At Your EDM, we have long believed that EDM and other forms of electronic music are not where they are with experimental artists. After all, the mechanization of audio was originally the discipline of scientists, and experimental musicians always seem to have that mad scientist arc.
Whether it's Philip Glass, Brian Eno, Musique Concrète or more contemporary, inquisitive artists like Hans Zimmer, Venetian Snares, Aphex Twin and even Noisia, tinkering with sounds, mods and recording techniques plays just as much a role as composition, emotion and vibes. That's how these artists' minds work, and thank goodness they do. Who else is going to push the boundaries of EDM and keep pushing it? You don't progress in the genres by throwing cakes and hobbling the decks, that's for sure.
Because there are so many famous cake throwers and deckhumpers, and also because of the somewhat elusive and complex nature of the experimental electronic artist, there's a bit of a lack of interviews with these beautiful minds on Your EDM. Luckily we finally caught one.
YEDM has followed Chris Ianuzzi for some time, from his time in the equally experimental but more rock-oriented band Sluka, to his ultra-experimental solo project I, Synthesist, to his most recent releases under his first name Olga In a Black Hole EP and Planeteria LP. With these symbiotic releases that can somehow be categorized as IDM, Ianuzzi has pulled out all the stops with his upcoming LP Maze. Slowly releasing as singles over the past six months, the complete and fully optimized Maze will be released in March.
Maze Ianuzzi returns both to his form and completely formless, with some of the tracks having an almost full rock or pop structure and others bordering on chaos. With an almost joyous shirking of genre and style, Maze does more than push the boundaries of music and sound; it laughs in the face of these limits.
Since "Maze" is going to be one of those albums that will push the electronic music universe to expand just a little bit further, it seemed like a sensible time to see if we could sit down and pick one of these great experimental minds, and luckily Ianuzzi agreed to a Q&A. What follows is one of the most vivid and entertaining descriptions of an artist's process that we've seen on YEDM to date. If you've ever wondered how these guys think, Chris Ianuzzi has provided an excellent window. Hold on, embrace the chaos and read on.
Why did you want to release Maze in a series of singles and not all at once? Did you find it easier or more difficult to do it this way? How many tracks are left?
All tracks were essentially released in one way or another. I always think making music is part of a period of time. Music can be presented like a book with chapters. When someone suggested that I try to release singles before the full album, I thought it was a great idea.
Albums take a lot of time, and releasing singles does some good things. First, in this world with short attention spans, it's harder for people to forget you. There is also time for the larger work to develop. Finally, the release of singles gives the composer/producer the opportunity to create different versions after receiving audience reactions. There's a lot of pressure to get the stuff in the system on time and I think that's good for me. I loved getting audience reactions from live shows, but we're in a pandemic and things are different without shows, so this creates a similar effect.
Based on the feedback and your own observations, what kind of changes have you made?
December was the last month and the play called Maze was released. Now before the album is released I'm making some development changes. In some cases it's like "The demos are done, let's see what I have to do." "Live in Today" gave way to a newer version called "Sweet Over Time". "Fantastic Hellos" is a remix of some elements from "Hello" on the Planeteria album. Then I did another version for the album called "Cosmic Hellos" which is a combination of both. (laughs) I have to stop this piece now! I'm going to be a "hello" psycho.
I'm also doing a slightly different version of "March of Madness" for the album. It is processed with the (Dolby) Atmos system, which is a form of 360 spatial audio. I'm working with some great people in Turkey and I'm also doing an AI video for the song. It's going to be awesome.
Let's talk style for a bit: many of these tracks on Maze almost seem like the antithesis to your earlier ventures Olga In a Black Hole and Planeteria to the casual listener. However, they did say that Olga…was supposed to be a prequel to Planeteria in terms of both style and content around the time it was released. Now that it's mostly finished and sold out, how do you think Maze compares to these other works?
I set myself a challenge with Planeteria. I felt like I wanted to go beyond the song structure and repetitive grooves. I have been working with songs for many years with my I, Synthesist project. So I was like a teacher who didn't allow old habits. I think I went too far. I didn't feel comfortable being myself at times. I think it was good work and I went through the process and learned. I also wanted to get better with my modular synth.
In contrast, the original "Hello" for example was created in one day, it was during the album's mastering period. I was really like a rebel using a drum & bass groove with it. I just let go in the end.
Upon closer listening, there are many elements that are similar between Olga…/Planeteria and Maze, but they seem almost reversed. For example, the ambient sound design and general woo feel are still there, but give way to more organized noise elements and post-punk vocals. Was that a conscious decision or did it just come about while you were working? What do you think this means for your overall sound and style?
I definitely had a flow (around this time). I've always worked with sound design as the core and inspiration of my work. I started making music and didn't think about songs. "Infinite Prize" was definitely a song that stuck in my head as I was getting started and then the vision of what a video could be (came to me).
As I continued making music, vocals (structures) were definitely there. I then went to “Saturday Night Confession”. This was originally done for the I, Synthesist project, but it stuck and I decided to finish it. "So Far, So Near" was originally intended to be instrumental. This new stuff was started before the release of Planeteria.
