Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Well, from a certain point in my life on, I had the great luck of having my own studio very close to the apartment where I live with my family, so I can move back and forth every time I need to. Normally, I work at night. This is not romantic, I swear! I have two little kids and the best time for being calm with no rush, right now, is during the night.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I think it is my latest project, HUMANBEING. It is a very personal one. Paradoxically, so personal that I needed to create a new identity, a virgin one separate from the name I’ve made for myself as “Rossano Baldini”.
It’s a recording that not only feels imbued with the wondrous nature of the cycle of life and birth, but also harkens back to my own childhood. My teenage dream was to compose my own music and to do my own thing, but as I made a name as a composer and a pianist, the teenage dream disappeared. I’ve been lucky to make my living as a musician – in Italy that's like winning the lottery. But two years ago I finally decided to go into my studio and start creating with no commission at all, just for myself. The first half of HUMANBEING was written in off hours over the next year and a half, after my newborn daughter had gone to sleep. In early 2020, when the pandemic hit, I suddenly found myself with no touring or composing obligations. As with so many musicians around the world, time - formerly such a luxury - was suddenly available in abundance. So, I returned to my deeply personal project, and the album’s second half took place in merely a matter of months.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Growing up, during my formative years, in the pretty serious Roman academic world such as the Conservatory of music, I have always been working on concentration and how to achieve it: I believe that the best thing I can say is to be focused on one and only one thing.
When in the studio, I naturally try to just be inside my workflow, not looking at the phone or at the emails. That’s why I prefer working at night, people are usually sleeping and cannot bother you! A fundamental prerogative to be creative, for me, is to be alone. When I am with other artists, it is usually for a comparison on some matters, analyzing what has been done or performing something predefined earlier.
The creative process goes step by step with the experiment, that’s why you also need to accept the errors. It is necessary and part of the process. The thing is being there and marking the territory. The result is a constant ability of choosing what to keep and what to throw away.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I tell you the truth, and I'll be a little unpopular about it: I don't think music can heal you or make you sick. Medicine does that and psychoanalysis too. Please, don't think I’m cynical, but in my opinion these therapeutic musical aspects, in the common sense, are overrated. Obviously, there is Music Therapy and there are many studies that show how, in clinical cases, music is a very important support for many pathologies. What I don’t like is the common thought that a song can solve your heart problems or bring you happiness: this has always seemed a little shallow to me. Music has been part of my life for as long as I can remember and I found part of myself inside the piano. I respect her very much (in Italian music is female) and I still consider it very mysterious and fascinating. An experience that hurt me easily is the abuse of background music everywhere: in the supermarkets, in the airports, even in the restaurants‘ toilets. Why?
As the great Miles Davis said: ”Music is the framework around the silence”. Nowadays we barely know what silence is.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I think that music has always been a perfect place for exchanges between cultures, even ones which are totally distant from one other. Mozart imported the cymbals from Turkey, Debussy used the hexatonic scales he heard in Java orchestras. Artists have always listened to the sounds around them: they’re the less violent people in the world, because they have fed diversity as a value since the beginning of their training.
The fine line you’re talking about and the academic concept of cultural appropriation leaves me a bit confused: It would seem that marking those differences and wanting to distinguish who generated what and why has a conservative effect that doesn’t fit with the nature of music - an impure art par excellence.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I am obviously thinking about the movies. As soon as I finished my musical studies, I applied at the Cinema University in Rome because I wanted to know everything about it. From there to the soundtracks’ composition it was a short step.
The connection between sight and hearing is so profound: I have read of recent studies that say that when we observe an image - let’s say a man playing a trumpet - not only the visual cortex is activated, but also the auditory one. And all this process happens in a matter of milliseconds. Talking about connections, on HUMANBEING’s debut album, each of the six pieces is named for an organ or component of the human body: Flesh, Blood, Skin, Lungs, Liver, Heart. As with their namesakes, each one is a vital element on its own, but they all interconnect and function together as a complex and vibrant whole. The pieces are inextricable from one another, fusing together to form a dynamic organism. Each of these organs have also been metaphorically associated with human emotions, though I purposely left such ties ambiguous, allowing listeners to find their own personal connections to the feelings suggested by these sounds.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
This is a tricky question. I think the definition of being an artist is quite complicated. I can recall some of the characteristics I assume are proper for an artist: integrity, consistency, and so on. The problem is the following: is it my art which defines my identity, or is it my identity as a human which defines my art?
My main goal, when I’m composing, is to be emotional but not sentimental. I write music from strong emotions, but what is rage for me might be fury for you and calm for someone else. So I can’t be precise, but I can tell a story. If this story has something to do with someone else’s life, then my intent was right and my music is not self-referential, which is the worst thing that can happen to a piece of art.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
A lot. The gravity in the beginning of Beethoven's Patétique has no counterpart in simple words. As a language with its own grammar, syntax, etc, music is not afraid to face up to grandiose themes, without the use of words.
When I started creating music as HUMANBEING, that was a timely reinvention, occurring at a moment when we’ve all been starkly reminded of our fragile biological nature at the same time as we’re more interconnected than ever in the virtual realm. Transcending the things’ natural order is an ambition that music has always had.