Machine Mass

Music is art. Who can disagree with that? Sometimes truly efficient, technical & progressive music can intrigue the mind & soul. Unluckily, quality & art do not bring fortune & fame all the time but… music’s first purpose is not money or fame. It’s something deeper & ethereal. These are some thoughts born while listening “Inti” by Machine Mass. Grande Rock had a chat with the band’s two masterminds, Michel Delville (guitars) & Tony Bianco (drums) about the new album, music, art & many other interesting things…
Machine Mass band pic

Hi Michel & Tony. Machine Mass turned out to be a major surprise for us on Grande Rock. It’s not common to come across such a release. Well-done!
M: Thank you, Thanos. It a very special release combining a lot of unorthodox ideas with more straight forward, in-your-face material.
T: Thank you Thanos.
How did the idea of forming Machine Mass occur? What was the music ground you wanted to explore?
M: It started as a duet which was meant to test our capacity to interact with Tony’s loops. It soon became apparent that bringing in a guest would open different avenues of collaboration.
T: On the liner notes I explain that Machine Mass began at the most stressful time of my life. My wife was dying of cancer and Michel (my good friend) said you need a break from it all since I was watching Mary (my wife) 24/7. So he set up this recording situation. The ideas for Machine Mass came from Michel digging some recordings I did years earlier “Monkey Dance” featuring Liebman and also “Freebeat” featuring Elton Dean.
What are the differences and the similarities “Inti” has with “As Real As Thinking”?
M: I would stress the growing importance of soundscapes in “Inti”. We were trying to create a coherent sonic environment and suggest a firmer narrative progression in this album which, in many ways, feels like an interior journey into the very belly of the “machine” we inaugurated with our first album.
T: OK. I agree with Michel… we also were going to go to the U.S. to play with Liebman so our statements had to be stronger.
On “As Real As Thinking” Michel is playing bouzouki on some tracks. There’s no bouzouki on the new album. Probably it could not be combined with the album’s music atmosphere, right?
M: I could have used the bouzouki or other “ethnic” stringed instruments but for practical reasons (the logistics of flying to the US to record the album) I ended up using the electric guitar and the e-guitar, which already offers a considerably diversified sonic palette.
What’s “Inti” all about and where does it stand musically?
M: Tony came up with the title of the album – there is a story behind this, Tony? As to where the album stands musically, I would say somewhere between Miles, Terje Rypdal and the raw energies of punk. It’s all about the creation of a sonic space in which multiple musical ideas can be developed – what keeps them together is the sheer sound of the record and, of course, the superstructures of the loops.
T: We recorded “Inti” in September 2012… if you remember there was this Inca prophecy that it was all over… you know… the end… I was in London at my friend Immos place (he’s a film maker) and we were kind of having a laugh over this… saying it was just a wish to get out of paying bills. Anyway Immo looked up the Inca Sun god… it was “Inti” so I said to Immo… I want to write a piece with this feeling. That piece is “Inti”. Michel thought that was a good name for the CD.
How did the cooperation with Dave Liebman come about? He’s the new member of Machine Mass and a renowned musician in general.
M: As far as I am concerned Tony introduced me to Dave and sent him the first Machine Mass record. To me, Dave was the perfect match for this band – he is a fearless adventurer who is always on the lookout for new, unusual musical experiences. A few months later we were in a recording studio in Pennsylvania… It’s an ongoing project, and we’re planning to take the show on the road across Europe and the USA.
T: Dave and I have known each other for years... I’m always sending him things I sent him the 1st Machine Mass record and he dug it… when I was going back to the US to visit my family I asked Dave if he wanted to record he said sure. Michel as it happened was also going to the US, so the whole thing just worked out.
There’s also a guest appearance by Saba Tewelde on “The Secret Place”. Tell us a bit about it.
M: Saba’s contribution adds a poetic, “Canterbury School” touch (Hatfield and the North, The Soft Machine…) to the album – it also kind of nods at the MoonJune Records catalogue which has helped to keep that particular music alive and well in to the 21st century.
