Exploring the Art of Ambient Music Composition with Sergio Calzoni

ILUITEQ (Sergio Calzoni) quotes:

Working with other people is always a more rewarding experience

With ambient music, everything at first is linked to a feeling

I had a very exciting experience playing live in a church

In ILUITEQ, roles are almost identical

ILUITEQ is the latest project that sees the involvement of Sergio Calzoni, a musician who has explored a range of music styles throughout his career.
In ILUITEQ, he shares a variety of roles in music development, production, and mixing together with his music partner Andrea Bellucci.
Let’s discover more about it and many other things.

Sir Joe: Hello, Sergio. You’ve been involved in several projects so far, and not all of them had to do with ambient music. Can you tell us in which projects you have been involved in the past, those you are involved in now, both solo and in cooperation with other people, and what was/is your role in them?

Sergio Calzoni: Starting from the very beginning, my first project was ‘Alma Mater’ in the 90s, so a long time ago.
It was an electronic duo, with me taking care of the production and development of the tracks, that is arrangement and composition. Valerio Biagi was the singer, he provided all the lyrics and the singing for the tracks I developed. That project was strictly connected to the Dark Wave movement, which at the time was a big source of inspiration for me.
We tried to be a bit different to all the others darkwave acts, so we sang in Italian while the majority of the other bands in this music style sing in English.
Afterwards I felt the need to explore new music territories. Around 2000, 2001, I got really excited with the new trip hop movement that was taking place, especially in UK: acts like Massive Attack, Portishead, and so on.
So, I decided to explore this music genre and I started to collaborate with other musicians. In the band ‘Act Noir’ I played keyboards and also provided electronic parts with a sequencer, although we sounded more like a typical rock band.
There was a drummer, a guitar player, a bass player and a Danish singer, because at that time I was living in Denmark, where I stayed for almost four years.
It was a challenge because at that time internet was still at an early stage of development and diffusion but we managed, thanks to internet, to keep in touch with my Italian mates.
In Denmark I had the chance to build my first home studio, with ProTools and an old Digi 001 audio interface. It was really exciting, because I could finally take care of all the parts related to the production of an album.
All the recordings were done by me in Denmark and when I was coming back to Italy on holiday, I recorded all the parts of my Italian mates, so guitar and bass. Drums were recorded in a proper studio because we had no equipment for recording an acoustic drum set. Then I mixed all the parts, took care of the production and we finalized the album, that we made basically between Italy and Denmark.
With Act Noir we released two albums, then I embarked in another collaboration that was very significant for my music career.
The band was ‘Colloquio’, which was an already existing project. I joined the band in 2007, or maybe 2006, because its leader, Gianni Pedretti, wanted me to be part of it for releasing an album.
In this project I was taking care of all the electronic parts and I was involved in the production. In particular, I did all the mixing and since we were both really satisfied with this partnership, we continued to work together for a follow up.
The new album was called ‘L’Entrata e l’Uscita’, and it gaves us the chance to play live in a lot of venues all over Italy.
Afterwards, I started to feel the need to give form to a solo project. So, for the first time I decided to take care completely of all the music aspects, and I also decided to explore more ambient related music.
That’s how a project called ‘Orghanon’ started, and I still release music with that moniker. This kind of project was very new to me because I never made music completely by myself. It was also very challenging because sometimes when you are completely on your own you risk to lose yourself. You must be very disciplined, you need to have rules, otherwise things can go out of focus.
After Orghanon, I got in touch with an Italian musician with a very long list of works released in many different music styles. His name is Andrea Bellucci. In the first part of his career, Andrea was involved with members of Planet Funk, before they were called Planet Funk, and he released a lot of techno and dance music.
Having the chance to collaborate with such an experienced musician was a real thrill to me. Andrea and I started an electronic ambient duo called ‘ILUITEQ’.
So far it has been a very fortunate project because we had the chance to release albums first with a UK based label, while now we have a long term contract with a label based in Oakland, close to San Francisco. It is called n5MD and is a quite important label for ambient music.
In ILUITEQ, roles are almost identical. We both develop tracks, we both produce but I alone take care of all the mixing.

SJ: Thanks a lot for the very detailed explanation.
Now, you mentioned the danger of working solo vs working in collaboration with other musicians, because of the risk of losing focus and stuff like that.
Is there anything else you wish to add about the difference between working in a solo project and working with other people?

SC: Well, I think working with other people is always a more rewarding experience, because you receive different inputs from other people and quite often they have a different perspective about how a song should be developed.
So I find it both rewarding and instructive, in a way, because you can learn many new things when you have the possibility to share a project with other people. That’s why I absolutely prefer this kind of dimension.

SJ: My next question is: how does a song take form?
In a classic pop song, for example, you may have everything in your head already, before you enter in a studio. But with an ambient track, I guess it would be very difficult to have everything already inside your head before you start the recording process. Is it correct?

SC: Yeah, it’s absolutely correct. Actually, also when I was making more pop oriented music it was very rare for me to have something more than a very basic idea in my mind, before starting the recording process.
With ILUITEQ and Orghanon, everything at first is linked to a feeling, an emotion. When I start to develop a track, then, quite often I get further inspiration from sound design.
So, starting from very basic sounds, I develop the structure of a song, using different synthesis techniques. This is basically how I develop an ambient track. It starts with just sounds, and then things develop depending on how those sounds inspire me. That is the essence of my creative process.

SJ: You mentioned you used to play live. I don’t know if you still do it now, but anyway you have some live experience.
How do you feel about it? Do you have stage fright? Is it something that excites you, that you are looking forward to repeat or is it something that belongs only to your past?

SC: Well, let’s say that I prefer to work in the studio. I feel more in control, more relaxed, for sure.
But the live experiences that I had have always been very rewarding, so even though sometimes I have to force myself to decide to play live, eventually it is always a rewarding experience because I get a lot of positive feedbacks and positive feelings from the audience.
With ILUITEQ and my other ambient project Orghanon I don’t have many opportunities to play live, also because it’s a kind of music that usually people prefer to enjoy at home. That’s why there are not so many venues and events where ambient music is played live.
If I get offers from booking agents, for ILUITEQ or other projects, for sure I will accept them, if I have the chance.

SJ: My impression is that, when you play ambient music live, you have to rely a lot on background videos, lights and stuff like that, because, especially if you are alone on stage, you risk that people get bored after a while, as interesting as your music might be. Is that right?

SC: Yeah, you are right, and I think that the venues for playing ambient music are not the same as for playing rock, pop, that kind of music.
Ambient music should be put in a specific context… to give importance and to give power to ambient music, it must be played in a specific and very particular context.
For instance, I had a very exciting experience playing live in a church, which is not really a typical venue for a rock band. Or I had another exciting experience playing ambient music in a museum, another environment which offers a totally different experience also to the listener.

SJI totally agree.
Now, as usual, the last part of this interview is devoted to the so called “studio secrets”. Let’s see what Sergio has prepared for us.

(You are now invited to watch the video below, starting at 20:31)

You can listen to ILUITEQ works on Bandcamp.

The list of all the interviews with cool electronic musicians is in the page The Electronic Corner.

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