Name: Francesca Burattelli
Occupation: Singer, composer, visual artist
Recent release: Francesca Burattelli's Battle Fatigue is out via Anyines.
Recommendations: Roberto Murolo 'Dicintencello Vuje' and all his songs. I love Neapolitan music, it resonates deeply with my Italian upbringing. Also, Franco Battiato's 'Il re del mondo'. All his music is fantastic! From his very early prog to later pop music. It's really the soundtrack of my childhood and his lyrics are amazing.
If you enjoyed this interview with Francesca Burattelli and would like to find out more about her work, visit her on Instagram.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I've always been singing and I reacted very instinctively to music as a child - I would often make small 'shows' for my family, turning off the TV, putting on my only cassette and sing and dance to Madonna's 'like a Virgin'. I went to catholic nun kindergarten and was so happy to discover that my biggest idol from the cassette was named after holy Mary and was singing about being Jesus' mother. (laughs)
I wanted so badly to join a choir but we moved around a lot when I was a child, so it never really happened. I was 9 when we moved to Denmark and I asked my mom if I could take piano lessons. I wanted to learn classical piano, I loved classical music as a kid and my mom would play Dvořák while cleaning the house.
Nobody in my family plays music except my brother, who had a noise band, sang and played the clarinet. That was of great inspiration for me. I was 14 at the time - around that period I heard Björk for the first time and it totally blew my mind. I had never heard anything like that and it seemed like a portal to the craziest fantasy world. I guess that made me decide to make my own music.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
For me listening to music can be extremely healing, spiritually but physically as well. It can somehow rinse out physical and emotional distress, frustration, it can release anger and unblock mental knots. I sometimes use it to access certain feelings or to put a frame around situations in my life, so I can understand better what happens with me and around me. It is as if music can contain the feelings that we find hard to contain within ourselves.
I need to have a constant soundtrack in my life, so when I find something that resonates with me in that particular period of my life I listen to it constantly, as if I need to assimilate it in my cells. (laughs) I guess this experience also affects my way of composing.
Lately some friends of mine talked about one's 'inner music' - it being something we are born with, even before we are 'exposed' to music, before being influenced by the music of one's surroundings. I feel like I've somehow found a portal to my 'inner music' only in the past years; it is the most overwhelming and fulfilling feeling I've ever had.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
Even though I've been making music for many years, I was only able to create my 'own kind of music' in the past 5 years.
In the beginning I was still mimicking and imitating the music I loved, but I was never really satisfied. I started studying at the Art Academy in Amsterdam when I was 22 and struggled for the entire period to convince my professors to let me play music as part of my practice. I had to invent ways of 'camouflaging' music into a Fine Art realm, through performances and sound-installations.
Today I'm really happy to have gone that way around music - I think this kind of Fine Art detour gave something very important to my music and my entire way of thinking compostion. So I'm grateful for that.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
As the youngest sibling of 4. I always had to mimic the moves and actions of others as a way of learning to manoeuvre in the world. It was an unconscious thing, a kind of early reflex, to watch and learn and repeat. I think this gave me an early sense of curiosity and a tendency to observe and accumulate information.
At the same time it took me longer to realize what my own interests were and what appealed deepest to my heart. But as soon as I realised the freedom of having my own passions, independently from what I saw and experienced around me, it gave me a kind of high that still fuels my artistic practice.
One of my main struggles in everything I do, is navigating between the need to belong to the 'family' (that being a group / community / society / movement whatever that might be) and the urge to be detached from it - not being defined or stuck in any category. This feeling culminated when we moved from Italy to Denmark, in a negative feeling of 'not-belonging'. So I spent many years trying to accommodate, trying to understand and blend into my surroundings, but never really managed to do it. I was therefore constantly left with a feeling of estrangement.
But now I'm thankful for the kind of duality I unconsciously was raised in, and how it affects my music and art, as well as what I'm drawn towards.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
I'm fascinated by the transition from speech to song, and how the melodic element alters our notion of language.
As a singer and composer I question the use of the different aspects of the voice as being on one side an instrument and on the other the ‘narrator’- a melodic vehicle on one hand, and a narrative force on the other. I find it interesting to look at the expectations we have to the singing voice carrying both aspects - though being aware of the fact that the one aspect somehow compromises the other - the melodic aspect challenges the use of language (narration) and vice versa.
I like to work at this meeting point and think of my compositions as one coherent story containing series of connected texts - more than separate tracks with different narrations. I often think of a character gallery that unravels throughout the songs, therefore closer to the tradition of opera or theater - though being only one voice executing the storytelling.
I use my voice somewhere in between ‘spoken words’, ‘rap’ or ‘chanting’, working in and out of the transition from spoken to sung. Consciously using both aspects of my voice not purely as stylistic or aesthetic choices, but to enhance the awareness of both qualities. My goal is always to elevate the textual and lyrical aspect of the compositions, trying not to simplify the language in order to make it more ‘singable’.
