Across The Abyss:

An Interview with GrandessoCera

On fresh EP »Phosporescent Line«, Italian duo GrandessoCera explore the friction between low-intrusiveness and sonic curiosity. Filip Lindström interviews sound designer Andrea Cera and saxophonist Damiano Grandesso about the results of psychotropics, escaping the abyss and hiding parts of the music from the listener. Enjoy!

Damiano Grandesso.

For some, German/Italian label Jazz-O-Tech’s signature blend of (often minimal but sometimes rough edged) techno and (mostly quite experimental) jazz might sound like an odd combination. For others, it seems perfectly agreeable. Now, the label has taken their already motley concept one step further, releasing the result of a collaboration between sound designer and musician Andrea Cera – who usually manufactures sounds for car blinkers and the likes – and classically trained saxophonist Damiano Grandesso.
        I get GrandessoCera, as they call their collective self, on a video link from Italy, to discuss their brand new release »Phosphorescent Line«. But, before talking about GrandessoCera’s music, I feel inclined to ask Andrea Cera about a method he uses in his other line of work, something called »low-intrusive sound design«. I wonder to myself, what exactly is »low-intrusiveness«, and how can it be applied to the creation of jazz infused techno?
        »Low intrusiveness is a strategy I follow for sound design projects – such as creating blinker sounds for cars, or notification sounds for smartphones. In these cases, the listener is in a passive situation, receives sounds without pressing play, without ‘desiring’ it« Andrea explains, continuing: »I use any possible means to minimize startling, invasive or annoying effects. On the absolute opposite side, musical creation doesn't have this constraint – it can be dense with hidden meanings and layers of symbols, noisy, aggressive, chaotic, especially if the listener really chooses it.«

So, dear reader, now that we know the mere basics of »low-intrusiveness«, can we imagine a way for it to be used in jazz and techno, two genres that some people find both invasive and annoying?
        »Our project is a hybrid between these two extremes« Andrea says, referring to the »low-intrusiveness« and its counterpart. He adds that the GrandessoCera project »has a penchant for small doses of discomfort, and sometimes a kind of gravitational force, a downward pull. But these layers are not in the foreground, people could be unintentionally listening to these tracks among other tracks of a playlist, maybe while studying or during a train trip, or when chilling in a club.«
        Judging from how much thought they’ve put into the various ways to approach the music, GrandessoCera seem to really care about their listeners: »We don't want to upset them, but we hide stuff for the ones who are sensitive, the deep ones, whose ears and brains are always searching, and who could be going back and listen for a second time.«
        Damiano Grandesso tries to remember when he first met Andrea, but can only recollect that it was at least a decade ago. At that point, Damiano was working on a solo record and was looking for composers to work with. Andrea was one of the collaborators he thought of, but eventually nothing happened between them. »Phosphorescent Line« is their first release as a duo. The musical partnership started a few years, from a feeling of boredom, or rather from a constant curiosity.
        »As a musician, I always need to explore something new. I needed a kind of new energy« Damiano says. »The classical background had started to bore me, and I wanted to have a new project that can go in a totally different way. I knew that Andrea Cera had a background in composing other things than classical music, so we got in touch and this time it worked.«
        »We have similar backgrounds, very mixed« Andrea says. »Academic studies and work in non-academic fields. Before embarking in my composition/sound design career, I worked on both jazz and techno fields, but it was many years ago. I have never become a good jazz improviser, nor a good techno performer. I lack the ability to filter my musical thoughts in real time, in the now – I do this thousand times better in a compositional process, in the darkness of the studio, like a book writer.«

Andrea Cera in his studio.

So, both Grandesso and Cera nurture a vivid yearning to explore new territories of creation, and they might possibly even incite each other in further alienation of common ground.
        »This project is a hybrid, and hybrids suscitate curiosity« Andrea delicately describes the cooperation. »Curiosity is a beautiful form of energy, but maybe not very adapted to our frightened times. I hope this kind of music can suscitate some positive hope around, re-ignite the passion for the unknown, the unusual. Hybridization is the most powerful form of creation to me. I don’t see any other way to do interesting stuff, than to make different things co-exist.«
        »I agree« Damiano swiftly says, cementing the fact that the actual unlikeliness of GrandessoCera is the key to the success of the match. Merging essentially dissimilar musical ingredients fuels this process of absolute innovation itself, which accentuates the amount of separation between sources of inspiration. It is a way of staring forward while running away from everything that has created you. Some parts of »Phosphorescent Line« are entirely composed, while others are improvised, which makes even the structure of the EP a hybrid of sorts.
        Speaking of the unknown and the unusual, GrandessoCera’s first single is entitled »La ballata dell’abisso«, re-envisioned by fellow Italian sonic portraitist Enzalla. The original track, as it was before Enzalla touched it with his musical paint brushes, is of course featured on »Phosphorescent Line«. The title of the song means »The ballad of the abyss«, and I ask GrandessoCera what the abyss actually symbolizes for them.
        »At the basis of this song there are musical structures inspired by baroque passacaglias and American traditional ballads« Andrea says. »Both these forms often flirt with thoughts of mortality and human fragility. This song is like a safe place from which one can observe the architectures of melancholy.«
        In a way, I think the ballad of the abyss sounds joyous, almost celebratory – especially when the piano part, played by Luigi Ranghino, emerges in the original version. The Italian duo’s serenade makes me think of Swedish black metal masters Watain and their harsh portrayal of the beauty of despair in quintessential track »Malfeitor« from their magnum opus »Lawless Darkness«. Explorations of phenomena traditionally regarded as dark or bleak are integral for artistic innovation, which both Watain and GrandessoCera seemingly understand.

Do you think there is something about l’abisso worth celebrating?
»Abysses are frightening only when one is escaping from them« Andrea answers. »But if one contemplates them – faces them, questions them, they don't seem so frightening after all – then one feels elated, light, like flying.«

What are your personal experiences with psychotropics, and what results of it can you think of, apart from the ones audible on the EP track »Results of psychotropics«?
»What I mean with the word ‘psychotropics’ is a mental space. A series of thoughts which – as the Greek root of the word means – turns the mind away« Andrea says. »One of the worst things that our mind can have, is to get stuck and fixated in a given configuration. I like to explore the self-unlocking mind. I'm not interested in the chemical, artificial variant of psychotropics. I never liked to depend on external things, when it comes to my mind. The EP track tells a kind of story – it starts with the mind locked; then there is an implosion and the lock breaks; and then there is an explosion and a gliding.«

For a project so focused on always finding the next new thing, what might the future hold? »Our music has already been on TV and the radio, and we’ve played around ten concerts« Damiano says. »The most important step is to bring this show live and to achieve a meeting with another public, which was my goal from the beginning. This music should not be played in a classical way, but in the way that it has to be done.«
        »For the future, there is one thing that we still haven’t nailed« Andrea says. »This complex interaction between the saxophone and the electronics is there, but it is not visible. We are still working around the problem of how to give the feeling that there is a living organism going on. We are really brainstorming on how to bring this to the next level.«

What Andrea means by there being a »living organism going on« is the way the saxophone, an organic instrument of sorts, can marry the more cold elements of the produced sounds. I believe this might be both GrandessoCera and Jazz-O-Tech’s most difficult task, one that will be continually exciting to witness as it unfolds and develops further.

November 27 2021