average nobody could realize how difficult was producing this kind of stuff in an era where to get a manual you have to wait for 6 months the mailman.

      I would love to have an answer to the question where electronic music is going.

      For now I find it vilified enough with the use of a iPhone instead than a real synth.

      And now it's all about selling and buying. Consumerism at its worst.

      Certainly not like when I was spending night and days in the studio trying to get out a new sound from a couple of basic effing oscillators...

      There were blood, sweat and tears, here are ready made loops, other people sequences and a iPhone to play all that shit on (pardon my French).

       


       

      Encyclotronic would like to thank Andrea Centazzo for taking the time to share about the Elektriktus album and the story behind it. Be sure to check out his web site at AndreaCentazzo.com where you will find all kinds of information about his career spanning more than 45 years and over 170 albums including his work with John Zorn, Tom Corra, Eugene Chadbourne, Toshinori Kondo and many other projects including the creation of 3 operas, 2 symphonies and 100s compositions for other groups.

       

      More information at AndreaCentazzo.com


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