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Nick Willscher / Zammuto / The Books

"Clicks Around The Rock"

Le jeune américain Nick Zammuto Willscher, outre son parcours atypique, est à l'origine de quelques albums rigoureusement incontournables. Aux frontières de la musique électro-acoustique et d'une électronica microscopique, l'univers musical de ce génial musicien autodidacte s'est trouvé l'an dernier des affinités avec celui du new-yorkais Paul De Jong. Thought For Food, sorti sur le label Tomlab, composé par le duo sous le nom de The Books figure parmi les disques les plus excitants de 2002. Willscher revient sur son singulier parcours et expose sa conception très "pure" de la production musicale.

I do not know much about you. How would you introduce yourself ?
I'm 27 years old, short and thin with a bright orange hat. my background is in the Visual Arts, although i also seriously studied chemistry in college. After school i ended up working in art conservation, doing microchemical investigations of old paintings. Since then i've lived in miles from Maine to Georgia along a mountain path called the Appalachian trail. It changed many things for me. I became a cook at an inn in North Carolina for a while and then returned back to Massachusetts to be near to my family. All the while i have been working on music, mostly with Paul De Jong (The Books). As a visual artist i started out painting and drawing, and eventually began making sculptures that moved and made sounds, sort of rudimentary automatic instruments. I became totally fascinated with the digital recordings i was making of the sculptures and so i started to rearrange the sounds into music. In fact most of the sounds from Solutiore are directly from those sculptures.

The original point of your "career" is that it puts together technical and more artistic things : being both a cook and a chemist, and making instruments/editing sounds. Does this give you more awareness or freedom in the practice of your arts ?
Wow, i didn't know i had a 'career' but yes, i thrive on subverting those artificial boundaries. A culture begins to fail when it tells its people they are only good for one thing. It is my duty, both political and spiritual, to follow my own nose, and allow my mind to find its potential. I mean this in the least capitalistic way. Awareness is a good word for what i'm interested in.

Your musical work seems to be strongly associated with the exploration of guitar. So can guitar be seen as the centre of your work ? Something like "clicks around the rock" ...
I love the directness of fingers on strings. to be able to hold a vibration like that in my hands just feels good so i always return to it. The harmonic content of open strings is complete and undiluted, and at the same time lively and unpredictable. Its metal tempered by wood and air. My own interest in sound work is the mysterious inner life of the acoustic world. the guitar has been a good way to tap into that world.

Do you have a classical guitar training? do you play other instruments ? How do you rework the guitar sounds ... do you use samplers or more elaborated softwares ?
No, i have no classical training, or any other kind of training, in fact i have no idea how to play the guitar at all. Mostly i suspend it with wires and shoot rubber bands at it until it makes a really great noise. I make digital recordings with stereo microphones and various devices. Over the years i have created a really bizarre library of sounds that serve as a sort of 'instrument' to be used in musical compositions. I've been satisfied with the most simple software, just a wave editor and a ram based sequencer. The interface is transparent and simple enough that i don't have to think about it, and i can just use my ears efficiently.

So there is no Digital Signal Processing or that kind of stuffs in The Books ?
That is more or less true although we are not that idealistic about it. dsp effects (other than basic eq and volume changes) rarely add musical or literal value to the elements that we tend to use. And i really hate unnatural reverb. I can't understand why everyone wants their music to sound like its in a cave. We prefer broad daylight.

Who are your musical heroes ? What are your strongest influences ?
I've been really interested in old american music recently, which of course, is not really american at all, but a strange conglomeration of African, Native American and European musics. I really love Harry Partch's experiments. and of course, more recent folks like Aphex Twin and Tortoise. And i must not forget the Raincoats, amazing. I have a tendency to isolate myself musically for long periods of time, and i'm destitute, so my access to music is limited. So i guess silence is my biggest influence.

What is "Zammuto", or what was it before becoming your pseudonym ?
Zammuto is my last name (my fathers name, italian), Willscher is my mothers maiden name (german).

As far as I know, apart from a few contributions to compilations (on Apt B and Tomlab), you produced two works : the three CD-r series (whose 2/3 has been reissued as Solutiore Of Stareau & Willscher) and the collaboration with Paul De Jong, The Books. Have I missed something ?
Yeah, thats it for cds. Although there is a lot of unreleased material waiting for the right home. And the sound sculpture is still going strong, although not many people have seen that work yet. i have a short video of them.

