Our next mood talk takes us all the way to the floating city of Venice, home of well-respected Italian composer Gigi Masin.
In the last five years, Gigi has been making waves in the ambient music scene touring the world both as solo musician and as a member of Gaussian Curve, a trio with Jonny Nash and Young Marco. Yet Gigi is no stranger to making music. In fact, he had already been making music for more than three decades. Although for the most part, his music was privately pressed and sold only at small concerts in the Italian electronic underground scene.
After his music was sampled by artists such as Björk, Nujabes and To Rococo Rot, Gigi’s work quickly became well-sought after collectors’ pieces. But it wasn’t until 2014 when Music From Memory released the compilation Talk To The Sea that Gigi got the critical acclaim he deserves.
In an open-hearted conversation, Gigi gave us a glimpse of his inspiring journey and tells us more about the language he wishes to express.
Hi Gigi, how are you doing today?
Good good, I can’t complain. How is it over there in Ghent? I played there twice and I really love the city.
Happy to hear. The Gaussian Curve concert at the Vooruit was still one of the best concerts we’ve ever been.
Your city is so charming, especially with the canals.
You seem to gravitate towards water a lot, even in your releases. Does water play a big influence in your life?
If you were born in Venice, you have water everywhere. It’s natural. I actually live better when the sea is close to me. I can’t explain it. Maybe it’s something very primitive, but when I see the water, I feel at home. It’s incredible.
A friend once told me that “for a Venetian, the water is a way of flowing because it’s free, the water is free.” You can’t block the water, you can only flow in the water.
As for my music, it’s not something I directly think about. It’s more something I have inside of me. The album title Talk to the Sea was actually chosen by the guys from Music from Memory. It wasn’t intended to be like that. In hindsight, I think it was really the right title and I like it.
It’s wonderful how I get to understand myself better through the work of other people. It’s only now that I understand that my music was influenced by water. When I was making those records in the eighties, I thought I was making jazz music. Now I understand they were rather ambient records.
So interesting to hear that thought you were making jazz records. What is ambient music for you then?
In the past century, there was music for chambers. It’s entertainment for rich people who didn’t work. They had a lot of boring afternoons, so it was nice to have some chamber music with a violin or a harpsichord. I am not sure if what we call ambient music today is the same as chamber music. For me, ambient music is different from the music you hear in concerts, it is a more personal and intimate kind of music. Ambient music is a sort of impossible island. It’s a strange place because it’s a flux of music that stems from many different kinds of music.
And how would you describe the music you make?
If someone were to ask me what music I play, I wouldn’t know what to say. I think music is simply a language that we use to talk to other people. It’s something that changes year after year. You’re exploring your own language and you discover that the music that you release and play in a concert resonates with people.
No musician makes music for himself. It’s like playing chess. Nobody wants to play chess alone. You want somebody else to play it with. It’s the same with music. Music is a connection, so I am constantly searching for something that’s more a language than just music. That’s at least what I am trying to do. Not sure if I can do that, but I try.
“If someone were to ask me what music I play, I wouldn’t know what to say. I think music is simply a language that we use to talk to other people.”
You’ve been making music for 30 years. Has your relationship with music changed throughout the years?
I come from a nation that is famous for its music, but it’s not usual for people to call themselves musicians. So I have lived most of my life with this hidden part of me. It’s something I share with millions of musicians. It’s a part of you that you hide in a corner, because it’s not accepted by society as something you can do. Many people think making music is a hobby, like something you can do in your free time. But it’s not just something you can do for an hour in an afternoon, you know?
In fact, I am my music. But it’s been very difficult for people in my social life to accept the fact that I am really a musician. I’ve lived two parallel lives and when you try to make one life out of two, you have to decide what part of your life is going to be closed.
Did that parallel life influence how you make music?
If you decide to be a professional musician, maybe you can be a composer, but often you end up playing music for others. I really wished to be a composer and make my own music. For this to be possible, I waited for a long time because I had to make a record while I was going about my social life.
I decided to let my music be free to explain itself. I did not let my music be corrupted from the social life. It’s a flower I have inside of me. It’s not something I have to teach or tell you about my life. It’s not my life. It’s only fantasy. It’s something that grows inside me and I have to channel it towards the music, not into reality.
It’s not so easy to be a musician. I think that it’s still not a job that’s considered noble. Even now, people play a record without really caring about the musician or the composer behind it. At least not in the same way people do with books, movies or paintings.
We understand that sentiment, even more so now in the age of streaming.
