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Leaving The Solar System: Interview With SciFi Synth Composer Phil Nuovo

Need a holiday? Earthbound travel not an option? Why not swing round the rings of Jupiter, or sip oolong tea on Mars? If we make the shuttle port in time,…

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Need a holiday? Earthbound travel not an option? Why not swing round the rings of Jupiter, or sip oolong tea on Mars? If we make the shuttle port in time, we could sail the Sea of Tranquility by the next solar cycle. If time is increasingly as precious as money, and most of our time is spent working, then why not externalise the inner life, with the aid of music for dreaming? In these troubled waters, the streaming service, the record player, the five-disc jukebox have all become semi-portable mood organs of their own. 

Long-form, imaginative listening landscapes are all the rage, thanks to online streaming and an ever-increasingly niche taste in listeners. All manner of moods, tone poems, and compilations comprising entirely of things you’ve never heard before, but always wanted to, are moments away in a search bar. So too, is Phillip Munch aka Phil Nuovo, a seasoned professional at dissonant and inventive electronic music, sculpting an instrumental science fiction journey. But don’t expect Space Wave that exists in a Gaussian blur. This isn’t discreet music for the stay-at-home astronaut – despite a blissful scope and cosmic sensibility, there are jagged waters ahead, with ornate and beautiful moments so specific yet fleeting, they promise to love and leave you. 

It should be said there is a healthy dose of adrenaline coursing through this record. For an ambient record, the first half is filled with dynamism and intrigue, so much so that if it carried on in that manner it would risk plateauing or exhausting itself, but it is with the features and remix at the end that the album shows its hand, and its teeth.

Leaving The Solar System opens the album with a pulsing synth line, leading up to a crescendo of arpeggiating synthesizers. Habitat In Space takes things more of a skipping groove, reminiscent of DAF, cold wave, or minimal pop influence.  Asteroid Mining forms a centrepiece for the record: a detuning LFO ticking clock, great use of texture, an unmistakable hardware sound offset by dynamic washes of reverb and more abstract elements. Hypertransprogressor features a minimal synth riff that wouldn’t be out of place on an early Gary Numan record with the bright sound of Dare era Human League, albeit augmented with a nefarious bassline threatening and obtuse intervals. 

Like astrally navigating cyberspace in 3D as portrayed in a William Gibson novel, Techno Sphere is a kind of endless series of death star trenches and bioluminescent, translucent grids. Before revealing its inner workings, the arrangement introduces the acoustic resonance clangs of a mechanical beating heart.

The three songs featuring Basemntgrrr bring a sound that’s a little harder and tougher than what’s preceded it. Dirtier synths obscured with modulation and then bigger more orchestral moments where the sonic scope is widened, one can imagine that when these two are working together they amplify each other’s sensibilities. As a more distorted sound on the synths gives way to a blissful nobility, symphonic synthesis. That mix of tension and harmony mean Radiation and Into Deep Space are particularly strong tracks and help bring the second half steadily into orbit.

The LP’s grand finale is a remix of asteroid mining, expanding on the original by over three minutes this track forms a third act that references the first, with the scope we’ve come to expect from the journey since, like looking back on home.’s Jack Solomon Smith interviewed the composer.

The Album’s Bandcamp description opens with a Frank Herbert quote:  “If you ask ‘Should we be in space?’ you ask a nonsense question. We are in space. We will be in space.” Frank Herbert’s science fiction epic Dune depicts space-faring civilisations as being locked in resource conflicts and political power struggles. Does that vision for life in space reflect the one on the album, or does it have a more optimistic and escapist narrative? 

Definitely not, although it fits perfectly. I’m not much into movie things but more into reading. SF literature and also pulp stories were always important in my life also as a way to escapism. I’ve never been a person who easily made many friends, I am more like a solenoid person, a kind of outsider. Nevertheless, we as a planetary community need a vision to focus on huge goals, otherwise, we will end up dead on a totally devastated planet.

First, we all need to accept that everything in the universe is one thing which split up in countless individuations. We, humanity, should explore and protect life on our planet as well as on other worlds and in whatever form it comes around. Science is the best vehicle we have, but we should use it in a responsible way. Capitalism is outdated because it only leads to violent fragmentation and destruction.

To ignite a positive vision of the future of mankind we need good stories in letters, sound, and motion. And the perspective that everyone in this world can be a part of it.

I like how the album transitions between soundscapes and slow beats and rhythmic techno flavours. Some of the synth sounds seem uniquely analogue. The classic cultural icons or palettes of science fiction/ space exploration existed just as analogue started turning to digital, so more often than not, analogue technology was imagining the future. How much was older science fiction an influence and was it important to have that analogue sound to call to mind the machinery of past science fiction? Was it on a track by track basis, how much of it was digitally created?

Since I grew up with hardware instruments, most parts of my music are generated with analogue synths, some with digital synths as well, and some samples. In the end, I use what I have at hand and what comforts me. I record everything to a DAW and process it digitally then. It’s a hybrid way of working, and beside occasional drum samples, every sound is individually created. Fortunately I had the support of the very talented Ralf Gatzen. Some may know his project Basementgrrrr, but he is also creative in many musical ways.

This time my goal was to do some SF music to enhance visual imagination, a bit like some music had been when I was a young boy, but I would not define my style as “retro.” I simply don’t care much about fashion and trends. I’ve seen a lot in my almost 53 years on this planet and this exploration will hopefully continue until I cease.

Of course, you will find some typical elements like eerie melodies and metallic atmospheres, lots of reverb and delay and strange noises. Everything was made track by track and after a while, it started to elevate. So it was almost clear what we had to do to finish this trip.

In some ways techno has always had a science fiction component. Jeff Mills described Techno as being a “futurist statement.” Does the concept of the future or science fiction come up a lot for you when making electronic music, or do you focus elsewhere? 

I agree. It is important to focus on a positive Utopia to avoid the imminent danger of a Dystopia we are moving towards if we don’t change.

Asteroid Mining is one of my favourites. It has lots of textures weaving in and out, calling to mind a vista that reveals different objects, or space ships, or crews of people. It has the breadth of a landscape painting as if the atmosphere was crafted as much as the music itself. It’s remixed at the end of the album into an 8-minute opus: Manufactura vs Marred) How did that come about? 

Since this record was released by Crunch Pod it was obvious to do it. Karloz has been my mentor and he did all the necessary communication in a very kind and friendly way. So he did this remix, as well as all of the cover artwork and the video clip. He made a good job with this, keeping the artwork free from all recent “fashionable” imagery.

Sure it’s a matter of taste but for me; it’s very close to what I would do. Enjoy this record as a listener; it is not made for the dancefloor though.

For listeners discovering you through this record, what other works of yours would you recommend? There were quite a few different projects released in 2020, correct?

Music is the initial love of my life, and that’s the reason why I never get tired of making sounds. It’s just pure beauty and obviously the language of soul which I understand the most.

You can listen to Mandelbrot (audiophob), Synapscape (ant-zen), Philipp Münch (ant-zen), The Rorschach Garden (my oldest existing project, since 1988).

I will not recommend certain releases, I leave it up to you, your curiosity, and of course your individual taste in music.

Find Phil Nuovo’s SciFi here

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