Jun 2021 05

Veering towards darker and more metallic and symphonic textures on the band’s latest opus, Kirlian Camera reminisces on the past 40 years at the forefront of Italian electronic music.
 

 

An InterView with Angelo Bergamini and Elena Alice Fossi of Kirlian Camera

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

40 years is a monumental achievement for a band to reach, especially during a global crisis, but Kirlian Camera is weathering the storm. With this year’s release of Cold Pills (Scarlet Gate of Toxic Daybreak), the band continues its evolution from one of the leading pioneers of electronic music in Italy toward a darker, more sophisticated sound – incorporating more organic elements of guitar, bass, drums, and orchestral arrangements, along with Elena Alice Fossi’s magnetic vocals and Angelo Bergamini’s sharply constructed electronics. With longtime associates Mia Wallace, Andrea Fossi, and Alessandro Comerio on board, the album is a standout in Kirlian Camera’s storied history… a history that is rife with controversy and perseverance. Now, as the world begins to wind down from isolation and struggles to achieve a “new normal,” Fossi and Bergamini speak with ReGen Magazine about the writing process behind Cold Pills, along with some words about the current lineup, and growing concerns in the return to live performance in Italy post-pandemic.

 

Congratulations on the band’s 40th anniversary and the release of your new album. In what ways do you feel the new album is the ultimate expression of your evolution across the years?

Kirlian Camera: The influences deriving from the outside are less and less present, practically canceled out. Over the years, we’ve always tried to use our own language, and to build it, we’ve had to face many challenges, not in music only. Let’s say we’re proud of our path, of having kept ourselves away from fashions and assembly-line-temptations, especially in the last period. The search for a less approximate sound has made its way, also ‘filtering’ a lot of our own music, with uncompromising passion – we’ve discarded hours and hours of musical drafts and entire songs which were already mixed. Therefore, at the same time as a simplistic and poor ’80s revival runs on, we go the other way. Boredom and habit are certainly not good companions for any creative musicians and today’s music sounds too boring, if we go to exclude a few names, so we feel forced to find new solutions in our head, in our heart.

Across four decades, you’ve not only incorporated new sounds and styles into Kirlian Camera’s sound, but you’ve seen many trends and styles come and go in popularity. Among them, which would you say had the biggest impact on you in terms of how you approach music and songwriting – not just those that you’ve infused into your own music?

Bergamini: There is no doubt that the electronic and experimental music that was produced at the turn of the ’60s and in the early ’70s, which I could define as a mix of experimentalism, psychedelia, and hypnotic trance, struck me. Repetitive music intrigued me more than songs or rock in general, even though I was a keyboardist of metal, hard rock, and progressive bands at the first concerts I held. The electronic new wave seemed to me a good derivation – even if at times a bit ‘smaller’ – of certain sound experiences that were born through the German Kosmische Musik and early Italian disco music. All very interesting, but I couldn’t like an entire album of anyone, so I opted to go out on the pitch myself, quitting a promising baseball career!

Similarly, what is exciting you the most in modern music? What do you listen to when you’re not making music in Kirlian Camera?

Bergamini: No, well… overall we stopped listening to new music, because we didn’t find anything that interesting. I have to say we don’t listen to a lot of music in general. Classical and contemporary classical music are the only sources of some interest now, except for some metal here and there. We certainly can’t find sources of inspiration in pop and rock today and maybe we don’t even look for them any longer. So, at this point, we can occasionally listen to undemanding things; the last album from the Sparks is cute – they know how to still have fun despite the years.

 

 

Cold Pills (Scarlet Gate of Toxic Daybreak) is a double album, which in itself is quite an undertaking; besides its length, what did you find to be the major challenges in the album’s creation?

Fossi: The concentration and involvement we undergo is sometimes kind of hallucinating. Not that seldom we find ourselves at risk of losing the sense of time and dimension, which is rather alienating and disturbing. Sometimes it almost seems we’re gonna freak out! It’s beautiful, yes, it’s magical, but when you compose and record albums like the one that has just come out… there are days when you feel a remoteness from the world that is almost dangerous. Delicate doors are opened and it’s like passing through dimly lit rooms. This is the album in which, more than in the past, I’ve experienced moments of tension that seemed to spring from a horror film. I’m not kidding! But it has to be like this – it’s the only way to describe what’s happening in the mind, a mind that has to project itself beyond the ‘comfort zone’ spheres and record the sensations, the emotions, memorize them, and recreate them through sound. It’s clear that concentration must be maximum, otherwise the result is nothing but frustrating. We don’t make music for any generic entertainment, but to reconnect to the soul, and from that soul, to spread the colors that are generated in infinite succession to the point of trying to reach people who can be part of that message and make them feel less alone in this world.

