Interview by Daniel Barbiero
Luca Gazzi (b. 1983) is an improviser and composer from Treviso in northeast Italy. Gazzi started out as a guitarist and bassist in metal bands before switching to drums and eventually to percussion. In a more dramatic shift of focus he turned to improvised music, passing through psychedelic rock-based improvisation to free improvisation. It's something he's given a lot of thought to; parallel to his practical experience as an improviser has been his development of a conceptual system that he calls the LIARSS method of improvisation. LIARSS is the Italian acronym for what in English translates as "Free Self-Managed Improvisation for the Demands of Sonic Space." In practical terms, LIARSS is an approach to improvisation that draws on extended as well as conventional technique, coupled with an appreciation for listening as a complex act that inevitably has a formative effect on the quality and development of an improvisation. As Gazzi explains in our interview, LIARSS is a way for improvisation, as a collective practice, to become a self-reflective art in which improvisers become aware of the conditions and forces that go into an improvisation and thus approach improvising as real-time composition--and not as just so many accidental reactions to the contingent pressures of circumstance.
It's of more than a passing interest that Gazzi, who's largely self-taught as a musician though he comes from a musical family, has an academic background in philosophy. His degree is in Theoretical Philosophy, with a focus on the structural distinctions and relationships between concepts. Like the philosophy he studied, the LIARSS system, with its consideration of the elements of improvisation and their interactions, is centered on relationality and thus would seem to give him a holistic way of combining his philosophical perspective with the practical demands of creative music.
In addition to maintaining an active performance schedule, Gazzi frequently presents at workshops and master classes, and occasionally produces recordings by others. We conversed by email in March. In our conversation, Luca and I discussed his musical background, his motivation for taking up improvisation, and his development of the LIARSS system.
PSF: You began as a guitarist and then switched to percussion?
LG: I began to play guitar when I was 13. Before, I played with some instruments I found in my house – my dad is a musical teacher, so I played with flutes, guitars, a piano, woodblock and cymbals in my childhood. My first musical experiences took place in the metal genre; I played electric guitar and bass in many bands around 2000 until 2010. Then, I realize that I needed to change my approach to the music. I moved to the drum set as if I was attracted toward the heart of pulsation. I took some lessons but soon, I began to study traditional percussion and style as well as contemporary music on my own. After some experiences with some kind of psychedelic rock built on free improvisation (Collettivo Androgino, Ius Primae Noctis). I dedicated my energy to develop my approach and my knowledge around the inner core of improvisation, its structure – what any improviser is looking for/at when he goes into that experience. My main project from 2014 to 2018 was Adiabatic Invariants and that involved me in percussion and with Marco Matteo Markidis doing digital sound processing. With this project, we developed a structural approach to improvisation while collecting some notable experiences (a residence at Tempo Reale music research center, two participations at Art of Improvisation Festival in Poland, a couple of CD's– HKPD (2014) and Cattedrali di Sabbia (2016), a three day workshop + concert hosted at the MART auditorium in Rovereto and many other concerts around Italy. In 2017, I began to study with the Maestro Roberto Dani. After this project, I contacted guitar player Luca Perciballi and cellist Annamaria Moro for a couple of sessions and a performance. The project was focused on developing my ideas about the compositional aspects that reveals the inner structure of improvised music.
PSF: It seems you had something of a musical conversion experience at some point--a conversion to improvised music. What was it about improvisation that attracted you and that brought you to make improvisation the main focus of your musical practice?
LG: My interest for improvisation rose from my studies background. While I was studying Philosophy at university, I found that investigating the forming reality is much more interesting than giving reality a form taken from somewhere else (where? beyond reality? over reality? on its left or right?). My first experiences with improvised music put me in front of those forming forces but soon I realized that those forces were often already part of something running deeper (personal histories, ideological ideas, social conditioning and so on). The "style" of the playing was often a mere result of those backgrounds, and I felt that it was not my way to follow. As a musician, I do not have an academic formation; I have always been free to explore the sonic space on my own. This was (and still is...?) a very challenging and dispersive "non-method" but on the other hand, this wandering provided me a strong sense of observation of the surrounding sound-scape. With the Adiabatic Invariants project, I analysed many aspects of improvisation in the contemporaneous approach. We worked on electroacoustic aspects of sound as well as compositional questions as they emerged from the practice. All those experiences lead me here, now. I practice on gesture and sound research and I keep on developing a way to play improvisation by getting aware of all its complexity.
PSF: You're currently working on a method of improvisation that goes by the acronym of LIARSS—Free Self-Managed Improvisation for the Claims of Sonic Space. Can you tell us a little bit about what LIARSS is?