How would you describe the three CD-r Series ? To you, is it relevant to see Solutiore as the abstract, drone side and Willscher as a more rhythmic/dynamic side of your work. What does the other CD sound like ?
Disc one is a long bass guitar improvisation, peformed in real time through two sets of delay devices. Eq changes were then applied to pull out different layers of the sound.
Disc two was created by using pens and pencils and razor blades to add clicks and pops to the 'silent' parts of vinyl records. The resulting rhythms were then sequenced using a midi sampler.
Disc one is about resonance, disc two is about rhythm, disc 3 is just about having fun in the context of the first two discs.
solutiore of stareau (3 cdrs) were all of my first experiments in sound. they were the first tracks i ever made and they happened to coincide with the first time i had ever lived alone in my own apartment/studio. I made discs 1 and 2 over a two month period in the summer of 98 in North Adams Massachusetts. For the first time in my life i was completely absorbed in my own idiosyncratic sound world. Days would pass and i would realize that i hadn't spoken to anyone. My ears were learning so fast. Discs 1 and 2 were exercises that i gave myself, to help sharpen my ears and increasing my stamina for concentrating on minutia. Working on them was an invaluable experience for me personally, but i'm not sure how useful they are for other people. I don't worry about it too much. Disc three has more of a pop sensibilty. I've always loved pop music for its ability to make the banal profound, and at its best it can subvert the culture that it comes from. It has more of a political mobility than less accessible musics. Disc 3 is all of my early experiments in finding a balance between interesting sounds and a pop paced composition (progression of ideas).

Has it been ok for you to have them reissued as separate albums ?

I pushed hard for the three to be released together but unfortunately no one shared my vision. in retrospect i think a mistake was made in separating them.

Will the missing album come out ?
I don't think so. I'll send a cdr to anyone whose interested.

When was The Books project born, why "The Books" ? How would you describe its concept and musical scope ? Was the fact of being far away from Paul De Jong a part of the "concept" ? What has been the process of recording of Thought For Food ? How long did it take to record Thought For Food ?
Paul and i met in new york in 2000. We happened to be living in the same building, and a good friend introduced us. I went over to his place one night for dinner and he whips out his sample collection, which was on minidisc at that time. The moment i heard Shoobee Taylor i was hooked. It was clear from the beginning that we had a similar love of sound and so we started working together with the idea that we would make somewhat accessible music that featured our sample collections. Thought for food took more than two years to finish since i was living out in LA for a while and then in the south after hiking the AT. but pressure from Tom Steinle kept the project from getting lost and we finally pulled the record together in 2002. It is much better now that we are living closer together. We get much more done, and the scope of the project has widened further. Our focus is simply on the sounds that we like, the ones we find most beautiful or gripping. He is a cellist and i have a guitar so we tend to use those, although various banjo's have come in and out of our lives as well.

So the Books is mainly about the meeting of two individuals with their history and their collection of sounds. Where does the name "The Books" come from ? And what about the title ?
Yes. since our interests in sound are so different and yet somehow so similar it seemed like a great idea to pool our resources and learn from each other. It continues to be an amazing collaboration in this way. We inspire each other and keep each other focused. its very valuable. The name 'The Books' was unanimously discouraged by our friends, but we love it so it stuck. Paul reads a lot. Books are so commonplace but have such infinite variety and richness, and are inseparable from the human condition. 'Thought for food' is a play on the common english phrase 'food for thought'. Paul is always doing these absurd things with english sayings. he's made quite a large collection by now. my favorite at the moment is 'that right ain't shit'.

You mention the importance of Tom Steinle in the release of Thoughts For Food. What were the reasons why it almost got lost ?

Frankly, its hard to get excited about electronic music when you've tasted how sweet a simpler life can be. My time living outside made me want to never return to the nonsense of 'civilized' life. working with Paul and Tom has reminded me of the value of this mode of existence. I just really love silence. Maybe someday.

It's funny because you mention that you moved quite a lot/often and I see an obvious epic dimension in The Books, as if you were telling a story, or at least giving landmarks for a story to be imagined by the listener. Do you see it this way ?
I'm not sure if the journey of two people could ever be epic, but it is true we both changed a lot while making that record. I feel like i'm still in a period of rapid learning in music, so every track i work on has a specific kind of character depending on where my ears are going at the time. This always seems to incorporate the immediate environment in some way. Now i associate those tracks with the smell of my studio at the time they were made, from a hardwood floor in new york to a carpeted LA bedroom to a musty concrete basement in North Carolina. Its difficult to avoid a narrative in music. I'm always amazed that it spontaneously forms without any apparent effort. I think its the mixture of autobiographical sounds and more public sounds that drives the story. Its a guilty pleasure because i know i enjoy it more than anyone else.

Who brought what in The Books?
Its hard to say. It is a full collaboration, and so we become more than the sum of our parts. The work is sort of anti formulaic, so we just focus on a free exchange of ideas. Most of what we do never ends up on a record. We laugh a lot when were in the studio.

Are you still living in North Carolina ?
No, i'm in massachusetts now. still in the same mountain chain, just much further north.

Will there be a follow-up to Thought For Food ?
Yes, its about half way done. it will be very good i think.


Zammuto - Willscher (Apartment b)
Zammuto - Solutiore Of Stareau : Disc One (Infraction)
Zammuto - Full Martyr Status Remixes (MP3 album)
The Books (w/ Paul De Jong) - Thought For Food (Tomlab)

Interview réalisée par Christophe Taupin.

Remerciements à Tom Steinle.