Wire My Cat Is An Alien

The Wire 251, January 2005
Unedited Transcript by Tony Herrington


My Cat Is An Alien
(Roberto and Maurizio Opalio)

Your music is full of references to outer space, the cosmos, and so on. Why?

Roberto: As far as music is concerned, we believe that its essence and concept belong to the Cosmos and the Spheres, and that our purpose as MCIAA is to elevate sounds, and return them to their original dimension, to the pure cosmic-ether. Space is essentially an empty area: the area that surrounds all objects and continues outwards in all directions, without limits. So this totally fits our concept of music/art: the only thing in life that has no limits, that is total freedom. That's why we don't use any kind of pre-defined schemes, but a free alchemy of guitars' minimal textures where all sounds follow their own intrinsic movements in space, interacting with each other, in order to create a unique instant-shaped streamline; a sort of mystic chant which elevates 'from the earth to the Spheres'. Often this free-flowing, expanding state of flux features a wide range of instruments, like cymbals, bells and various percussions, piano and xylophone toys, as well as improvised wordless vocals. The whole is always performed simultaneously, and we release most of our records without any kind of overdubs or outtakes.

Were you interested in astronomy before making music?

Roberto: When I was about 6 years old, my grandfather gave me a book on THE Cosmos which belonged to my great-grandparents. This book described many historical galaxies with black and white illustrations; this fascinated me so much that I started reading and studying it as if it were a magical book of alchemy, influencing me to the point that my mind started to create an imaginary crew in the outer space. Already as a child I inconceivably felt like an alien; at school I used to draw settings of parallel worlds and tried to communicate my theories on the existence of extra-terrestrials. Approximately 25 years later, that book gave us some ideas for the series The Cosmological Eye Trilogy, released on CD-R on our Opax Records, and the inspiration of the title came from a short writing by Henry Miller, a writer whom we think has opened a vivid and painful view of the connection between the human being and the artist with the universe.

What other space music has influenced, or interests, you?

Roberto & Maurizio: We believe 'space music' isn't just what people usually consider, like the amazing Forbidden Planet soundtrack; we perceive it as all is moving inside and elevating above empty spaces. So, what has influenced MCIAA's music and still interests us are hundreds of artists and different genres. For example early American minimalism, Tony Conrad and Terry Riley in particular, many avant-garde composers and sound-pioneers such as John Cage, Stockhausen, Varese, Xenakis, Charles Ives, Alvin Lucier and Eliane Radigue, the American primitive blues of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Leadbelly, Sleepy John Estes and Charlie Patton to name a few, John Fahey, Henry Flynt, the original American free jazz explosion by Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, The Jazz Composers Orchestra, all releases on ESP and Jazz Actuel... Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Sonny & Linda Sharrock; the early European avant-jazz, especially Peter Brotzmann and Alexander Von Schlippenbach, Andrea Centazzo, early punk and new wave bands such as Television, Patti Smith, Dead Boys, Pere Ubu, Chrome, The Feelies, The Stooges, This Heat... The Velvet Underground and soloist works by John Cale, Lou Reed and Nico, the original NY No Wave scene, Yoko Ono, folk-related artists like Tim Buckley, Nick Drake, Shirley Collins and Neil Young; The Meat Puppets and SST early scene, Nirvana and first Sub Pop releases, early REM, Independent Project's Savage Republic, Krautrockers like Can and Popol Vuh, first SF Subterranean releases, Ecstatic Peace, Starlight Furniture Co, Twisted Village, Siltbreeze, Majora labels, Stars Of The Lid and Kranky, Japanese noise, PSF, early 90s New Zealand free-noise on Corpus Hermeticum, some 90s minimal electronic stuff as Gunter and Roden, some special artists as Keiji Haino, Christian Marclay, Jim O'Rourke, Loren Mazzacane Connors, Richard Youngs, Jandek and, above all, Sun Ra and Sonic Youth of course. During the last two years, we got really into the whole 'New Weird America' scene, labels like Eclipse, Wholly Other, Jewelled Antler, Pseudoarcana, SoundatOne, U-Sound Archive, new Finnish underground scene and lots more... Since other people's music is such important in our life, we're sorry 'cause we'd like to name them all as a sign of respect... unfortunately this is not possible.

If you had the chance to travel into outer space, would you go? Or do you prefer to make such journeys in your imaginations, or through your music?

