Paolo Tarsi: There is a new flowering of psychedelia

photo: Alexander Zanoli

Paolo Tarsi and ex-members of Kraftwerk and Tuxedomoon – Fernando Abrantes and Ivan Georgiev talk about their working on the album «A Perfect Cut in the Vacuum», new flowering of psychedelia, dangers and wonders of transhumanism and other interesting matters

In continuing to explore interesting music that was made during last year and was influenced much by COVID-19 hysteria and lockdowns, it would be hard to pass by an album by Italian composer Paolo Tarsi, «A Perfect Cut in the Vacuum». Besides the uniqueness Paolo’s sound, the album attracts great interest by the impressive list of names of collaborators that took part in creating this piece. As Paolo says, most of them are artists who have contributed to reshaping the aesthetic canons of a musical revolution. Among them, you can find people who are significant and famous for bringing new forms and ideas into modern music figures, such as ex Kraftwerk, Tuxedomoon and King Crimson members, current members of Tangerine Dream, as wells as main protagonists of the current electronic scene.

Being a composer that is mostly known for his work in the field of contemporary classical and for his work as a sound designer for video art projects and multimedia installations, in «A Perfect Cut in the Vacuum» Paolo Tarsi took a step towards new territory for him in Kosmiche Music, techno and electro. The album came out to be really monumental and a big conceptual piece where each of 21 track takes its logical place in the composition and provides the concept of the hall work.

We had the opportunity to chat with Paolo Tarsi and Kraftwerk and Tuxedomoon ex-members Fernando Abrantes and Ivan Georgiev about their work on «A Perfect Cut in the Vacuum», the dangers and wonders of transhumanism, new flowering of psychedelia in the underground and other interesting themes.

Interview: Dmitry Tolkunov

Hi Paolo! A few month ago you released the album «A Perfect Cut in the Vacuum», out on Bandcamp (Paolotarsi.bandcamp).  Congratulations, this work sounds really impressive. Can you tell a bit please about the creating process of the album, how it was shaped during the time and is there a kind of a general idea and concept that was the driver of creating this album?

Paolo Tarsi: The album develops musical ideas from “Furniture Music for New Primitives,” my previous album released on Cramps. It’s a sound investigation that explores the sense of anxiety of the emptiness innate in human nature, an Horror Vacui that the early inhabitants of the Earth tried to fill by reproducing images of everyday scenes on the bare walls of caves. This is exactly the opposite condition to that faced by mankind today, completely saturated with media inputs corresponding to an excess of stimuli, generating a sort of Horror Pleni – a horror of overflow – in contrast to the ancient Horror Vacui of prehistoric man.

If we look at your musical background, we see that you are a composer who was mostly before involved in different multimedia art projects and music for films. Can you tell a bit about your way into music?

Paolo Tarsi: For some years I have been very close to contemporary classical music, and a part of me still is. I also love contemporary art, and I am always happy when the opportunity arises to work as a Sound Designer for video art projects or multimedia installations. At the same time, I am equally satisfied with this new direction that I have taken. And it is only thanks to my previous avant-garde paths that I was able to achieve this synthesis.

Can we call «A Perfect Cut in Vacuum» your first serious artistic album?

Paolo Tarsi: It is definitely the record I care about the most today, but I continue to be very attached to my previous recordings as well.

The album makes an impression of a very solid, consistent piece, where everything is in its place and following the general album composition. In some ways, it brings to mind big and serious conceptual albums of the 70s and 80s when it was common that an album was not just a collection of a new tracks but more like an artistic statement about the current reality. Did it happen by itself or did you have in mind this kind of a conceptual album approach when you were working on the «A Perfect Cut in the Vacuum»?

Paolo Tarsi: I figured out how to set up the album structure during production. At the same time, the concept of the whole project became clearer to me. Now every track on this release pulsate towards a climax where ever more intense sounds follow one another, as if in an immense celestial dance. Ambient sounds merge with Kosmische Musik and progressive, via techno and electro.

You have an impressive number of great collaborators who took part in the creating of the album, among them ex and current members of such iconic bands like Kraftwerk, King Crimson, Tangerine Dream. How did you manage to put together all these people and get them interested in working on your album and was it your first experience of working with them?

Paolo Tarsi: «A Perfect Cut in the Vacuum» features artists who have contributed to reshaping the aesthetic canons of a musical revolution. This begins with some legends of electronics, such as the renowned keyboardist Steve Schroyder and the violinist Hoshiko Yamane from Tangerine Dream, as well as Lothar Manteuffel, partner of ex-Kraftwerk Karl Bartos in Elektric Music, and former Kraftwerk members Eberhard Kranemann and Fernando Abrantes.

photo: Alexander Zanoli

Still others come from equally important and significant experiences, such as King Crimson, Tuxedomoon, Henry Cow, National Health, faUSt, Ulan Bator, Area, Afterhours, along with session musicians who recorded alongside Brian Eno, Radiohead, Soft Machine, Bryan Ferry, Neu!, Ash Ra Tempel, Caravan, Hatfield and the North.

It was the first experience together, they are all truly exceptional musicians, and I am very grateful to each of them for the valuable contribution they have made to this project.

