The best crate-diggers find things that were so ahead of their time that they sound fresh and new many years later. The new exposure to Franco Falsini's older catalog of work is a good example. Sensations' Fix, his first group to release a record on Polydor, was a notable early marker in the Italian prog world, but hearing the expanse of tremulous overtones and sparkling guitars that they created in the context of today's experimental flange explosion is revelatory. Music Is Painting the Air, a new collection of unreleased tracks coming out this week on RVNG Intl, is an incredible and comprehensive look at a couple of weirdos who recorded in their basement in the '70s what much of the music world wants to record now.
<em>I met Franco in a rocky park in Williamsburg on the banks of the East River. He is unencumbered and enthusiastic, and happy to tell the whole story of his music-making life, which continues to this day. After Sensations' Fix, Franco went on to record the equally incredible soundtrack-as-solo-album Cold Nose, which was recently re-released by Spectrum Spools, the Editions Mego imprint of John Elliott of Emeralds. Although his work from the 1970s is just being appreciated now, Franco has never stuck with a particular style for very long, preferring technological innovation to lead him through his career. In the '90s, he founded the techno label Interactive Test, and since then he has been performing his music live around Europe and America. After introductions and cigarette-rolling, we sat on the rocks and chatted into the evening.
Here's a video for the track “Dark Side of Religion”, directed by Georgia, to celebrate the release of the collection.
I wanted to hear the story of how you formed Sensations' Fix from your point of view.
From the beginning, the whole thing started in Virginia where I met the drummer Keith Edwards. Then with him, and another two guys, we rented the house, and we had a little studio and we just played.
What’d it look like on the outside of the house?
It was a nice house, it was one of the first commune, hippie houses.
The first that you ever lived in?
In the ‘70s. Remember, I got here in 1969. So by the ‘70s I had already gotten together with Keith and another two guys and we played in this band Sally Duck, then after a couple of years playing together I decided to go back to Italy just to see what I could have done. I had left some cassettes because back then all you had was the cassette.
On a four track?
No, just a regular cassette. We had a four track in the studio. One other guy that played with us his name was Jay Woodson, he was a real good electrical guy, so with him we put together a studio, and we had a little four track studio. On that four track I did this demo that I sent to Milan, and then people in Milan from Polydor said that they liked the stuff and wanted to put out the record. So we decided to move to Italy. But only me and Keith moved to Italy. One guy, the bass player, who’s name was James, went to Los Angeles and I never saw him again, and the other guy remained in Virginia. In Italy, there was this other American guy, named Richard, playing the bass, and we got together with him and decided to get a house in Italy. But not in Florence, because there was no way we could rehearse. We were making too much noise. We got a house in the country and we lived there. I had brought back from America all this stuff, all the equipment that I collect, and then we started to play. Polydor, who had those demo tapes that I had sent to them, those tapes that I thought were demos, they decided to put it out as records. They decided to put it out as records also because they thought we were a danger going into the recording studio. We would go into the recording studio and smoke, and they thought we would freak out.
Polydore thought you would freak out?
Well, I remember the first session. We went to the studio and we decided to smoke, and the engineer freaked out. He called the company.
Really? He wasn’t understanding?
And they would say to me “Take it easy, man!” Anyway so they freaked out, they decided that perhaps it was better we kept recording in our own studio and put out the music as it was. It was the ‘70s. Not everyone thought that smoking was a good idea.
Because now that would be a fairly commonplace.
Yeah, that would be a fairly commonplace, but not in New York. In New York, you cant even smoke a cigarette, you’re fucked.
So it was Keith that was good with electronics?
No, Jamie. I met Keith when he was working in a shop that sold records, and he used to show me all these strange records.
What kind of things did he show you? Do you remember any?
I remember he showed me the early Pink Floyd. And a lot of other stuff. Country Joe and the Fish. He liked Frank Zappa too. He was like, you should listen to this guy, this strange guy. He also was the one that turned me on to…
Other stuff. [Laughs.]
I was asking about electronics because I feel like at that time not a lot of people were using electronics in their music.
The guy that turned me on, together with me and Keith, was this guy Jamie Wilson who used to work in this shop Washington Music. Fixing amps, fixing stuff. Then one time, he called me up and said “There’s this guy with this really strange machine, you would like it,” and I said “What type of instrument is it? Is that guitar?” and he said, “No!” I said, “Is is a keyboard?” and he said, “No! It’s almost like a keyboard.” It was a Mini Moog, but he said that we had to rush. So we ran to Washington Music and he had a Mini Moog, the first Mini Moog, and I was fascinated. I said “I gotta get that machine.” So we talked to the guy, and I said to him, “You’re not going out with that machine. That machine is going to stay here.” And he said “What are you gonna do, you wanna steal it?” and I said “No, were going to buy it.” And he said, “Well, its going to be pretty expensive, even if I can arrange something.” He called the company, and said, if you come here with $1200, we can give you the Mini Moog. So we went to the bank and got $1200.
