Saturday, February 22, 2014

Virginia Genta (Jooklo Duo) interview part1

Interviewer:Fumimasa Hori

The most hardcore free jazz unit in the wolrd is absolutely Italian duo Jooklo Duo. I asked a female sax player of Jooklo duo Virginia Genta who plays aggressively by e-mail. I will upload this interview devided in two because I had endless questions and the interview was considerably long.

The first time I watched you was video of Jooklo Duo "free jazz in the woods". I was so excited that your performance was really aggressive, radical, passionate.When and how did you establish this style of performance?

Virginia: It's quite complicated to find an exact starting point for this. I think to the way of expressing something through sound as a mysterious activity that partly hails from a deeply unknown source hidden inside one's being, and partly comes with time, rehearsal, and experience. When I first started playing music I used to listen to a lot of noise, avant-garde, experimental music and free-jazz. My first saxophone was a very crappy alto, and the best sound it could produce was some crazy high squeal, and that was it (I recently tried again that alto before selling it, and I couldn't even believe I used to play it in the past, it was so fucked-up!).

So I started playing sax from strange sounds, and not from notes and scales, which I think made a big part in my sound's formation... but that was just the beginning, with the years the research has become more and more deep and complex.Then, working for about 10 years with drummer David Vanzan is another important fact that made me try to always head towards unreachable sounds. He's always been creating a challenge in me, he plays so powerful and fast that I must work hard to follow his rhythm!

―Yes, I think David Vanzan is also a great performer like you. Could you tell me an encounter with him and details about the formation of Jooklo duo?

Virginia:We met in the Art's high school when we were 15 years old. We immediately became friends, and started playing together something like a year later. Our very first band involved myself on drums, David on guitar, and another girl on guitar too... That was a very rough free-form thing, with absolutely no technical notions, just free sounds.

We then went through a series of other trios with some local dudes, until we found out when we were 18 that the thing we enjoyed the most was playing duo, so we formed our first real project (with which we started touring, in Italy and Europe):it was called Zurich against Zurich, I was playing electric noisy guitar and David was playing drums. We had a huge wall of amps so it was a very aggressive and harsh thing, quite terroristic I would say...people who saw it still says they'll remember it forever.

In 2004 I bought my first crappy alto and we started playing as Jooklo Duo, which was a much easier duo to tour with... no more heavy amps to carry around, and we didn't risk to be attacked by some angry venue's owner with a baseball bat, as it used to happen with Zurich against Zurich. From there, we slowly started to dig deeper and deeper into the possibilities of the reeds/drums duo, which are potentially infinite, as we found out lately.

Zurich against Zurich is also amazing. The wall of noise is comfortable for my ear. You wrote you used to listen to a lot of noise, avant-garde, experimental music and free-jazz, could you tell me specific artists you listened to? Which artists were you influenced especially? The first time I heard the sound of Jooklo duo, I remembered Japanese saxophonist Kaoru Abe a little. Did you listened to Japanese free-jazz or avant-garde music including him?

Virginia: By the time I was starting to play sax (2004) I was listening to very different things, most of the times I only liked one specific record of an artist, I can't remember all the album's titles right now, but for sure "Journey to Satchidananda" and "Ptah the el Daoud" by Alice Coltrane were on my top listening, alongside Sun Ra's "Space is the place". These three records were those that really told my soul something important. I also really liked the "Olatunji concert" by John Coltrane, which was the only record by him I liked at the time. Then, I listened to some records by Evan Parker as well, and to a lot of improv and noise stuff from those years, things like Wolf Eyes, Otomo Yoshihide, Merzbow, and many other cdr's that I can't remember right now. And yeah, one gig I was very impressed by when I just got into playing sax, was Paul Flaherty and Chris Corsano duo.But I was also into contemporary composers like Stockhausen and Xenakis.

I didn't know anything about the Japanese '70s free jazz scene until a few years ago. I think I first listened to Kaoru Abe in 2007: our first Jooklo Duo record "Free Serpents" had just been released and someone on a review wrote I sounded a bit like Abe, so I wanted to check out who this guy was. I must say I haven't been influenced by him, although I like his approach. I come from a different idea of sound, probably because I'm more of a tenor player... the tenor sax has a totally different character than the alto. I really dig all the Japanese scene from those years: Takehisa Kosugi, Taj Mahal Travellers, Masahiko Togashi, Mototeru Takagi, Jojo Takayanagi and so on... all of these folks created some really special and original music. And I really enjoyed playing with drummer Sabu Toyozumi (in 2010), who was very near to Abe and played together for some years. Sabu is a great drummer, still very energetic and powerful. He gave me and David an Overhang Party CD, "A memorial to Kaoru Abe", which I consider really beautiful and probably my favourite Abe's record so far.

