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Subliminal Pulse:  
AV Talks with Bruno Sanfilippo


Bruno Sanfilippo

Visit Bruno's website


Subliminal Pulse























AV:  When was it that music became an important part of your life?  

BS:  I played the piano even before I learned to walk; it was just another one of my toys.

As a teenager I used to spend long hours improvising on that tall upright piano Pleyel (1886) http://www.pleyel.fr/  At the age of 20, I began the search for my musical identity, and since then it has become an important part of my life 

AV:  Did you have lessons or any formal training in music growing up?  

BS:  When I was a child in Buenos Aires I attended music classes but at that time the musical teaching methods were tedious for me. I remember a teacher who actually forbade me to improvise on the piano. I was bored with music theory and music reading.  In 1984 I met a great teacher and experimental composer Patricio Migliazzo who took on the challenge of teaching me. He began teaching me music using methods that were bold and that were sympathetic to my needs instead of the more traditional methods that had bored me as a child.  Patricio wrote hundreds of contemplative musical scores, that we would most certainly call “ambient music” today.   

AV:  Who were some of the artists that you listened to that fueled the fire of your own musical passions? 

BS:  From an early age many artists inspired me with their music and even today as I listen to music I find new inspiration as I always have with music. When I was young I listened to Bach, Monteverdi, Scarlatti, Arvo Pärt works but I also enjoyed listening to Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Brian Eno, Vangelis, and of course the  experimental music of my own music teacher Patricio Migliazzo.

AV:  I was reading on your website that you are a classically trained musician. Tell me about your training at the Galvani Conservatory in Buenos Aries.  


BS:  I studied with Patricio Migliazzo for several years. He taught me to play the piano and explore harmony and musical theory.  He also prepared me to take the final examination for Professor of Music at the Galvani Conservatory in December 1988 in San Telmo, Buenos Aires. I graduated with a “board” on December 18, 1988. Even with this training and structure I still maintain a way of composing and improvising which is absolutely wild by comparison.  

AV:  In your opinion how are ambient and classical music the same and what are the differences that sets them apart from each other?

BS:  It’s evident that they have two different approaches. Basically, in traditional ambient music we find a particular composition style that because of its fluctuating elements, does not demand your absolute attention as you listen to the music. You can pay attention to the music if you so desire or allow it to become part of the background of your environment. Either way it is accomplishing its goal.  

If we call classical music the “old music”, we find the opposite kind of elements, where the music, many times, takes us to different emotional states. The compositional style and its development deserve the listener’s attention to be appreciated. The instrumentation is a different matter; the artist can create an “ambient” concept with the violin, the piano, even with a Tuba, as is the case of Tom Heasley.  

AV:  Do you have a preference between classical and ambient music as to what you like to write and perform?  

BS:  I have no specific preference. Usually as an artist I am writing or playing without thinking about what the composition will eventually become but I can see where this issue is necessary for the music industry as it classifies music for sale. I tend to lean towards contemplative music even though I experiment with both. I compose music with electronic sound as well as with field recordings and acoustic instruments. Oftentimes I do a fusion of these approaches in one composition.   

AV:  You founded the record label ad21music back in 1998.  What were your hopes for the label and why was it going to focus on ambient music?  

BS:  I’ve always thought of ad21music as a personal label managed between friends. It is a launch platform operated with Ximena Contreras, Max Corbacho and Ryan Kirlian. It’s a great way to work. We all work together doing what we do best.

Although not all of my works are released by our label, one of the advantages we have is to organize the release schedule in accordance with the productions that are finished. Of course, we focus on the ambient, minimalism and contemporary musical forms, that is why we enjoy doing, listening and sharing. 

AV:  Has the shift from physical CD to a more digital format been a help to ad21music? How do you feel about music in digital form compared to having it on a physical CD?  

BS:  This shift in music distribution has not affected the dynamic of ad21music. Our music is available at the best music stores around the world along with being available in digital format too. We will continue releasing in the CD format as well because we love to offer an object of art with its graphics rich information which compliments the physical audio product that contains the highest quality audio that we can deliver.  

We as artists love listening to all music in high definition and in fact, as musicians, we would love to have our music enjoyed by listeners at home on a good stereo system which we think would allow them to appreciate the nuances of the music  we create even more.  

AV:  How has your music evolved over the years since your first release? Do you see yourself having gone through creative phases in your compositions? 

BS:  In the 90’s my music was characterized by research of a style close to soundtrack till around the time of Suite Patagonia [2000]. Later with Visualia[2003], Ad ibitum[2004], InTRO[2006] I concentrated on electronic soundscapes with acoustic elements recorded by microphone.  

Then I started experimenting with two main areas of focus. One area of focus was with the piano. I’m interested in piano textures and layouts in the recording space. This resulted in the “Piano Textures” series and the “Piano & Drones” series with Mathias Grassow. The other area of focus was with electronics which I call electronic sculptures like Auralspaces (2009), Subliminal Pulse (2011). Bioma which was recorded with my friend Max Corbacho and Urbs are conceptional works based on field recordings.  

The first album created this was rural and the second was urban. I usually bring an iPod Touch with me just to record what I find interesting. It just so happens that when your compositions are created by this kind of random searching you don’t know where you are going to end up when it is finished. It is fascinating but it can be a little upsetting for my listeners. 

AV:  You’ve done some collaborative work over the years with other artists. How does composing jointly compare to what you do when you are working on your own? What are the challenges and joys of working with other musicians?  

