A conversation with Raphael Vanoli

Raphael Vanoli at the Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ (photo by Maarten Jüngen

Tonight the trio Fennesz/Dafeldecker/Brandlmayr will make their debut performance at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam. The three usual suspects from the Viennese improv scene have collaborated before on a project with David Sylvian. Christian Fennesz has made name for himself, with solo albums that are exemplary for contemporary electronic music.

This incredible trio will be supported by experimental guitarist Raphael Vanoli of the internationally renowned experimental rock duo Knalpot. Here is a brief introduction to one of the most imaginative composers of his generation.

Juha van ‘t Zelfde Hi Raphael, how are you doing? Could you briefly introduce yourself to those readers who do not know you?

Raphael Vanoli To be honest, I’m not doing so well. Too busy and little time for myself and family, but I will spare you details. Music though feels great when you have the blues…

I’m a guitar player and electronic musician, since 11 years based in Amsterdam, where I studied jazz and classical guitar. I mostly focus on my duo KNALPOT, since about a year I work more and more on my solo settings.

Besides this I have been playing in countless bands and ensembles in the Netherlands and Europe since I moved here. This is mostly contemporary and modern jazz based, but there has also been a lot of modern classical repertoire, rock, experimental electronica, noise improvisation and some standard session work for money here and there. I also used to teach a lot but had to quit this since I had no time and could live from playing the music I love.

JZ How is Knalpot doing? How was your recent tour with Gerri (drummer) and Sandor (engineer)?

RV KNALPOT is doing very fine, never took a break since we started 4 years ago and I am happy to finally have a working band that gets more and more depth. Our Sauce release tour was one of the best we had. No off day and the concerts got better and better from day to day. We also had a tasty DJ who joined us on this trip: ‘Asthma Attack’ a.k.a. Mark Cremins. We were eating, breathing and dreaming great music 24 hours a day. Good times.

JZ What are your plans with Knalpot for 2012?

RV We will work on our first album in January and February. It is almost finished and we are happy how this is going. We are still looking for a label, but don’t really find the time to work on this… Plus we want to finally get our website online.

Of course we will play a lot next year (a couple of tours, and hopefully more concerts abroad, probably Turkey, maybe Canada and Japan in the fall, US…) It is still pretty open. We have to live from this band so we cannot allow ourselves not to perform. Knalpot will remain a full-time job and we still have many plans and ideas for the future.

JZ You have recently started playing solo sets, how is that going?

RV I’m enjoying playing solo more and more, it’s a good kick. There’s no interference with other sound sources but my own, so I can project everything in the room like I want it to sound. It’s demanding, the responsability for all of my actions gets even more clear. It gives me a lot of freedom, and it’s constantly confronting and a lot of fun.

Nowadays I mostly work with extreme volume and microscopic sounds you actually can’t hear properly with standard volume. I try to limit myself and for the future i plan to work to limit myself even more. One of my goals these days is to make ambient/electronic music only with one electric guitar, amp and extreme volume. There’s still a lot of practicing and research to be done in the little spare time that I have.

In the Bimhuis I’ll be premiering an amp-switcher and I have to drop a name here: I met a very good music instruments technician called Foppe Tallmann. He has built a switcher from scratch allowing me to switch between 6 amplifiers on the spot. It reacts quick and it’s silent, pretty amazing actually. I got this thing last sunday so it’s all fresh and exciting.

JZ You create a very electronic sound without using any computer. Why is that? Could you explain what kind of instruments you use, and what your musical ‘strategy’ is?

RV I have a deep passion for the guitar, all different kinds there are and there specific techniques and sounds. The basic sound source is always a guitar. The past few years (mostly in KNALPOT) I discovered many ways to create sounds I hear in electronic music by extending the guitar with analogue and digital pedals and while using some unorthodox prepared and extended guitar techniques, alongside all conventional techniques from classical and electric guitar.

Since I am an improviser and jazzmusician at heart, I like everything you hear to be created in the moment and therefore I keep looking for new ways to do things I hear. For me the guitar and all electronics are one instrument together, you can’t separate it, it is something new and it’s constantly changing.

It’s not that I’m against using computers or pre-recorded material, not at all. For now it’s simply that I have no time to check out any software what-so-ever. For now I keep playing with pedals and carry around heavy tube amps and flightcases with pedals and switchers. At this moment I like the sound quality of analogue things, but I’m not against digital or computer based esthetics, I guess i’ll dive into that one day…

JZ How is to play at the Bimhuis? And with the trio Fennesz/Dafeldecker/Brandlymayr?

RV What can I say? The Bimhuis is my favourite venue in the entire world! The most helpful and professional staff, the sound is very good, it has great vibe and the audience is mostly allert, silent and therefore pushing you to your limits. The fact that the kitchen there is very good also helps you to play better. It’s a great place to go enjoy a concert, it also feels a bit like a family for me, since I used to work there as a driver years ago, picking up all these great jazz musicians at the airport.

And talking about Fennesz/Dafeldecker/Brandlymayr, they are my heroes when talking about taste and aesthetics and I think their music is rich in many ways. I feel honoured and am a bit nervous to open for them, since I have so much respect for their work. When you are a teenager, you always have these guitar idols. Fennesz is my last big guitar hero since many years, devouring his music has opened my eyes and without him I wouldn’t be where I am now. I almost quit listening to his music since I felt I was being influenced by it too much. Fennesz’ work keeps coming back in my playlists a lot.

JZ Gerri is going to dj after the shows. Do you know what we can expect from him?

RV To be honest, I don’t know what his plan is. It’s for sure that Gerri has great musical taste and likes to confront people with new things. In the tour van we’re always playing music non-stop and Gerri has a great collection on his iPod, he’s constantly looking for interesting new music. I’m curious to hear him.

JZ Any suggestions on what to listen during Christmas? Maybe your five favourite releases of last year?

RV That’s a tough question. Recently I listened a lot to:

‘At night’ by Theo Bleckman and Ben Monder
‘Seria I & II’ by Skúli Sverrisson
‘Trees are allways right’ by Jozef Dumoulin & Lidlboj
‘Jewellery’ Micachu & the Shapes
‘Halfway to a threeway EP’ Jim O’Rourke

JZ Thank you Raphael, I cannot wait to hear you tonight.

Fennesz/Dafeldecker/Brandlmayr, Raphael Vanoli and Gerri Jäger will play at the Bimhuis on Wednesday 21 December. The night starts at 21:00. It is the first collaboration between Viral Radio, STEIM and the Bimhuis. Join the event on Facebook.