The collaborators that were working on the album are mostly from the early, pioneering electronic scene. Does it tell about your passion and the importance for you of such kind of music and can we tell what it was like finally having a chance for working with your musical heroes?

Paolo Tarsi: Yes, but not only. I also involved in this project some of the main protagonists of the current electronic scene, even more underground, such as Robin ‘Scanner’ Rimbaud, Valerio Cosi, Alek Hidell, Fauve! Gegen A Rhino.

The second track on the album called “The Rumble,” with vocals and lyrics of ex-member of Tuxedomoon Ivan Georgiev impresses much. It sounds like a powerful statement that deals with such defining themes like surviving of mankind. Can we say that dealing with such serious topics are in general line of the album, which the goal is not only to entertain but also to bring serious questions?

Paolo Tarsi: That’s right! If I remember correctly, when the song was finished, Ivan proposed that we insert a short part sung on the music we had created together with John Greaves and Chris Gibson. Of course, I was very pleased, also because there was an excellent affinity between us and it was clear that we shared a common vision. Not just on the musical level.

Ivan Georgiev: When Paolo contacted me, I was impressed by the way his music captures my attention in a way not so many musicians out there do these days. I thought “here is a composer’s mind at work.” So I stepped in with my own preoccupations: for me, music carries emotions and sensations that words struggle to translate. As far as lyrics go, I don’t consider myself much of a writer (to come up with good lyrics seems a skill above my pay grade). Yet I try to write a few words to introduce the ideas I find important; the listener should do the rest. Up to him. But I feel, at least, I need to invite him to think about it. Life, death, climate change, system failures, global responsibility, people’s actions and politicians courage (more often, the lack of courage they exhibit, if not the cynical nonsense some show in their political action). At the end of the day, as a human society, we are so interconnected these days that we need to work together for more consciousness…we should be capable of making the right choices or if not, I believe our future will be dark beyond imagination. My contribution here is small; it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.

Track “Artificial Intelligence” that was remixed by ex-Kraftwerk member Fernando Abrantes is about AI and its future relations with the human intelligences and bodies. We can say that it touches such an actual for mankind topic like transhumanism. What are your personal thoughts and attitude to this transhumanistic tendencies that are happening in the modern world – are you a bit scared of them or you look at them rather optimistic?

Paolo Tarsi: Today, technology plays a major role in people’s lives. I wonder if one day the devices will be able to learn and process emotions, develop their own psychological profile, to the point of weaving ever closer ties with humans, if not real relationships.

A similar scenario, given the enormous speed of processing and evolution of artificial intelligences, even before ethical issues, would mark an even deeper dividing line in the man-machine relationship, increasing our dependence on technology.

You ask me if I trust machines. I believe they can help us significantly, even if in this terrible pandemic artificial intelligence has not been able to do much about it since we are all in the trenches with masks. Obviously, it played an important role in the study of a vaccine, but I think it can have a more central role in the world of work, leaving man more free time to devote himself to self-research, giving him the opportunity to rise to a more spiritual dimension.

Having said that, in the Italian version of the song the text I wrote at one point says: «The power in machines is the power of the machines». As if to say, trust is good, but not too much.

Fernando Abrantes: Paolo asked me if I would be interested in participating on his new album doing a Remix of the Track “Artificial Intelligence.” I said, “of course it is my pleasure,” and so I began to work on the session Paolo sent me. When I heard the track for the first time, I thought, well, it already sounds good, but maybe if I play some chords with keyboards and also program drums on it, the arrangement becomes more dense and gives more emphasis to the message of the song. That was my personal touch. With regard to the question about transhumanistic tendencies, I hope that mankind will never lose control over everything that may affect our own independency and survival regarding technological evolution.

Besides dealing with serious themes we obviously can say that the album sounds very psychedelic. It has even a brilliant slogan that represents the feelings that you can have after listening to the «A Perfect Cut in the Vacuum»: «LEGAL TRIP YOU CAN TAKE. A HYPNOTIC SOUND EXPERIENCE. A PERFECT CUT IN THE VACUUM!». Don’t you have a feeling that psychedelia in music and other forms of art has a new breath now and a kind of a revival? And can it be sign of rapidly changing society and world order, like it as in the 60s when we had first Psychedelic Revolution?

Paolo Tarsi: There is no doubt that there is a new flowering of psychedelia in the underground. But as claimed Heraclitus, «no man ever steps in the same river twice». So, I don’t know…but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like it!

Do you see «A Perfect Cut in the Vacuum» and “I Can’t Breathe EP” only as studio productions that were mostly created during the lockdown, or could there be a chance to see you playing this music live with all the fantastic people that took part in the album?

Paolo Tarsi: The pandemic related to COVID-19 has interrupted the activity of many artists, including myself. After the cancellation of a European tour that would have seen me play, among other cities, in Amsterdam and Berlin, I decided to focus on the production of new music. As soon as possible, I will return to propose my projects and in concert with new visuals. Live sets are a totally different dimension than a recording studio. If in the latter, while I love to collaborate with many musicians, I understand that while live I prefer total freedom. But I don’t rule out the possibility of sharing the stage again with other great musicians in the future.

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