Although still catchy and melodic, the album has a distinctly less poppy edge than some of your past releases, and has a darker and more atmospheric sound.
Do you feel this was a natural progression from where your last album was leading toward, or were there other factors that affected your songwriting mindset (I mean other than the pandemic)?

Fossi: We started writing material for this album in 2018, a time when the so-called ‘pandemic’ (I’d rather call it ‘The Great Reset’) had not yet been ‘launched’. In fact, the early music of it was considerably influenced by some kind of art pop. I think that after a few months at the beginning of 2019, after having listened to the first eight songs of the new album, some of which were already mixed and ready for mastering, we felt a little perplexed; the general atmosphere wasn’t going to adhere to our feelings that much. Then Angelo and I looked at each other and started discussing how to manage such a new album. The result was that after a few days, we decided to ‘eliminate’ the first Cold Pills, going to start all over again. Angelo wanted to save ‘Crystal Morn,’ and I pleasantly agreed because that song is very much in keeping with KC’s classic style and was composed with real feeling and passion. As for the remaining track list, I can say that given that both of us had already been working for a while on some non-canonical material temporarily identified with a working title of Scarlet Gate of Toxic Daybreak… well, from such a somewhat uncomfortable and unconventional material, the adventure of Cold Pills started again, and soon the two titles went to merge. In fact, the real title of the new album would be the subtitle… but both Mia and I were sorry to cancel Cold Pills as we were fond of it, so that remained the main title in spite of the new concept we started working on.

Bergamini: Let’s say our last album Hologram Moon gave us some real satisfaction, if we go to think of it as an art pop or electronica chapter. So, now we had a sensation, it was time to move on towards other shores. Just ‘Crystal Morn’ might turn out to be a good radio single as far as this new album goes, but we hardly can find another title to offer to a wide audience. We opted for introducing our new era through the sounds of ‘The 8th President’ in order to clarify that the mood has changed, although we still feel real love for the former album. Now, we’d like to explore ‘our catacombs,’ because we need it… and the term ‘catacombs’ is not that casual.

 

 

With the core of the band being Angelo and Elena, what is the general songwriting process like? What roles do you each play in the formulation of Kirlian Camera’s music?

Bergamini: I honestly must say we don’t have a method or a precise role either. Let’s say Elena is the one who most often gives some true shape to a composition, writing its melodic guidelines, basically the music itself, and often the lyrics too. Let’s say that then it is me to usually take care of the electronic arrangement side, the search for sounds. Elena loves the ’80s sounds very much and I do not that much, so we always try giving life to some new genre. if I can express myself this way, one taking into account certain melodic principles, but also those ‘dissidents ones’ which border on unorthodox areas. Then it comes the moment that Mia, Alessandro, and the others are going to be called into question, offering their own vision as far as the arrangement of their own instruments is concerned, always under Elena’s expert guidance.

Cold Pills features Andrea Fossi on guitar and bassist Mia Wallace, who I am familiar with for her time in Abbath. How did these two musicians come to work with you on the album, and in what ways do you feel their contributions helped to motivate the new sounds you explored?

Bergamini: Well, both Mia and Andrea are not beginners for our band’s activity, as Mia had already been contacted in regard to SPECTRA*paris in 2016 and Andrea was a member of Siderartica, as well as being included in the lineup that appears on KC’s Live in London bootleg. The latter shares the role of guitarist with Alessandro Comerio (Triumph of Death/Hellhammer, Forgotten Tomb), a longtime collaborator as well, since he made his debut in Messina in March 2013. With all of them, there is a wonderful relationship, which goes far beyond the boundaries of musical collaboration! It is the first time in the history of the band that a kind of real family has been formed. I hope it lasts. As for research in the strict sense, we are all involved, but let’s say that deep musical research belongs to Elena, where ‘synthetic’ research is more my field. I cannot say that the other members of the band collaborated in the construction of the general sound of Cold Pills, but their sounds are now important, as in spite of the fact KC is a project very much projected towards the use of electronics, of which I’ve been involved since 1971, today there is a need to incorporate basses, guitars, drums, percussion, orchestras, and choirs. On the other hand, the ‘electronic sound’ can also be generated by means of classical instruments; let’s say it is more a kind of concept than a rigorous area as in the past, and in that concept, composers like Gÿorgy Ligeti, Giacinto Scelsi, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Fausto Romitelli, among others have opened many paths.

Being based in the United States as I am, I’d like to ask how the band is doing? From your perspective, how are things in Italy with regards to the pandemic, vaccination, etc.?