At the same time I like to celebrate the decorative and ornamental aspects of the singing voice, tracing it back to my roots in traditional South-Italian (Neapolitan) music. What I use from the Neapolitan style is the exaggeration of pathos, the romantic, the more theatrical approach - what for me results in the sentimentality of singing. I like to mix this sentiment with the more textual (somewhat intellectual) loaded parts of the ‘spoken’ voice. Therefore I also make use of several languages, Italian, Danish and English, using the different qualities of their sounds.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I'm definitely interested in a 'music of the future', but that can contain a great level of tradition. I've never understood why people would make music that just repeats music that has already been made, I find it boring.
That doesn't mean that there can't be elements from certain genres, but I definitely prefer music that tries to evolve and create new worlds and aesthetics.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
In composing I'm still not sure what my strategy is; I work very instinctively. I have long periods where I don't make any music at all - then I just rehearse the saxophone and my singing and try to write text. When I do start to compose, it is really intense and I make the draft of a whole album in one go.
I rarely work on singular individual tracks, only for collaborations. In the long periods where I don't compose I try to learn technical stuff for production and I read books, I've just finished 'Giovanni's room'.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
My days are never really similar at the moment, but I do like to get up early and take a long time to eat breakfast and get ready. I hate to rush out of the door - in general it's vital for me to have a quiet and cozy home and I love to live alone. I have severe OCD and therefore many routines.
If I have time in the morning I do yoga and squats. (laughs) I don't have a studio at the moment so I work from home, but normally I would go to the studio and spend the entire day there and come home late.
I try to go for a walk every day, it helps my brain to calm down and it's the best way for me to listen to things I've just recorded.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
One of my biggest idols is Kate Bush, and I've always been inspired by her song writing and her use of the voice. She is so theatrical and her texts are so vivid and generous. One of my favourite songs by her is 'Song of Solomon' and I love the way in which she shifts from one narrating voice to the other.
When I compose I make a kind of gallery with all the characters and their relations to each other, and try to have all their voices represented in the songs, having several narrating voices in one song for instance. Almost like an opera where I play all the characters. This might really not be visible for the listener, but it helps me to let go of my ego in the writing.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
I mostly work alone, but for my latest album I've collaborated with my friends and colleagues Villads Klint (Minais B) and Albert Hertz (Aper).
In 2019 I presented what I thought was a finished album to label Anyines - Villads Klint then proposed that we could work on the material together instead of him just mixing the music. So that's how the collaboration started, then Albert Hertz joined in, and it was quite overwhelming for me in the beginning. It was difficult to see the material change until I realized that I had to let go of it and trust them. I learned so much from letting go even though I was so confused and emotional in the process.
In my other project, Gate Hand with Claus Haxholm, the process is entirely different since we create everything together from start. I also love this way of working, sending ideas to each other and building the music up as a mosaic or puzzle.
The latest collaboration is with Melodi Ghazal where I play the saxophone in her solo project. I also really enjoy this way of collaborating, where I'm an instrumentalist on another’s material - it's a nice way to let go of ones ego and really enjoy the music, especially the live acts.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
This is a huge question, I don't dare to say what the role of music is in society in these times. What I try to do with my music is to create an emotional bridge and bond to the world. I try to react on what I experience in life and give it back to the 'world' in my translation. It's an interaction and music filters whatever emotions the world inflicts on me.
That's at least how I feel listening to other people’s music - I'm grateful to witness how they experience being alive. It goes back to the idea of healing - music can be consoling but also exalting, a way to elevate each other when this world feels too ugly and hard to be in.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
Mainly when going throgh heartbreaks. It might be a cliché, but music has always played a huge role both when I've fallen in love and in break-ups, and I'm so fascinated by the theme of love in music, almost as an anthropological study.
After ending a relationship that lasted for almost 7 years, I had a long period of grief and almost mourning. I literally felt sick. The only thing that slightly alleviated the feeling of loss and pain, was listening to music. I remember listening to Alice Coltranes' Turiya sings and feeling that the music literally had a healing power.
Later on, what helped my digest that whole emotional trauma was to make music - I made my first album Condition at that time. Because music is such an vaste / immense dimension, I realized how that particular sorrow over a heartbreak, actually resonated with deeper sorrows from my childhood, and how all these emotions are linked.
I don't think there are any artforms that can appeal as immediately to universal big feelings like that.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
I don't have any thoughts about this, other than that both music and science come from (hopefully) a wish to expand our consciousness and understanding of the world.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
For me performing is entirely a way to connect. And for me music is almost sacred - it's a way to reach something beyond the material, it is the opposite of mundane.
Both things are essential, one couldn't only be in a state of epiphany all the time, but for me music is definitely the opposite of mundane. It can use aspects of the mundane and refer to mundane things, but its goal is to reveal the 'Holy' in things.
I know it sounds extreme, but for me music is a kind of religious or sacred act, a ritual. And it is my way to connect to something larger then myself.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
What I said before about music being sacred is somehow linked to this. I do believe that music comes from the heart and hits the heart of others. Music is always communicative- even when I make music that I don't intend or manage to get out in the world, it's still a kind of message, the starting point is always a wish to express.
That's why music shouldn't be intellectualized or rationalized. It's too subjective in its form - and that's the beauty of it.