T: I’ve known Saba for years and I’m happy she’s singing this beautiful piece on this record. This piece is very special to me.
What are the messages behind each track?
“Inti”: Life could be beautiful and terrible all in the same day.
“Centipede”: The walking bass says it all!
“Lloyd”: Written for a bass player I used to work with years ago in NYC.
“In A Silent Way”: Our tribute to Miles and Dave Miles’s period.
“A Sight”: The light at the end of the tunnel…
“Utoma”: A name of Vishnu…
“The Secret Place”: It’s all in the lyrics: luckily, there is always a place where you can go and hide away, even if it’s only in your mind.
M.: “Elisabeth”: The opening themes was written for my wife Elisabeth…
“Voice”: Something Biblical.
The band did a great job on the album’s production. How did Jon Wilkinson (who did the mixing & the mastering) help you get the best out of it?
M: Jon did a wonderful job of mixing and unifying the record. He also made many useful suggestions as to what should be in the foreground and background, which was an essential part of the album’s post-production.
T: Another friend I’ve known for years. Jon mixed many of my records. I trust him totally. He has great consideration for where the music is in a recording and the emphasis is where it should be.
What’s your opinion about the use of new technologies in music? Does it actually help the musician get better results in the end? Or it’s all a fancy thing?
M: If we believed it was a fancy thing, we would have done an acoustic record. The whole point of “Inti” was to ensure the organic integration of the machines into the very process of composition and improvisation. The same principle applies to the guitar synth, which can sound very cheesy if the sounds are not properly customized.
T: It’s like Dave [Liebman] says using the Machines but having a human touch. The jazz innovative spirit is always trying to make the old new. We live with all these new sounds around us… as improvisers we can’t help but to react to this.
What’s the best way to describe the Machine Mass music?
M: It has elements of post-Miles, modal jazz but it doesn’t sound like straight jazz. And Tony’s idiosyncratic use of loops makes the music sound very different from the usual jazz-rock or fusion. So, yes, a revisitation of earlier musical trends making extensive use of contemporary technologies.
T: I was talking to Cecil Taylor about this band and I said it’s like using the left and right side of our brain... while falling asleep… he dug that.
Tony what do you want to achieve by using of loops in your music? How did that come about in the first place?
T: I first started to use the loops in “Monkey Dance” and “Freebeat” however now they have evolved into something else. A lot of the modern sound that’s around in popular music these days use these computer generated sounds all the time... no one really criticizes this, it’s accepted. The Jazz innovators always took the popular sounds of their day and made them jazz. Look at the whole standard repertoire in jazz, it came from popular sounds of their days. So that’s all I’m/we’re really doing… using sounds that are around us.
This kind of complex & thought provoking music ain’t popular and I think it will never be. How important is it that there’s a label and a dedicated person like Leonardo who supports and promotes bands and musicians such as you?
M: Leonardo’s support has been invaluable over the years. And MoonJune is currently expanding in new directions with Dave’s contributions added to those of Gary Husband, Chad Wackerman, Allan Holdsworth, Vinnie Colaiuta and others.
T: I agree with Michel… thank God for Leonardo…
What’s your opinion about Allan Holdsworth? Is he one of the most underrated musicians of all time or what?
M: Allan Holdsworth is an alien. He has a unique voice, which is the mark of great artists. Did you know he was Zappa’s favorite guitar player? (i.n.: Nope! I’ll agree with the Alien Holdsworth thing wink)
T: He’s not underrated to me. I always thought of him as one of the masters.
MachineMass band pic

Michel since you’re a big Frank Zappa fan, do you believe there will ever be other musicians with Frank Zappa’s musical genius?
M: There are many musicians I admire, and I have been lucky to play and record with some of them. Zappa’s legacy is huge though, and it comprises so many different genres ranging from orchestral works to doowop. I don’t know about tomorrow, but I’m not sure there is anybody around with that kind of intensity and dedication to music.
