Passing between Atmospheres with Laertes

Gianluca Meloni seems to have a natural inclination for music, one that is built from the foundation of music theory but refined in some higher form of cognitive process, like a computer. He’s had an illustrious career behind him, most significantly as one half of Modern Heads with Dino Sabatini, working in the marginal aspects of electronic music and specifically Techno as one of Italy and Rome’s finest underground luminaries. Apart form his continued work with Dino, Meloni ventured into various different projects over the years, with the latest, a new solo pursuit called Laertes. Adopting this alias, he’s put together an exclusive mix for The Formant, a pure live mix in which he avoided the “classic DJ form” and found “inspiration in different styles” to create a singular narrative in music from his sonic imagination. The evocative set, built on a foundation of Techno, features dense textures of visceral auditory execution, created in layers of sorrowful ambience with Gianluca Meloni’s expert hand able to manipulate the mood effortlessly. He uses the frequency range like a painter’s brush, able to coax the most magnificent sonic landscape out of the minimalist tools he’s been given. It’s a mix that tracks the experience of the veteran producer, from his origins in Rome as a classical pianist to arrive at Techno. But more than that, this mix upholds Gianluca’s identity as a pure experimentalist, something that has been with him since he was a boy tinkering with a homemade synthesiser.

The Italian producer and DJ’s career in music started when his brother, an electronic technician major, created a “rudimentary synthesiser”. Gianluca found an immediate affinity for the machine and started playing it by ear “without knowing anything about musical notes.” His mother, noticing the inherent talent in her son, sent Gianluca off to musical school and it wouldn’t be long after that that the latent producer would “graduate as a composer and a keyboard player”. Meloni’s first instrument might have been a two-manual Yamaha electric organ, but with the advent of the computer and the Atari Steinberg Cubase system in 1989, Meloni found an instrument that could “understand” him as much as he understood it, even if it “was not as easy” to program as today. It’s during this time when Gianluca moved away from the rock, blues and funk – he would eventually grow into from classical music – and developed a love for Techno with its emphasis on experimentation around an “essential structure”. Gianluca’s focus had always been on sound design, something he’d found “very creative” throughout the “construction process” of Techno and its variation “from the computer to the machine”.

It was through this attitude and with these tools that Gianluca rose to prominence, during a time when minimal Techno was the dominant genre. For Meloni however “Techno remained Techno”, only with different “nuances” built from the “colours and flavours” of Techno’s trends and it forms part of the reason the music he created alongside Dino is timeless today. Modern Heads came to fruition at a time when the respective guitarist and keyboardist found “a new passion for technology.” Their first works were completely created through hardware, like drum-machines and modular synthesisers, with a focussed predetermination towards a professionally polished execution. Through the years Dino and Gianluca have simplified their creative processes, while Gianluca has also ventured into other projects.

Meloni’s “point of view does not change with respect to these other musical projects” and they all form a significant part of the producer’s experience. While Laertes was born out of the same fundamental sonic ideas of Modern Heads, his latest collaboration, White Light Spheres is slightly different, but draws from the same sonic palette where melancholy and a sense of foreboding dwell. Ginaluca says, “ the collaborations are like travelling, and in each there are experiences that you live while playing with other musicians.” His “experience with light Spheres was very emotional” with Francesco Cianella bringing a very visceral element to their music through his work on piano and “his old school DJ techniques”. They “played together a lot over the course of almost a year” after which they “joined the recorded pieces together, giving birth to this new project.”

Gianluca likes to wallow in the dark, and with White Light Spheres it gives him the opportunity to explore his ambient inclinations. Ambience has always been a “companion through the adventures” for Gianluca and for this project he wanted to include some downbeat tracks, but he hesitates to call it an absolute ambient project. He thinks of it as an acoustic project played as Techno. Meloni avoids defining his music at all in fact, preferring to make music for the sake of music and not some trend. He’s influenced by the collaborations and the exchange of playing with other people more than tags like Minimal Techno – tags that might have included Modern Heads then, but are completely irrelevant to Modern Heads now. After a substantial hiatus, the duo have returned with Chapter II in 2014 and followed it up almost immediately with Chapter II – the beginning. “We understood that we still have a lot to say, and to share”, says Gianluca of their return to production. It again marks an ever-changing evolution to their sound, with a “strong boost” form Dino’s experience running his label Outis and nurturing new artists. Their continued experience in the field has pushed them to evolve around a live set, and Gianluca has not ruled out the possibility of a new album. Modern Heads’ return looks set to continue well into the future but for Gianluca it’s always been natural to be involved in other projects, even in the shadow of the success of another. “Although Modern Heads has a special place in my heart, I think it is important for any musician or DJ producer to nourish your creative spirit through other experiences.”

Laertes provides this latest form of nourishment, fuelling Gianluca’s darker nature as he “journeys through the circles of hell” in only the way a Greek myth could inspire. “I think it’s pretty Dark Techno”, he says of this new solo project, but wants the listener to make his/her own conclusions. The mix offers a few more rays of light than the production work, but still manages to capture an evocative mood of this project through this live set. Once again there’s a professional touch that results from Gianluca’s incredible experience as a DJ and producer, but the ultimate draw lies in the feeling he captures through this “emotional live set” that “passes between different atmospheres” and transcends the language barrier we’ve faced with the Italian in putting this article together. It ties his biography and this interview together ina way that all these words merely try to.