How did you get $1200?
Well, you know, we had it.
That was a lot of money in the ‘60s.
Yeah, it was a lot of money, but you know. We gave him the money, we got the Mini Moog. He called the company, and they said that they could get another one, but you know, it wasn’t out. And that started the beginning.
So that was probably one of the first in America.
Yeah, it wasn’t even out. The code was really little. Number 33 or 32 or something. But one of the very first. The guy was just showing the Mini Moog around, but Jamie knew I was into electronics. We had 4-tracks, but we couldn’t overdub. We bought a very early Tascam 4-track. They had this model on which you could record four tracks, all at once. But we said, no, its not going to be that way. I want to be able to record, and tomorrow someone will record on top. So in the end we have a six-track recording. Jamie was the one who knew electronics. We got organized, and we modified the machine, and we sent the schematic to Tascam. We never got any reply, but they came out with a four track that was called Simul-Sync.
Wow, so you think…
Yeah. But later on I met them, and told them about this. And they gave me an 8-track! They understood that we were pioneering, and what we had done really helped their sale. So I was rewarded with an 8-track and a mixer when they came out with an 8-track machine.
So, how did you go about incorporating electronics into the music?
The process was basically we were getting high in the basement, and we’d record just about anything. Right now, if you listen to the Moog, you might hear something very simple. But back then, that was a sound you didn’t hear, the modulation, all that stuff. So we wanted to incorporate that. For some reason, we were incorporating that. But in the beginning, don’t forget, we were in Virginia. This wasn’t the most advanced place. They liked country music.
Yeah, where did you play?
We used to go out in the woods and play.
You didn’t play for people?
No, we would play for people. A lot of people were at the house.
So you would have big forest parties?
A lot of people would come to the house. You’d be surprised. They might like bluegrass or something in Virginia, but a lot of people came to the house, hanging out. We had a lot of friends.
But you were never playing at bars, or clubs…
A few times, but we didn’t have so much luck. When we used to play at bars they wanted us to do covers, and not only covers but certain types of covers, and we didn’t want to do this. And you know, our music was kind of strange. But it was good enough, we had friends, we had a truck, we used to put stuff in the truck, go into the woods, even for a few days, and people would just come, and stay for days. You know we had a big following, even in those days.
Are there recordings from those early sessions on this new record?
I managed to get those tracks too. With Matt [Werth, owner of RVNG Intl], we did those recordings. We did the recordings that we gave to Polydor. But I found the early stuff, the stuff we were doing at the house. Which was called Sally Duck house.
How do you spell that?
Sally Duck! Sally the Duck. That was the name of the band. I have some of those recordings, and I am just digitizing them now. Not bad, not bad. Some of it is strange.
Do you feel like its finished? Are they done? Or would you add to them, do you want to go back and record over them?
I would say that I would leave it pretty much like that. What I’m doing, I’m using live. I like to get stuff looped, and get the piece spliced. The stuff I’m doing now is slicing beats and dragging samples. And that is just beats. Slicing, and put together. To form this path. So, live, I prefer to do t like this. If I were to come out with a record, or something like this, I would keep them pretty much the way they are. But don’t forget, now, with filters and stuff, and bass, you can actually enhance a lot.
Did you have to do a lot to restore the old songs?
Yes, you should hear them the way they sound. There is no way, without technology, they could have sounded like that. We had all the tapes, you know, the tapes. You cant just get a tape that you haven’t played for thirty years, and just play it. What do you say…
Like a calcification? Mold?
Mold. They were stuck together. So you had to put them in this thing that they had to erase them, and clean them up, and then you could spool them. And you know the mold is poison. After a while if you do it without a mask, you know…
So you and Matt did that together? Or did you have it done?
I did it myself, I cleaned them up, digitized them all. And the last time, because I had so many tapes, I got around with the Sally Duck tapes.
You didn’t include all of it? There’s still more?
There’s still more. There’s at least another double album of stuff as it is.
Think you’re going to release that as well?
If it was up to me, I wouldn’t release anything.
You know, they’re forced to listen to you live if there’s no records. But I guess it does help. Stuff that you’ve done, unless someone says to you, “Hey, that’s good,” it’s hard for me to say that it’s good. But if you’re still playing, you like the stuff that you’ve done the last, even if it’s not that good.
So, is your mindset much different for what you’re doing now, versus what you were doing in the ‘70s?