Tech talk time! The other thing that's quite noticeable on the new tracks is that the experimental side of things has been ramped up and so the composition must have been a different process. Were you still working in the scoring style because you wanted to cram all these different elements in, or was it more mad scientist in the studio this time? Or both?
Both. The mad scientist is always there. I mean look at the pictures of I, Synthesist. Maze could be considered the fourth I, Synthesist album, but I really felt the need to keep using my name and feel comfortable with it.
There's a healthy dose of drone involved in these tracks, but it sounds very different from previous works. Did you do something differently or develop new techniques? How big was the Moog element this time?
I'm really into my modular synths and I'm always on the lookout. I'm not thinking of trying to make drones or anything like that. I find things that mean something to me. Funny, I didn't have a Moog on Planeteria. I had a modular Moog a long time ago. I recently got a Moog subharmonicon and used it on some of the elements in "So Far So Near". The big benefit of this is at the end of Infinite Prize. Pattern development and modification is all done with the Sub Harmonicon's sequencer. I hope to add a Moog with the original Moog oscillators and filters later this year.
Even with the rocking vocals and what pop fans would call more structured track formats, the Maze tracks still seem to push the boundaries of experimental electronica. What new methods or arrangements did you use to get your results? How much was programmed with modern/digital methods and how much analog/modulators?
I've spent a lot of my life working in rock-oriented bands and using this song structure, so some elements are part of my vocabulary. I've spent a lot of time scoring and working with both classical and experimental music. I have a (diverse) vocabulary.
I've also always been known for pushing boundaries. I'm not consciously trying to be a conqueror here, it just happens. I've always loved analog synths as well as some digital synths and so on. The combination of these elements can be beautiful. I think certain elements have their place, like an orchestra has instruments.
How does the experimental/sound design end of things play a role?
The Maze track "Setagaya" is a good thing to talk about (to explain how I work). It's not a song; It's more focused on sound design, but has melodic and rhythmic elements that a person can cling to. I was in a band called Sluka that was signed to a Japanese label. After the second album was finished, I made comments about how inspiring the sounds of Tokyo were to me. I started a project that recorded sounds from Tokyo on DAT, then sampled them and made the music that inspired the samples. Nobody knew what on earth I was talking about at the time. The project was televised in Japan and showed me shooting and working through it. Still no one really got it. (laughs) That was in 1990, the world has changed a lot since then. OK, (maybe I'm a) conquistador. Or at least an envelope pusher.
(Fast forward to "Setagaya") and I still had some of the sounds I recorded and decided to make something current that used them. The sounds I recorded are from an area in Tokyo called Setagaya. The train and all things about Setagaya is a great thing (to try even now).
What, if any, are the more philosophical or narrative themes of Olga…/Planeteria and Maze? What do you want listeners to take away from the overall experience of these three releases?
I want people to go on a journey within themselves to find out what inspires the pieces and songs. Olga In a Black Hole started with me using a Russian soft synth called Olga. I had a reverb plugin called Black Hole from Eventide. So my Olga was played through the black hole. This created a vision that I could hold onto for my own creative story.
What track or tracks on the album do you think would be the best for the audience to get a sense of what the album is about? Best track for EDM crossover fans? Experimental fans?
I think "Hunger" is definitely an EDM crossover thing, some even find Industrial elements in it. It's very danceable and I want to hear it loud in a club. Any of the "Hellos" could also fit into an EDM/Drum & Bass type. "March of Madness" also has points that could fit into the EDM crossover. I'm putting this song through developments right now. As I mentioned earlier, a song inspired an amazing computer artist and sculptor in Istanbul, Turkey. He's making an AI video for it. It's amazing to see this development. It's very similar in approach to what Duran Duran did with Invisible.
Last week we entered my texts into his computer and we watched paintings develop from the computer's dream state. This will be a very special work. We work via Zoom. The Infinite Prize video was also created through Zoom work as everyone was in a different location.
(On the Experimental/Post-Rock end of things) I think “So Far So Near” is a great example of using song structure in development, but it's really expanded with the three minutes of modular world at the end as well as internal things. The intro has some good analog stuff. The whole song lasts a little over ten minutes and I'm going to keep it that way for the album. The single was split into side 1 and side 2.
Of course this project is still ongoing and not quite finished yet, but what else is on the horizon for you? Do you plan to continue this series or go in a completely different direction?
I am very interested in performances. I want to dig deeper into analog modular synth and digital modular synth. I want to make videos and music. I create video backgrounds for performances.
I don't see (Maze or anything I do) as a series but what I do, I want to make an invitation to go on a journey. No restrictions.
Aside from that, my daughter Nina started making the Maze track “Shuttles” and I helped her finish it. She's 13 now and a fantastic pianist so I hope to work more with her in the future.
Maze will be fully released in March. The singles released so far can be streamed on Spotify and Apple Music or purchased on Bandcamp. Stay tuned to Ianuzzi's YouTube channel for upcoming videos mentioned in the interview.