T: A lot of great music came out of the mind expansions of the sixties… Zappa was one of the geniuses.
How do you see the “free downloading issue” of our time? In a world where people easily download music for free and hardly pay for it what can we do in order to change things? Is it different now that you can see things on the inside?
M: The music industry is at the crossroads. The old models are disappearing and it’s hard to see which direction it's really headed to.
T: Well it interferes with musicians making a living off of recordings which sucks actually but we got to deal with injustice all day long… it’s just the way it is.
What kind of music do you prefer the most and what does music mean to you?
M: My musical matrix includes Coltrane, Hendrix, the Beatles and a few others – I am not too crazy about the current pop/rock scene, but I listen to a lot of contemporary jazz, post-rock and electronica, both known and unknown.
T: My taste seems to be what Michel just mentioned. I’d like to add… I don’t like music that’s contrived or faked… music is art… and shouldn’t be compromised. Music from the heart.
How is the music that you play/compose related to the metaphysics and religion… if it is…?
M: I truly believe that there is a strong spiritual dimension in “Inti” (which is perhaps most apparent in “In a Silent Way” and “Elisabeth”) which is not so present in my other bands (i.e., The Wrong Object). Maybe it’s one of the meanings of “mass” in the band’s name!
T: Ever since I heard Coltrane (as so many others) I was changed. Music was always used in praising the Creator, it’s natural. A long time musician friend said to me years ago… you can’t learn to play spiritually you either can or can’t do it. It’s on another level because of the practice of intense prayer or meditation. When someone asks me to describe playing spiritually I always refer them to the movie “Meetings with Remarkable Men” which is based on Gurdjieff. There’s a scene where this panel of judges are hearing different musicians play their instruments outside in a valley surrounded by mountains. Each candidate goes up and performs… after each performance the judges look at each other as if saying no not this one. Eventually a musician with a Wooden Flute goes up and plays this note and the rocks start to fall and the mountains shake. He’s the guy. The judges all cheer.
How important is music for the human soul? Is its existence valuable & essential for the human souls?
M: Music has been essential to my life for as long as I can remember – and it has helped me and continues to help me in difficult times.
T: The human soul is eternal if one looks at the definition of the soul. So music that is beyond time and definition might be called music for the soul or spiritual music. It might make our hair stand on end. It could remind us that life is beyond what we could know at this time. Truth.
Is music art? Or it used to be? How can those mainstream hit songs we repeatedly hear on the internet, radio & TV be taken as music art?
M: We live in a postmodern where people don’t know where to draw the line between high and low anymore, which is just as well. Now, this doesn’t mean that anything goes and that we live in an undifferentiated space where a TV sitcom is worth any number of plays by Shakespeare. Some of the hit songs we hear on the radio are truly engaging but we are talking about a very small portion of the overall production...
T: Being a great musician or artist does not mean fame and fortune… it seems we’re confused these days… most modern music is a comment on fashion… the fashion of the day… Bling…
Which one do you prefer: Vinyl, CD or Mp3 and why?
M: CD or vynil – I like to see physical copies, cover art and printed sleeve notes lying around the house.
T: Same as Michel…CDs and Vinyl.
If you had the chance to be reborn, would you choose to be a musician again?
M: Yes, I think so.
T: Well according to the “Bhagavad Gita” who wants to be reborn again? It’s not the best option but if I had to… I’d be a musician who was better at the game.
Imagine that your wife/girlfriend is selling your whole album-collection just to buy an expensive ring for herself. How would you react?
M: I don’t know, actually – I am not a record collector, and most of the music I hear is in my head!
T: Cool… If I get something out of it.
Thank you both Michel & Tony for talking to Grande Rock. Thx for the music! Any last words?
M: Thanks, Thanos.
T: Thanks, Thanos.
(Special thx to Metaltom for his valuable help)