I wish I had the technology back then. Back then, to do a simple loop, or to have an echo, was a big thing. I’m trying to think of it the same way. Now we have more facilities. Back then, the Mini Moog didn’t have a memory. You made the sound yourself, and that was it, you couldn’t just select the sound. There are so many programs now. At one point in my life, about ‘83, I stopped playing. After we did a couple of album with this band called Antennas in France. So many years I’d been playing. I used to play 18 hours a day, I just played all the time. So, I decided to stop. Back then, the computers just came out, and I got fascinated by that and I learned how to program computers just to survive. I stayed away from the music until ‘89. For 5 or 6 years I didn’t touch the guitar or nothing, just kept programming, learning how the computer worked, and making lots of money in that. Then, I got together with some people. They wanted to do techno. Back then, in 1990, techno music was starting up.
<strong>That’s when you started your label.
I started my label, but it wasn’t so much my label. Thanks to the knowledge of computers, I put together a digital 8-track, which was a couple of samplers, and a computer that was triggering the samples. Something very simple, and with that, we did a label that was just dance music, trance, stuff like this. And that lasted for three or four years. That was the time I realized, OK, I was good with music. Now I’m good with the computer. People are doing music this way. Perhaps I should try, perhaps I should just get back to making music. Then, I kept on working. The only other big period I can remember was from the year 2000 to now. I’ve been living some sort of nomadic life, just in a camper, going outside and playing. There, I got the idea that I didn’t want to record anymore. I wanted to be an artist that, if you really wanted to listen to this guy, you would go see him live. Otherwise you couldn’t see his music. And by doing this, we travel. Basically just doing illegal stuff. We go around Europe, around Italy, and that’s lasted for about 10 years.
Is it getting harder to do that now in Europe?
After so many years, it’s getting harder for me. The local police sort of have records. All of a sudden, they would stop you, and they would go, “Oh, Mr. Falsini, good to see you. This is the 79th record with you. Are you here by accident this time, too?” I got called, and they said, if you keep doing this, there’s going to be restriction on your life. We’re not going to put you in prison but instead of going out, on a Saturday, you will come out here and sign your name, if you keep on doing this. So I had to sort of slow down. It wasn’t so much because it was hard, but because if you do it too much, you become sadly famous for that.
Do you think music is more fun for you if you’re breaking the rules?
No, it’s not because it’s fun. I strive for freedom. Let’s say now we are in a camp site in Staten Island. Let’s say we had a sound system. We would take it out, and start playing. Perhaps we would talk to security, and they wouldn’t do anything, and other people would start to do that. It wasn’t because we were breaking the rules. It was because I wanted to play, and I wanted to play with 3000 watts. Get my speakers out and start playing. And if the people around don’t care, then why not?
That just seems to be a continuity. You’re breaking the Tascam and making a new Tascam.
Because we need it. We didn’t change the Tascam just to say we wanted to change the Tascam. We changed the Tascam because we wanted to overdub. The idea of overdub is not such a strange idea. It’s not even breaking the rules. It’s just an idea that’s useful. Understand what I’m saying? Also, not every time you wanted to organize a night you get permission. In Italy, its not that easy to get permission. You need to know this person and you need to know the other person. Perhaps people would say to you, “Why don’t you play in my club,” and you wouldn’t get paid! So, what’s the use of it? I need to play, and I need to survive with this. Perhaps I need to throw my own party, and charge, so I’m just making the money. But, since I don’t have any club, perhaps I can do it outside. These are just needs. Not for breaking the rules.
The need for freedom is more important than whatever restrictions.
If you want to organize a huge party, and you can organize it because you can get together with other – we call them tribes – other people that are into music, perhaps you can put together three or four thousand people. If you’re doing that, nobody can really bother you. There are so many people, they’re going to let you finish, at least. It was more like saying we want to do the things that we like, but at the same time we will do it if we can do it. I would never say that sometimes we went to play and squat in places. We didn’t squat places where people were living. We would go to an abandoned house. Nobody’s living in there. Obviously the house belongs to somebody, but its in the middle of nowhere, and it’s half broken down. So we would go there, clean up, and throw a party. But the police would come and say, “What if this was your house?” Well, this is not his house. Nobody is living here. It’s not like I go into his house and say “Everyone out, were going to throw a party.” We’re going to a place, and nobody’s there, and we are coming with two or three thousand people, and obviously the thing gets noticed, and they tell you something. Do you understand what I’m saying? We’re not vandals. In fact we clean up! Most of the time we clean up. Most of the time in places that we went, and then later on, they fix them up, we give the buildings life. It’s not like bending the rules. Also, ok, you bend the rules. Like smoking cigarettes. In New York, you stay in an $800 hotel, and you smoke a cigarette in your room, they throw you out.
I think legally, you can’t even smoke a cigarette in this park.
[Franco lights a cigarette.]