Music is not so noble. It’s more used like a commodity. If you want to read a book, you sit down. If you want to see a movie, you go to the cinema. But if you want to hear music, you can do that anywhere, even in an elevator. It’s just made to fill the room you are in. People can do everything while listening to music: cooking, cleaning, shopping. It’s almost used like furniture.
That being said, we feel that the music you make is very special and the people that appreciate your music don’t see it as a commodity.
I consider myself very fortunate. I grew up knowing a lot of other musicians, but I am a lonely survivor. Many people my age made a lot of wonderful music, but now they don’t care anymore. I am fortunate because it never occurred to me to stop.
If my music goes around the world, it’s not mine anymore. Every song is like a feeling that is growing and evolving, and the feedback from the people is like a song coming back to my home. That is the main reason I am doing music. That feeling is wonderful.
And what inspires you to make music now?
I always try to do something new. I can’t repeat the same concert twice, because I am the first person who has to enjoy it. It’s the same with the music I release. I have to be happy with it. If I can listen to a song that I’ve made for more than five times, that’s when I know it’s good. Also when I make something and I don’t like it, I don’t put it aside and revisit it in the future to finish it. No, I forget about it and I try to do something new.
I get a lot of inspiration from people who come to the concert, buy my record, talk with me and shake my hand. Sometimes it’s so heavy to my heart because people come to me and tell me that my music helped them in a difficult time in their life. That situation is very hard for me. I don’t know how to react. It’s too strong for a musician. It’s something very private, it’s something very intimate. You have to be respectful for situations like this because you are holding a treasure in your hands. People are opening their hearts to you and you are nobody in that situation. You’re just a face, just a musician, just the man behind the music.
“Sometimes it’s so heavy to my heart because people come to me and tell me that my music helped them in a difficult time in their life. That situation is very hard for me. I don’t know how to react.”
You do a lot of collaborations. How does this complement the language you want to express?
When you work with other musicians, you share experience, intuition and new ideas. But you also learn from them and most importantly, you need to listen. That’s fundamental for me.
Do you have to be in a certain mood to make music or can you make music every day?
I prefer to make music at night when the house is silent and there aren’t many cars on the roads. I can’t just sit down in a chair and say to myself ‘You have to make a track’. It’s not so easy, I really need to be wanting to make music. But when I want to do something, it’s also not a long process.
I can do a track in less than an hour, no more than that. It’s something very easy and very intuitive. It’s just an expression of the moment, something that explodes from the mind.
Did you always do concerts from the beginning as well, or was that something that grew in a later stage?
In the past, I often played guitar or piano during readings with writers and poets. It’s something we used to have a lot in Italy. It was really nice. It was also the only possibility for musicians like me to play in Italy. But in the last five years, I have had a lot of concerts. I am really fortunate. I travelled the world with my music. It’s impossible to explain that feeling.
It must have been very special and nostalgic to revisit work you did in the past.
Yes, but the problem is that all I want to do is play new tracks all the time. I’ve made tracks for 30 years, so I have a lot of things left in the past. But to me, it was the expression of that time. I don’t look back to the past. I like to try new things. This is the language that I want to express now.
What are you looking forward to in the future when it comes to your music?
I am sure I will take the plane again in the future and go all around the world to meet new people, play amazing concerts and start new collaborations. But I can wait to do concerts. This year was a time for me to take a step back. Just to stay at home, be with my cat, read old books, see old movies and try to connect with friends.
Your journey is a very nice reminder that doing things from the heart never goes unnoticed.
If you let something of yourself free in the world, it’s like giving a gift to the world. It’s something that comes from you and it’s a gift for somebody who cares.
What a beautiful philosophy. Do you now feel that your social life finally appreciates your hidden life as a musician now?
Not really. They still wonder. It’s so strange for them that I take the plane so often. I tell them that my music is a language for all the world, not only for Italy. And still they wonder and they look at me strangely. They don’t know if it’s true or if it’s a lie. My younger self would have suffered more from that, but now I don’t care so much anymore.
Do you have a tip to share on how people can connect deeper with music?
I am definitely not against the use of music everywhere, but there is a special kind of music that is only for you. Embrace how music can be intimate and dangerous at the same time. You don’t understand certain emotions until you find the right track that makes you open up and cry. Music is powerful, but you have to discover what music can talk to your heart.
Our last question. What is your favorite sound in the world?
I love the sound of whistling trees. It’s such a wonderful sound. I also like the sound of crying babies, but I am probably too Italian to mention that.
That’s a good one! Thank you so much for taking the time, Gigi.
It was a pleasure. Thank you for listening to my stories and strange ideas. Hope to be back in your wonderful town of Ghent once again soon.