Bergamini: Oh well… people here seem divided on such a subject. I just know that too many things don’t add up. Personally, I am not a no-vax, because I have been vaccinating myself for years, but this time, I am kind of perplexed about the actual usefulness of these experimental remedies that pass off as effective remedies. It is necessary to inquire and then decide, but many people do not get informed and tend to offend all those who do. This ‘Planet of the Apes‘ bad habit is not my cup of tea. I may not have exactly answered your question, but I can tell you that with this pandemic story here in Italy, people like Draghi and Mattarella and their bad company are disrupting the whole nation. As Elena said earlier, it is a ‘Great Reset,’ not exactly a pandemic, flu, epidemic, hysteria, or whatever. Italy is particularly exposed to this ‘Reset,’ which wants to completely destroy it, continually denying national constitutional values. This is a dangerous game. The rulers believe they can do the good and the bad weather the way they want, but I can say that sooner or later, the people will get very disappointed and a notable clash will happen, so someone will get hurt. It is not that I wish it or not, but if happens, it is not the fault of those who react to serious injustice. Let’s say that everyone has their own reasons, so my reason is that of listening to the voice of the people, a voice that is continually suppressed by those who know how to skillfully manipulate information and politics. In Italy, democracy definitely went on vacation (and this sentence of mine has a double meaning). Kirlian Camera are taken for rebels, but I don’t think it’s a correct visualization of our attitude. We are not ‘regardlessly rebels’ – on the contrary… but we rebel against what we consider blatant injustices which, since there are so many, make us pass for rioters when instead, we would simply believe in order, self-discipline, and fight against crime. Today a serious cop, one who’s not following orders in a blind way, is at risk of being taken for a rebel, you know what I mean?! Believe me, I know it by experience.

We all seem to miss live shows, and there is the concern about how we will be able to ‘go back to normal’ with so many venues having to close down, everyone wanting to tour at the same time, getting people excited about going to live shows again, etc. What sort of difficulties do you anticipate for playing live again?

Fossi: I don’t know. I don’t realize how we will get out of this impasse and I don’t know what are the real solutions our governments are offering, because the current gimmicks are tragicomic. They are destroying the lives of millions of professionals based on a virus that has a very low incidence and mortality. Perhaps it is time that artists, sound engineers, agencies, all those involved in the music business and in the world of art in general make themselves heard in a chorus. This situation is not acceptable any longer; either they provide us with serious sustenance, or I swear we will lose our patience.

Similarly, what is it you most miss about touring and performing live that you are excited about?

Fossi: Look, a person like me ‘lives’ on live music, so personally, this period is nothing but terrible. It’s not that I’m obsessed with appearing onstage; it’s that I believe a lot in music performed in front of an audience. I believe in collective rituals, as well as in private ones. My way of going onstage is ritualistic, it happens like a real trance, where the transmission to other people is true, felt, almost stunning. As far as I’m concerned, you’ll easily realize how I feel nowadays. They’re taking away that language that I’ve created through years of sacrifice. Okay, there’s still a studio-music opportunity and well, it’s great to compose, it’s magical, but then I need to bring those sounds out and regenerate them every time with my voice’s help, in deepest involvement. It ain’t that far from a shamanic ritual, so what are we gonna do? We’ll destroy years and years of study, sacrifice, deep work in favor of four scrawny computers that generate sounds without a soul and without emotional depth? The ‘live’ moment must go on existing, ’cause it’s not an excludable option for musicians like me…

 

 

Outside of music, what are you enjoying most right now? Watching movies? Reading? Driving in the countryside? Anything at all… what is giving you the most joy to counteract the darkness of the world?

Bergamini: In my free time, I like to try understanding why Cinderella’s fairy godmother has turned into Billy Porter. What happened?! Such an intriguing matter.

What’s next for Kirlian Camera?

Fossi: Interesting question… in fact, we don’t know how to predict what will happen in the next few months for how our activity goes. We are not hobby musicians, so music is our profession, even if this profession is always gonna be ‘enslaved’ by passion. Having chosen to make non-aligned music and pretend to live with such a choice was a difficult step to take, but now… with all these restrictions, a band like ours, born in the deepest working class, hasn’t huge chances to survive. We’ll see what’s gonna happen. I know we’ll fight to the last for our right to work! In the meantime, I can tell you that a mega collection celebrating the band’s 40th anniversary will come out in some months and will contain unreleased and very interesting remixes, in my opinion. In addition, we’re working on a version of ‘Crystal Morn’ with help from special guests, so it’s possible that the result of such collaborations will see the light in autumn, together with a particularly ‘darker’ unreleased song.

 

Kirlian Camera
Website, Facebook, SoundCloud, Bandcamp
Dependent Records
Website, Facebook, Bandcamp, YouTube

 

Photography by Don Angelo – courtesy of Kirlian Camera

 

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