Text by CLOT Magazine
In this 16th mixtape volume, the Italian-born, Berlin-based music producer Andrea Taeggi has prepared a selection of sound that inspired his last album Mycorrhiza (OOH-sounds, 2020), also including recordings from the late Sanne van Hek, a dear friend of Taeggi’s and a great artist.
Taeggi’s work is often categorised as experimental ambient, techno or minimalist through which he explores the sculptural potential of sound. His research also includes the physicality of sound, its tactile quality and implied 3-dimensionality, the grey area between acoustic and electronic sources, the disassociative hypnotic power of repetition, the fictionality of recorded audio.
For his research endeavours, he has been a regular guest-composer at renowned research institutes such as STEIM Amsterdam, EMS Stockholm and Willem-Twee, where he further developed his investigation in analogue synthesis, extended techniques, reel-to-reel tape treatments, recording techniques and composition.
Earlier this year, Taeggi has published a new experimental album, this time inspired by Funghi and their biological structures. Apart from the most obvious recreational uses of some species, these organisms are having a sort of second golden age with a resurfaced interest in many applications, from medicine to design. Besides, in the last few years, all sorts of creatives have been reinventing uses of these intriguing “creatures”.
Taeggi shares the album is not written or inspired by the intoxicating use of fungi. Instead, he observes the cognitive and intelligent behaviour of mycorrhizal fungal roots that inhabit the soil of the forests, and from which a network of beneficial underground relationships with plants sprouts. Known as Mycelium, this fascinating wood-wide-web very much resembles the intricacy of the human neural system—transporting carbon, water and nutrients from one tree to another. A mutualistic symbiosis that Taeggi similarly establishes with the rather rare arsenal of sound machinery he had access to at Willem-Twee synthesis.
The artist shares that while originally this mix was meant to show the inspirational music that influenced Mycorrhiza, he also thought of including some material from Sanne van Hek, a dear friend and great artist who passed away much too soon.- Sanne and I shared a common fascination for Indonesian gamelan music (she was of Indonesian descent). Both explored ways to re-work those beautiful bell-like sounds and drums. I think you can hear that quite clearly in the mix. It is sad that no label ever wanted to release her music.
However, it was carefully crafted and rhythmically exciting—hopefully, more people will be able to check her work now and realize what they missed. For the rest, I included other artists that were (un)conscious inspirations in the making of Mycorrhiza and others I admire or feel closely related to. Fun fact: the oscillators used in Stockhausen’s seminal “Studie I” are the same I had the privilege to use at Willem-Twee. You can hear them in “Oculus Cordis” on the record—a stately drone track centred around the pristine sine-waves generated by those oscillators.
Your most recent album, Mycorrhiza, takes inspiration from fungi. What it is about these living creatures that attracts you? And what has been your relationship with them or your experiences that have made you explore it further with music and sound?
What attracts me about fungi is mostly the fact that they don’t belong to any biological taxa out there: they are neither plants nor animals—although they share properties of both. In nature, they are some of the most “eco-friendly” beings, considering they can turn almost anything (what we would see as “garbage”) into food. Their footprint on the planet is, for the most part, benign, unlike that of us humans. We share an evolutionary story with mushrooms, just like with plants. However, the one with mushrooms is way more ancient (I suggest checking the beautiful and recent documentary movie “Fantastic Fungi”).
I became more interested in nature and have grown more sensitive towards all living beings after trying the well-known psychedelic mushroom (psilocybe cubensis, aka magic mushroom), which is a real ally in exploring one’s mind and reality. I believe it could help bridge this enormous and poisonous gap humans have artificially created between ourselves, other animals and all of nature.
And considering that the current trend is to live ever more often in urbanized areas, I think it is crucial to use a “tool” that reconciles humans with their animal side and nature—especially in light of the absolute carelessness towards environmental issues that most government show—despite the big words and promises.
Your work generally has a more minimal approach, but it feels different here; what was the artistic process behind the album composition and what did you technically explore with it? Does it seem you were creating a mycorrhizal system with your equipment at the Willem twee Synthesis studios?
Yes, indeed I was a bit tired of the music I made earlier (Zimni Kral and Mama Matrix especially), which I grew out of in a sense. I needed a wider range of frequencies to get excited by. I recorded the raw material for Mycorrhiza at Willem-Twee Studios in the Netherlands, where I felt again as a child in a playground.