My most favourite album of Abe is Kaitaitekikoukanco-performed with Masayuki Takayanagi. The sound of this album is noisy&radical. You could say such sound is a kind of traditional of underground Japanese music. But, I don't know bands or musicians in Italy play such sound other than Jooklo Duo. So, could you tell me Italian free jazz/avant-garde scene?

Virginia: Yeah that record is crazy... And you are totally right, there's a big tradition of that kind of extreme sounds in Japan, and not only in jazz, really abstract and cutting-edge.I don't know any Italian performers who does or did this kind of stuff, I think there isn't any... There has been other kind of great things of course (in the prog and psychedelic sphere, experimental electronics, modern composers, etc.), but not really a big extreme free form scene that got to be known internationally, at least compared to the Japanese free improv '70s scene, that is nowadays known worldwide.
If I have to pick up something, I can remember here an excellent record from 1973 by an ensemble called N.A.D.M.A. "Uno Zingaro Di Atlante Con Un Fiore A New York", and of course the well-known Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza (which wasn't an entirely Italian group though), and there's been some experimentations by jazz improvisers like Andrea Centazzo and less-known Giorgio Buratti. On those years there were a lot of really great Italian musicians who could have played some serious, free and aggressive music, but soon or later they all turned to some safer territories, like mainstream jazz, fusion, pop, etc. For some reason Italian musicians always seem to seek for a formal structure and sense of harmony, even when playing improvised music. I think it's something rooted in the peculiar history of the country...

I mean, when people like Kaoru Abe or Takayanagi started doing what they did in the '70s, their background was, consciously or unconsciously, the Japanese culture on one hand, and their will of break that culture's rules on the other hand. In Italy, the background is mainly a classical one, and nobody really goes against it. Nowadays, to be honest I think that the avant-garde music situation sadly is quite poor and confused in my opinion, there are many good musicians here and there, but there's nothing really challenging or particularly strong, and nearly nothing really has the honour of being exported abroad. It's regression time for Italy, in every sense: socially, politically, musically, conceptually, emotionally... You know, these things go on phases, so right now this is it.

― I also think it's a big difference if there is classical music in the background. I think Japanese musicians are freer from regulation of classical music than Westerners. Maybe, that is one of the reason Japanese musician have been able to create a lot of noisy&radical music. I like M.E.V. among Italian avant-garde group. By the way, how did you become interested in free jazz or avant-garde music in such circumstance? Did you listen to such music by internet when you were young? Or did you search in record stores? 

Virginia: Sure, Musica Elettronica Viva is awesome, but I'm not sure whether we can consider it an Italian group... for what I know there were no Italians involved, although the group was formed in Rome. I grew up in a small town in the North-East of Italy, where there was nothing going on, no gigs, no rehearsal places, no record shops, no fun. I've been a pretty difficult teenager, always looking for conflict with grown-ups and considering myself different and isolated, so it was a logical consequence to become eager of finding some music that could be the soundtrack for that feeling. But there were nearly no places where to find music, and the internet revolution had still to come.

So the only way to get to know something was through friends who would copy a tape or burn a cdr for you. The first tapes I got where some punk stuff... then I've got interested in a couple tapes from my dad, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk, on this I was quite lucky, cause my dad has also a nice vinyl collection with lot of jazz-rock, prog and all that '70s stuff, even a couple of free-jazz record (that's how I discovered Ornette Coleman and Sam Rivers when I was 15). Then me and David had the luck to meet a guy in town who was a bit older and was buying tons of CDs of avant-garde, noise, free-jazz, so he was the gate to a new universe!

―Exactly, we may not be able to call M.E.V. Italian group. What's the name of a place did you grew up?  It's harsh circumstances for music lover. When you were go to art's high school, what kind of music did your friends listen to? Could you tell me more details of that guy? What kind of job did he do?

VirginiaThe small town where I grew up is called Este. There's about 15000 people living there, lots of churches and shops, and that's it. I must admit I just hated that place when I was a teenager, it really got on my nerves, every single day. But well, it was harsh by the time I lived it... Nowadays I clearly realize that there's a meaning to everything: if past would have been different, present would be different too, so I don't regret anything. I trust my path and I know it's always been driving me on the right way.