BS:  Working with other artists always yields experiential riches. As a matter of preference I enjoy working with artists who are also friends. We usually start with the skeleton of a main idea and we give it a form little by little. At the moment I’m collaborating with Alio Die (Stefano Musso) in my studio-home in Barcelona’s countryside. He’s going to stay for a week or two as we work on the form for this new joint project. I feel very honored to be working side by side with him. The work as a solo artist is done in private and is silent for the most part which is why I dialogue all the time with myself. In any case regardless of whether I am working on my own or in collaboration with another artist I always enjoy creating new music.  

AV:  How has technology and computer software changed the way that you approach music compared to what you did when all you had to work with were keyboards?  

BS:  I still like working with knobs, keys and acoustic instruments. I am not a software collector and I am not the kind of artist who enjoys testing everything that comes out either. On the other hand, sometimes I can spend hours reading the Korg Radias Synthesizer owner’s manual. I like to sculpt a sound from scratch trying to convert it to resonant poetry.  

I started out recording with a Revox open reel recorder. After that I used a multitrack cassette tape recorder and later on used the Alesis MMT8 sequencer for those who might remember it. I recorded my first three albums with this sequencer. And yes, technology has changed the way everything works, but we need to be careful that we don’t make our lives harder because of it.

AV:  You have also done soundtracks for films as well as your other work. How is the process different for you when you are scoring a film as opposed to composing music that will stand alone on a CD? Does the director of the film also have input into your musical compositions?

BS:  I was hired several times to compose music for films but I do not consider myself an expert on the matter. It would be fantastic to be an expert though. In music for commercials and for films, you work with a higher level of commitment and accuracy and under a lot of pressure. Since you work writing for a previously-established scene, you have to keep in mind what the director (or someone from his/her staff) has suggested to you early on. Sometimes they can ask you for something with a more intimate intention, something simple, with a piano feel. And some other times they might need something with an electronic mood, to add more tension to the story. I didn’t have the chance to work with an orchestra just yet, but of course, I would have loved it. But all that depends on the budget the production has. 

AV:  How do you feel about doing live shows and festivals? Is it still as enjoyable to you as when you are creating music alone in the studio?  

BS:  The truth is that I feel comfortable doing both of those things. Of course studio work is much more relaxing. Creating live shows is a bold move that allows you to meet new people, and to learn from that face to face experience. By putting yourself out there, you can create new relationships with people who can offer you new concerts and/or different kinds of feedback that only can happen when you step out of your recording studio. And, speaking of stage preferences, I have to say that I actually prefer doing solo piano concerts. I think that I have more to offer as a solo pianist rather than creating a live electronic performance. 

AV:  Your latest album is called Subliminal Pulse which was released on Spotted Peccary Music earlier this year.  Can you tell me about this album and what listeners who buy it are going to find in terms of the music you composed for this release? 

 BS:  As soon as I finished the album, I wrote the following about it: “Sometimes, the poetic language of music reveals what cannot be seen. It shows a reality that has nothing to do with words. With my electronic instruments I take the universe's 'Subliminal Pulse', and I try to build a bridge between my inner pulse and the pulse of the outer space". 

AV:  Do you have a basic style in regards to your music and does Subliminal Pulse fit within that basic style as you look at the final product? If not how is your music still changing with this new release? 

BS:  I have noticed that I use fewer elements in my compositions. Silence begins to be a part of the work by turning into a pause full of intention. The placement of the noise or the sound into the space is now a transcendental point of the creation. Meditation and a much closer-to-nature way of life allow me to create music from an inner peace. I find that I am able to venture deeper inside the music I am creating. The very silence suggests to me what sound goes after the next one. 

AV:  Having been involved with this music for a couple of decades now where do you see it going in the coming years? Do you see ambient music gaining any ground in terms of new listeners?  

BS:  As for me, I hope I follow the road of simplicity. I want to finally transmit things to listeners with elements reduced to the minimum and if it is to be with silence so much the better. I don’t see any reason for this genre to stop growing up and if that is the case then it will be possible for it to fragment into familiar subgenres. It would be very typical of these modern times in terms of music in general where each musical style has its own micro-celebrities. 

AV:  What kind of ambient music community/listening audience do you have in Spain? Being based in the U.S. I don’t have a perspective on how ambient/new age music does in other countries and would love to hear your observations of how the music has grown and evolved over the years within the broader culture of Spain. 

BS:  I have been living in Spain for about 11 years now. The media that are still interested in ambient music are old faces. Around the year 2000 the Visual Music Festival of Lanzarote was held here which was a very interesting festival in the Canary Islands but regrettably it has not been held again for quite a few years now. Barcelona is a city with a wide range of cultural highlights such as the Lem Festival, Stroung (experimental), the Sónar (electronic) and many other events as well. 

AV:  How has the Internet/MP3s changed the audience for your music compared to what it would be if you were just depending on radio stations in Spain to play your albums or retail stores to sell your physical CDs?  

BS:  Unfortunately there are not many media outlets interested in experimental music in Spain so we have always been limited in our communications at a national level. The Internet has given us a big opening and has allowed us to globalize our communications in a spectacular way. Also the flights are cheaper than they used to be years ago. Most European countries are relatively small so the distances are short to reach them by plane which allows me to connect to audiences that I could not reach before. The networking and the new technologies have created a big cloud formed by young amateur artists where each one is looking for a space of their own to express themselves and simply show up.  

AV:  As you look at your future as a musician how would you like to see your career evolve over the next decade or so?  

BS:  The most important thing to me is to keep enjoying creating and playing my music and never stop evolving as a person. With these as the goals of my life and a little bit of luck I’ll see how my art evolves as I move forward into the future. The piano is an instrument from future. It has been journeying with me from the very beginning and I hope that it will be with me until the very end of my days.

AV:  Thanks so much for taking time out to talk to me Bruno. I wish you much success in 2012 and beyond.