The amount of machines they offer to their residents is simply stunning as they cover a broad spectrum in the history of electronic music (from 1950—1980). For instance, the title track “Mycorrhiza” was made on an ARP 2500, which is a historic synth…initially, that piece was supposed to be more of a study on different timbres of white/pink noise, only later did I notice that could become a track. The reference to mycorrhizal networks is somewhat abstract.
These networks are the result of the partnership between tree roots and fungi: this little miracle unfolds a few centimetres below the ground, just enough for us not to notice. Trees and fungi exchange molecules and nutrients (an actual case of intra-species “barter”) while they also allow for trees to communicate at a distance via their wide web— for instance sending around alarms in the event of danger (like a parasite). Tree roots ride the fungal network to communicate at a distance, which is also a very striking image. So when you listen to the track, imagine nutrients, molecules and information being thrown around at speed and in all directions below the forest soil.
You talk about the analogies of the mycelium with a neural system and even further a symbiosis with the sound machines, transmitting electric impulses and information. In a conversation with Tony Rolando, he described how using a modular synthesiser is a collaboration of human and machine and that the device is highly capable of being guided, but must even be allowed some freedom. How do you see your relationship (man-machine) with the sound systems you’ve used?
The one thing to mention is that, when talking about such powerful instruments as the ARP 2500, it is impossible to appreciate all the possibilities it offers. In practice, this means that even the engineer who built it (the late Alan R. Pearlman) and his team couldn’t possibly envision the entire spectrum of musical applications the machine would be capable.
I remember reading this humble confession in the operational manual. In other words, one is dealing with an instrument with a) not yet known possibilities b) untapped potential and c) high instability/probability. And the latter is due to the fact this is an analogue instrument (not a digital one). By turning knobs and moving pins up and down the matrix, you can get to a particular state of complexity and instability which will be nearly impossible to replicate, even if you take accurate flow-charts and write your patch down to the letter.
This is my take on that “freedom” you were referring to in your question—this weird and sometimes beautiful side of all sophisticated analogue devices, that (sometimes) seem to go happily haywire. Or at least that’s what it looks like to us.
There are several analogies between brain synapses and the CV impulses of an oscillator indeed: for one they both feed on the electrical current. Another similarity with brains is what they call “cross-talk” in neurobiology, which is the ability of two brain areas (say frontal cortex and limbic system) to influence one another mutually.
An analogue synthesizer is just as “modular” like the human brain, in that each area is responsible for a specific task and their neighbours can influence them. What is also fascinating is the architectural mindset you need when working with a complex analogue synth: without a clear plan, the chances are that you’ll get stuck or lost soon enough.
These instruments require a clear overarching plan to get started and possibly constant overview (even when improvising). This process might also happen intuitively or on the fly. However, in my experience, proper and efficient planning can get you a long way, especially when your goal is to come up with something of artistic and emotional value. What I mean is that I don’t want to be busy with too many technicalities at the creative stage.
What is your relationship with technology nowadays? And how do you cope with technology (screen/digital) overload?
Honestly, it is hard to keep track of the vast number of devices that are coming out. In general, I’m intrigued by companies who do remakes old analogue machine and release it again but with a modern interface. This has many advantages, like space: thanks to ephemeralisation, engineers can now cram so much more information into a small chip, which would have required a big capacitor in the early days. Smaller sizes mean you can pack your instrument and bring it to your gig. Usability and memory have improved: in many remakes of older synths you now can save your work and recall it immediately (a huge advantage).
Connectivity has improved: now the trend is to make devices which can all talk to one other, whether they are old or new (via midi, USB, CV, wifi, etc.). This has made it possible to connect a modern instrument with a synth from the 1970s. I use all these new options in my practice, mainly because I own both old and new instruments. Speaking of screen overload, I’m always trying (often failing) to find ways to get rid of my laptop when working in the studio or performing live.
When I manage, I do feel refreshed, though. It can be very distractive and even misleading to keep looking at the visual translation of sound on screen, especially at the creative stage. I’m not sure I am actively dealing with the issue of general screen overload (!) but I am at least aware of the danger of spending too much time in front of it. What I normally do during summertime is to leave my phone at home when I go out, be around more people and read books.