Expressive Modulations – An interview with Ghostphace

Matteo Silvestri remembers standing on a chair grabbing at a Massive Attack CD that was just out of reach for the eight year old boy. “I think it was a passion for music that my father passed on to me.” Apart from a love of music, Matteo also displayed a taste for the less accessible corners of music early on his a life, a predilection for music that would shadow him towards establishing his artistic career as Ghostphace, and his debut album Oscillations. Like so many electronic music producers, Matteo’s foray into the world of composition and production started with the drums, and at the age of eighteen it would eventually conclude in a pair of decks and a propensity for vinyl. “Initially I listened to the ‘underground’ electronic music that passed through Rome’s record stores. I remember at the time, I was developing an interest in darker sounds; in a large part thanks to the likes of Saehko and early Plastikman.” This was before Matteo’s first computer and as the Italian artist became familiar with “classics” from Autechre and Aphex Twin a shift naturally occurred in his aspirations for a musical career. “After a couple of years I got sick of playing other people’s music and felt the need to create something of my own.” Inspired by this new “overwhelming” music he heard through the likes Aphex Twin, Matteo eventually made the quick leap into production and established the Ghostphace moniker, but something was still not quite right. “Staring at the PC screen and moving the mouse bored me to death.” There was some tactile purpose missing to the music and it was only when the young Italian moved into hardware-based productions that his music really started taking shape. “Making music almost exclusively using machines has been a huge influence on my productions to date.”

There’s one instrument that has played a central role in this new exploration, the modular synthesiser and his debut album, Oscillations is effectively a two-year study of the machine. “I developed an interest in the modular synthesiser over the last four years, while looking for an original way to create sounds,” says Matteo over an email exchange, before adding, “although sometimes I would like to take the synth and throw it out the window.” It’s the immediacy of the moment, where frustration and creation are one in the same that Matteo’s music finds its form and in Oscillations the work can go from the harsh oppressive electronics of an industrial sound palette to innocent moments of serene ambient magnificence. And it reflects something of the diverse influences that feed the personality behind the music. “Sometimes I wake up and I want to make a piece of ambient music and I end up breaking the speakers.” For Matteo the modular synthesiser is a very personal pursuit with the machine being a reflection of “those who use it and especially those who have assembled it.” It’s in the two-year pursuit of assembling and exclusively using this machine that something of a study developed with the end result conspiring in the album Oscillations. “From the choice of modules to how you decide to wire them; there are endless possibilities. What emerges is the result of many small choices.” Oscillations thus becomes a very solitary pursuit with the artist at its core. “What you hear on the disc is my personality without filters, it’s me… finding enjoyment in making noise.” Matteo hopes that the introverted exploration of the modular synthesiser can convey a “certain mood to the listener” without forcing it upon him/her. At the same time however it never reaches the listener’s ears before it passes through Matteo’s conscious stream and like any good expressionist the work is refined before the final execution is presented. “I am my greatest critic and if I’m largely satisfied with my work then I believe that others can also appreciate it.” Much of the appeal of the modular system for Matteo’s Ghostphace project lies in the tactile versatility of the machine. After experiencing the endless frustration of working with computers and their plug-ins, Matteo found some refuge in using his hands with its instant effects. “Making music should be fun and my modular helped me to overcome the boredom of the computer. It allowed me to be more spontaneous.“

It’s a very bold move for an artist on debut, creating an album from a very introverted personal perspective. It’s a piece fortune then that Matteo should find a kindred spirit in the label that has supported him through all this, Stochastic Resonance. “Whether it works for the market, is not my concern and I think SR reasons in the same way; so they did not interfere in any way with my decisions.” The artist’s relationship with the collective label is one where he is free to experiment without much resistance from the label and all the resources he could possibly need arrive in the form of support from the other artists that make up the collective. “It has been about pushing me to improve myself: the first draft of the album was very different from the final one.” And in the collective Matteo was free to indulge unimpeded by the need to make a danceable or accessible LP. “I’m very stubborn and I do not like compromises. Stochastic Resonance is perfect in that it realises: I must not be catalogued.” SR give Matteo the freedom to personalised expression that other labels might have thwarted for a trend or label sound, yet because of that it only goes to reinforce the label’s sound. “This LP is full of stochastic elements.“ Working within the collective and living in Berlin also seems to have broadened Matteo’s vision for his modular system. “I’ve always wanted to make a record that makes the listener dance and vent. I changed many modules in recent months and say I am almost satisfied with the current setting. With the addition of a couple of extra machines, I hope to find a new creative input that will allow me to work in that direction.”

It seems that Matteo’s music is something that is not determined by parameters, but rather by expressive inclinations within the modular system, and what at first appears to be an introverted outlet can touch on something that is very universal. It’s something that really comes to the fore in the track, Wired Melody that we are streaming today. The music born form an indulgent experimental pursuit breaks the barriers of the individual with a charming rhythmic section and playful synthesis that speaks to its audience from the shadows in which it hides. Alongside the rest of the album, Wired Melody provides quite the effective open-ended punctuation mark for Ghostphace as it ventures into new elements on the back of those established on the album. It will be interesting to see where Ghostphace’s expressive modulations take him next and how he and Stochastic Resonance shape the future of the artist and the collective with Oscillations.