Maurizio: We do believe that imagination is stronger than reality. We're often interested in experiencing much more inner than outer life, therefore we may fulfil our most successful travel into outer space just by making our music, not by wearing space-suits.

Can you describe Turin now? How much has the city shaped your music? If at all?

Roberto: Torino is a very peculiar city and its spirit has influenced our conception of music and art. We think its austere, dark and surrealist atmosphere, its autumnal early-morning fog and especially its sense of romantic desolation permeate all MCIAA's works. We love watching its skyline from our balcony at sunset, when the dark shadows of the Alps surround the dead chimneys like black ghosts dancing around the last flames, just before black falls. I took a couple of black & white photos of this view with my old film camera, which we used for the cover and full-inner artwork of the just-out When The Windmill's Whirl Dies new Eclipse LP. Unfortunately, Torino started changing quickly during the last few years, and the cover-photo of Landscapes Of An Electric City is now a ghost-image of an abandoned factory which does not exist anymore, though it was one of the most remarkable examples of northern Italy's first industrial architecture, as well as an inestimable source of inspiration for us. In that record we also utilised some field recordings we made there, among cement, glass and metallic debris. Lately we feel as more and more urgent the call of the Western Alps, where we've recorded new material in some very atypical, mysterious and desolate locations. But yet Torino is a ghost you can't rid yourself of.

What is your life like in Turin? Is there any kind of music or art scene there that you feel a part of? Or are you working in relative isolation?

Roberto: In Torino we live in complete isolation. There's no music or art scene we could fit in with, so we make our works in solitude. This could sound strange, but all the people and artists we see as kindred spirits are not Italian and live abroad. Sometimes it's hard for us to feel so lonely, but we think we have to accept this: it's the price for doing our things.

Can you describe the Space Room were you work and record?

Maurizio: The Space Room is a kind of loft which is located in one of the few still-standing industrial area in Torino, so that you have to pass by a decadent landscape made of early 1900s chimneys of abandoned iron-foundries and dead-end tracks which get lost in the fog. Then you enter the Space Room, MCIAA's headquarters, and you feel as if you entered a kind of parallel universe. All our music and art starts and takes shape there. We often play our improvisations in the middle of the night, when the whole area is completely deserted. Every wall inside the Space Room is covered with big alien paintings which, leaning against the walls, extend from the floor to the ceiling. Falling from the ceiling, suspended by steel cables, are some installations which are continuously replaced, except for two permanent figures: a 250 cm alien and the alien cat, symbol of MCIAA, both made of iron wire and metal. In the middle of the room there is a trapezoidal table on which are pedal effects, space toys, a piano toy, a toy xylophone and a toy keyboard, and our electric guitars; all of this is encircled by percussion instruments. When we play our instantaneous compositions, which we always record, we like doing it in the dark, while projecting our slides or films onto a wide screen opened in the back of the room, often choosing to freeze one single photogram which, at that moment, can become a source of inspiration.

Can you remember the reasons why you first started making music?

Maurizio: In the period when I recorded at home the first MCIAA's CD-R in 30 copies, even before my brother Roberto joined the project, I was very involved in the field of art installation, to which I applied a conceptual principle related to the literary technique of William Burroughs and Brion Gysin's cut-ups. Being, at the same time, inspired by the spontaneous prose of American Beat writers, as well as by Roberto's vinyl collection, I began to play both the acoustic and the electric guitar in a non-academic manner: I used to experiment on sound stratification on a 4-track cassette, which developed into long pieces of music that had a psych-folk-free-noise matrix. One day, Roberto got hold of an electric guitar for the first time, bought a handful of space toys, and started to play with me: this was a moment of pure magic, in which we both immediately became aware of the total empathy and energy flow which sprang up from playing together.

Roberto: From the very beginning, our approach to music, as well as to any other artistic context we take part in, always comes from an essential and unrestrainable need of an urgent creative expression, which originates, develops and is achieved like an act of violent DIY determination, stretching out to fulfil its destiny without any kind of filter or compromise with the outside world. A boost that comes from the interior world and is projected directly into hyper space, where both a strong intellectual awareness and the pure unawareness of the fortuitous moment melt in a clash/crash which is performed around an action in real-time. MCIAA's music is simply the result of this process.

Regarding your artwork and installations, how do they relate to the music in your minds? Do you exhibit these artworks anywhere, that is, in a context separate from your music, or are the two things inseparable?

