Los Angeles native Anenon first came to our attention after the release of his 2014 album Sagrada, a spell-binding record that defined, as much as it is possible to define, his musical approach. Exploring various shades of free jazz, electronica, ambient and classical music, the stated inspiration of ‘visual art’ seemed to manifest itself in music confidently yet delicately painted with highly creative and spontaneous strokes.
2016’s Petrol, a record that captured (sometimes literally) the sound and feel of Los Angeles’ freeways, added more fuel to the critical fire starting to smoulder around him. Now Anenon is ready to release Tongue, a fascinating album largely recorded on piano, saxophone and synthesizer in a remote Tuscan villa far from the LA smog. We asked him about the experience…
Hi Brian. Firstly, can you tell us what the name Anenon means?
Anenon: Bri (an) All (en) Sim (on).
Ha, can’t believe it’s that simple… You made Tongue in Tuscany – how did that come about and how did it compare to previous recording experiences?
I was invited to an artist residency called Villa Lena which is located near the small town of Palaia in Tuscany, Italy. It’s about an hour from both Pisa and Florence, tucked into the hilly countryside. A serene, green, and quiet landscape. The place felt like a dream then and still does. I had a month to work on a project there and decided that I would try and make an LP. I’ve never completed an album in this short of time so I had to work quickly and confidently.
I had recorded some initial piano and saxophone stems at my friend Adam Gunther’s studio in Los Angeles a couple of months prior, but the bulk of the record was performed, recorded and arranged at Villa Lena with a very makeshift setup. The residency had a pair of Yamaha NS-10 monitors that they let me use and I had a Zoom Handy recorder, an SM57, an OP-1 synth, and my soprano saxophone as well. My studio was a tiny attic room on the third floor of the 16th century villa where all of the residents slept. Just outside of the studio was a hall with beautiful natural reverb in which I recorded a lot of the soprano.
The music of Tongue became part of the villa. Residents on walks told me they could hear my sounds miles away being amplified into the countryside. There was a beautiful and tuned upright Yamaha piano located in a building next to where my studio was that I used every day, and a couple of other residents there who were also working on music recorded some soprano takes of mine on their nice microphones. Basically, the entire setup was improvised and very in the moment and not having the luxury of months and months to work and edit an album became a very welcoming and fruitful new challenge for me.
Your previous album Petrol was inspired by the traffic in Los Angeles – how did your environment in Italy influence this one?
Tongue feels like the country to Petrol’s city. I knew I wanted to make something in contrast to the dense audio fog and smog of Petrol. Working in solitary in the Tuscan countryside really made this album open up and come alive. You can really feel the room in these recordings. Tongue is an abstract audio diary of April, 2017 in Palaia, Italy.
The album alternates between tranquil, sax-based ambience and more hyper, piano-centric minimalism. Does that juxtaposition say anything about your state of mind when creating it? Or do the different instruments just tend to lead you down different paths?
I choose a palette before approaching any project and I chose soprano sax, piano, synthesizer, and field recordings for this one. The piano picks up a lot of the rhythmic weight and the saxophone floats on top. Juxtaposition is always necessary to make music interesting for me. The tension that arises between the saxophone and piano throughout Tongue really took this album into a new place sonically for me, letting the instruments dictate where they wanted to go in the physical space that I was working. There’s too much motion from all of the instruments for this to be considered 100% ambient music. I’m always trying to find sonic spaces in between.
It seems like you often manage to. What sort of music were you exposed to when you were growing up?
My dad is an audiophile with a large record collection but isn’t exactly a deep digger. Growing up, he played a lot of Elvis and more popular jazz, soul and classical music like Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder and Stravinsky. One jazz record that I do remember him frequently playing was Sonny Rollins’ Way Out West. The catchy tenor melody of ‘I’m an Old Cowhand’ is still burned into my brain. Oddly enough, I learned a lot about music through skateboarding videos. Girl Skateboards’ Mouse was hugely formative to me. I actually listened to Cymande’s ‘Brothers On The Slide’, which is in a section of Mouse, while driving through the Tuscan countryside every day when taking recording breaks during the creation of Tongue.
When did you start making your own music and what was it like?
I started DJing and making really simple hip-hop beats sampled from records around the year 2000. I hadn’t paid that much attention to making music prior. I was working entirely in Acid Pro on a desktop PC but taught myself the rudiments of sample chopping and audio editing which still remain a major part of my process when using Ableton now. Besides the basic early productions I was also heavily into turntablism and scratching which laid down a very personal rhythmic sensibility that I still draw from when playing the saxophone today. I didn’t pick up the saxophone until around 2006 when I was 23, but have dedicated most of my instrumental practice to it since, originally starting on the alto saxophone, and now playing tenor and soprano, as well as currently learning how to play the bass clarinet.
Can you send us some photos of the villa where you recorded Tongue?
What a beautiful place to compose and record. What about playing live? You tend to play art spaces as well as more traditional venues – what draws you to do this and how do those experiences differ from your typical gig?
There really is no typical gig for me. I never play just to play. I only want to play in interesting spaces with alive sound, whether they are art spaces or more traditional venues. My favorite places that I’ve played are The Black Mountain College room at MOCA and The Broad museum in Los Angeles, on a cliffside after party in Madeira, Portugal, Kantine am Berghain (I’ve never had such a professional sound tech before) in Berlin, Shibaura House in Tokyo, and the minimalist designed Proyectos Monclova gallery in Mexico City.
Are there any Italian artists/musicians who’ve inspired your music?
Lucio Fontana, Pierro Manzoni, the Arte Povera movement, the food stylings of Massimo Bottura, Italo Calvino, Ettore Sottsass and Memphis.
What one new artist should we be listening to right now?
Not new but Sam Gendel is finally starting to peak out of the underground. Can’t speak highly enough of him.
Where in the world would you most like to perform?
Tasmania / anywhere where people with open minds, ears, and hearts want to hear me.
Interview by Kier Wiater Carnihan