I didn't have many friends in the school, most of my and David's friends were older dudes who were already out of school, and they listened mostly to that kind of '90s noise-rock and stuff like that. This other guy who introduced us to more underground and strange sounds was a sort of lonely wolf studying flute at the conservatory, and also teaching electronic music there (or maybe vice versa, I can't remember right now)...

he just spent most of his days in his house studying music, listening to records he bought somewhere (I don't know where he managed to get all that crazy stuff) and writing music reviews. We used to go visit him at his parent's place in the afternoon and listen to new records he just got, of which he always made copies for us. Then we went home and listened to all that... that's how we found out about Alice Coltrane, Sun Ra, all the European '70s improv scene, and many other things.

― I see. You often use the word Jooklo as group name like Jooklo Duo, Golden Jooklo duo, Neokarma Jooklo Duo or Jooklo Stellar Tribe. Could you tell me the meaning of Jooklo? Why would you use Jooklo for various group?

Virginia: Jooklo is a fantasy word. We invented it from nothing. We wanted to use an universal word, and for a word to be universal and understandable in every language, it has to be of no existing language, so we found a new word that could express our music. During the years, many friends around the world found different meanings in many languages... even in Japanese, right? We've been using the word Jooklo for most of our groups so that all those projects could be identified with us, the other words added to Jooklo from time to time express that there are different musicians involved, and that the music itself might be different as well. But we also have (or have had) some other projects during the years... Can mention here Hypnoflash (trio with Claudio Rocchetti), Maitres Fous (with our French fellows Jeremie Sauvage and Mathieu Tilly), and our most recent experimental electro-acoustic ensemble Sinergia Elettronica (with German musicians Moritz Finkbeiner, Werner Nötzel, Thilo Kuhn e Thomas Schätzl).

― Oh, that's a great idea. I think it's important for musicians or artists to create something from nothing. If I translate Jooklo directly, it means ten (Joo) black (Klo). You have been collaborating with a lot of musicians. Especially, I'd like to hear about the session with Arrington de dionyso, because I know him recently and have been much interested in him. This session  is awesome. When and how did you get to know him?

Virginia:Yes, I like that people can interpret the meaning of Jooklo. It looks like there are many! Sabu Toyozumi also explained us what you just did, but slightly different (he said it could mean "high black", he even wrote it with Japanese calligraphy, we still have it, really beautiful)... When we were working in Madrid in 2009 with Takehisa Kosugi, he was really interested about this word Jooklo. I remember one day he came up to the theatre with a paper where he printed various meanings he found on various languages, he did some serious research, I don't know why. That was really great! I'm glad you like that thing with Arrington, here are two more videos from that same tour, actually from the recording session (supposed to be a vinyl release, but the tapes went ruined afterwards, so these video excerpts are the only document left)

I've been knowing Arrington's music since a long time, much earlier than knowing the man, and even before I started playing sax. I listened a lot to his older band Old Time Relijun when I was younger and I enjoyed it a lot... Then, one day we happened to play on the same venue in Germany (in 2009) and so we met, we jammed that same night, and we really liked each other. So we decided we should have played more together. We kept meeting in the States and in Europe after that, and then we did some trio gigs in Italy in 2012 (of which you saw the videos).

―Jooklo also means heavy black (in Japanese 重黒). I like the image of this meaning, because I've been into various heavy and dark music... You and Arrington's psychedelic tribal improvisation blow my mind. I'd like you to co-perform with him again. I think Arrington have been skillful to introduce an essence of ethnic music to his sound. How do you think about that? You've also created unique music by using ethnic instruments, don't you?

We should come and perform with Arrington in Japan! ...We never came to Japan.
You are right, Arrington's work to incorporate world music with experimental is very well done. I also like his work with languages... he's singing in Indonesian lately, and with Old Time Relijun he had songs in Spanish, Italian, English... that's interesting. And yes, that's exactly the thing we have in common with him, the love for world music, and the research on it to incorporate those sounds in a different and possibly new setting.
I really dig a lot of traditional music from all over the world, and I can easily say that this is the thing that has been influencing the most. Sometimes I would hear a Cambodian melody (just an example) and it would catch me so deep that I would later find myself doing something similar, but using the harmonics and overtones of the tenor sax... And David has the same approach about percussions. Recently I came into thinking that the root for Sound is universally the same, although it finds different expression according to time, space, and culture. So we must seek that Universal Sound. It's quite a complex matter, that can lead one to either enlightenment or pure madness. (cont'd)

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