Maurizio: Both our artwork, installations and music show our feelings, thoughts and personal view of the inner and outer world; so, they spontaneously relate, since they are just different forms and ways to express the same concepts and meanings. It's just like the same reflection in a hall of mirrors. So far, our paintings and installations have been totally inaccessible to the public, but as they are artworks which can have an independent life in comparison with music, we have recently started to place some of them on our website, on the page dedicated to space art. Furthermore, we are preparing a project meant for gallery-spaces called "I Am/I Am Not (Here?) - Beyond Yr Shadow". This is a number of audio-video installations featuring the projection of some of our alien films combined with the music appropriately adapted for them. They might even include live-performances, with actual installations scattered through the gallery-space.

How did you choose the musicians you asked to contribute to the From The Earth To The Spheres split LP series? What was it about these musicians/groups that attracted you?

Maurizio: The original idea behind the From The Earth To The Sphere split LPs series which we set up on our own Opax Records was to create a special space of collaboration between MCIAA and some of the artists we highly esteem. Also, we thought of it as a way to escape from our Torino isolation, and we found that vinyl would have been a direct platform where to meet people living on the other side of the ocean, so as to enlighten the darkness of the Void. We wanted each record to be a unique artistic document, a little splinter of the Universe which could combine sounds with actual art-objects. That's why each copy comes out with a proper painting by Roberto on a 31x31 cm wood support, and each volume is released in 100 copies only, featuring different subjects as well as a wide range of materials. We immediately thought of Thurston Moore to open the series, and he replied enthusiastically. We saw this like a great start, and it spurred us to go on, and to contact all the other artists we had in mind. It was exciting to see all of them replying with the same good emotional involvement. We were already in touch with Tom Greenwood of Jackie-O Motherfucker because he had previously asked MCIAA to appear on a forthcoming U-Sound Archive volume; also we were trading material with Loren Chasse and Glenn Donaldson of Thuja and were already in contact with Seymour Glass of Glands Of External Secretion, because of MCIAA's Il Segno LP on his Starlight Furniture Co. Thanks to this series we also got in touch with Christina Carter and Double Leopards: we all had releases on Eclipse Records and enjoyed each other works, but we never talked before. We feel honoured that the split LP with Christian Marclay will be out on the occasion of his big exhibition in Prato, Italy, in June 2005; and we had no words when our dear Jim O'Rourke gave us an astonishing piece he recorded in 1988! We love all these artists 'cause all of them, though in different ways and forms of expression, are pushing music beyond its terrestrial territory, towards the realm of the Spheres. What later came as nicely unexpected was the proposal by Very Friendly/Cargo Records UK to issue the whole series on CD format, in order to make the musical contents available to the people.

Why did you send copies of your first CD-R to Sonic Youth? What did you hope would happen as a consequence?

Roberto: When we both were teenagers, Sonic Youth were the first band whose music definitely opened our minds to a totally new conception of sounds and art as a whole, influencing our own approach to life and self-expression. That's why we decided to send them MCIAA's first CD-R: that was just our most direct way to say them 'Thanks!' for having positively changed our life. Therefore we definitely did not expect anything at all. What happened as an immediate consequence was as much unexpected as something we would never have dreamt of. The legend tells that Sonic Youth, after receiving our CD-R in NYC, "unwrapped it, played it, and were immediately and pleasantly flattened by its green ray emanations", so as to invite MCIAA to open their forthcoming 1998 Italian tour. So, a couple of months later, we made our very first live debut at a big festival in Torino, in front of about 20,000 people; but most of all we met SY for the first time: this was one of the most beautiful moments in our life, a kind of emotion we'll never forget! We started keeping in touch, especially with Thurston, and we had a second unbelievable surprise when he told us he decided to release our debut improv-recording as a duo Landscapes... on his own Ecstatic Peace label, one of our favourite labels indeed! The album came out in 2002 as a three-sided LP 'cause Thurston wanted to include some stuff originally released in 1999 as an Opax Records private CD-R edition of 12 copies. During these years we played several times with SY in Italy and Europe and, when possible, spent time together. Thurston and SY's interest and support mean a lot to us. Life can be really strange: now, despite the geographical big distance, we consider them as some of the most special friends and artists we ever met, and just six years ago this would have sounded a fairy tale...


An article based on this interview appeared in The Wire 251, January 2005

2005 The Wire.