LG: LIARSS (Libera Improvvisazione Autogestita per la Rivendicazione dello Spazio Sonoro) is an idea born during my first experiences with improvisation. I never thought that improvising was just a way to play music, but it's meant to open one's experience to the vast field of the unknown as well as the crossing flow of all musical genres and traditions. This liquidness rooted in the heart of the moment caught me. After many experiences of practice, performances and meeting with other musicians who play improvisation, I collected my thoughts about the sense of this process. LIARSS was the beginning, the path and is still my horizon. LIARSS has been a flag, a way to communicate my need to improve the experience of improvisation out from the mere aesthetic perspective. What I realized by studying this discipline is that it exceeds the proper field of music, at least as we intend it in our Western civilization. Improvisation is always disruptive for the rules that make it happen – for that reason improvisation's always been confined in very structured point of "freedom." When improvisation takes over – like in free jazz or in the avant-garde – it shows a very terrifying nature: the aim in the performance is a change in the reality, not only in its perception. Improvisation can be a passage from aesthetic to ontology and vice-versa. To reach this point, I needed to focus through all my experiences. LIARSS helped me in this path; under this "tag," I produced music, projects, festivals and workshops. These steps have been analysed to observe the relations between the aesthetic approach to improvisation and its ontological principles (one example, the "freedom" concept). The sonic space LIARSS is referred to is an unlimited horizon held by some basic relations between the sound proprieties, in which the performer is free to move. The main concept here is that "freedom" means not only possibility in a musical sense, but it means the possibility of structuring reality in a different shape according to one's will. My work on the spatial properties of sounds is a projection of my will to use sound as a significant tool to explore space and replace its elements (objects, structures, directions etc.) by an emerging property (harmonics, pitch resonation, amplitude-guided vibrations and so on, for example). My reflections developed under the LIARSS perspective have led me to develop a continuous idea – the LIARSS permanent lab. My wish is to keep on researching in contemporary improvisation and to develop my ability to compose the moments – something a little bit more interesting than merely "experience" them. My last work with Luca Perciballi (https://lucagazzi.bandcamp.com/album/modena-17-mar-2019) is something that goes straight to the point about gesture, structure and composition in the contemporary improvisation field.
The LIARSS method for approaching improvised music mainly consists in a sort of analysis of the physical parameters of sound (pitch, amplitude, duration and timbre) combined with some relational parameters (density, pulsation and position). On the upper level we consider the specific parameters that define the cultural dimension in which the performance takes place (rhythm, harmony and melody). On the last level of analysis, we can approach the main questions around the specific performative aspect of the improvisation (attractors in and between sounds, actant role and structures in the sonic space). This process of analysis involve the whole concept of improvisation and it's finalized in releasing the boundaries (mental cliché, cultural suggestions, techniques and so on) that keep us from realizing a radical, full freedom in improvisation. Of course, I am conscious that this is a fixed star in my sky – may be a utopia. This is not the point; I am interested in the effect that this thought had on me (and the music I make) and on the other people I have the blessed occasion to play with.
PSF: If I understand it correctly, then, LIARSS conceives of improvisation as a compositional, or at least a quasi-compositional, activity for constructing a kind of sonic architecture rather than as a set of ad hoc gestures responding to whatever is happening at any given moment. And the resulting improvisation would take the form of an emergent sonic object that hadn't previously existed. This would be the ontological aspect of a LIARSS improvisation. As a practical matter, does improvising this way involve the participants in discussion and analysis of what they've just played, or are about to play? Or is it a more intuitive process than that?
I don't give any rule or indications to my companions. I prefer to suggest some interesting "points of attention" that one should appreciate during the playing. Those points coincide with the structural junctures between the parameters (see above). Once this perspective is presented, I let each player take the time he needs to transform it into an operative concept. This part of the rehearsal may include some "role game" that I developed and that helps in focusing the perspective. For example, one game called "the hangman" is focused on the responsibility of ending a specific part of the performance; another game works on the spatial perception of the sounds while other games work on the relational impact of the feedback loop during the playing. All this work is done in order to improve the ensemble sensibility toward what's emerging from the playing; I think that improvisation works better when each single will is melted into a new extended will that is fully reactive and receptive. The player's specific entity has to be regained from these "social" extensions; individuality is based on mutual recognition – it's a high level property and not a basic assumption. What's laid in the basement of improvisation is undefined both in time and space; one game I like to suggest – more a trick I would say – is the following: "think at your first sound like it was the last one. Then follow backward the trace that led you to that note."
The LIARSS method is not a fixed method (step 1 – step 2 – step 3 – etc.), it depends on the ensemble I'm working with (maybe I'll need to begin from step 3 then step 1 and 2 and so on). Usually, that approach give the space for some interesting discussions. Improvising is a very challenging experience and you've got to be prepared for the unexpected but more – you've got to be prepared for the expected accidents (stylistic clichés, jazzy/rock structures, tonal fascinations, overplaying or underplaying, lack of listening, and so on). Improvisation is based on freedom and freedom has to be gained, because nothing is less natural than "freedom."
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