Mana’s brand of labyrinthine, neo-classical, electronic experimentation returns with his latest offering Seven Steps Behind.
Self-described as ‘an electronic album that doesn’t sound electronic’, many of the tracks feature the surprising sonic inclusions of prepared pianos, harpsichords, cellos and flutes. Seven Steps Behind is a sequence of musical tributaries evoking the ambiguity between dreams and reality, Restless, yet melancholic, it creates a delicate balance between melody and dissonance.
We sat down with Mana to talk about the intricacies of his new works, getting signed to Hyperdub and what the future holds for the inimitable creative.
From being familiar with your work, your musical range and influences appear to be vast. To what musical background or other influences do you attribute your distinctive sound?
I never actually had any academic training, nor studied an instrument. I never went to composer school. I had a few private lessons on piano and composition but not much. I always grew my knowledge and my way of working on my own. I basically listened to a lot of modern classical music, chamber music, film soundtracks, some Nick Cave. I didn’t listen to much electronic or much of things that were happening at the time. So, with this record I tried to dig into the more subconscious part of myself. I tried to use the images and emotional responses of my dreams to inspire the music on this record… A sort of dream sequence.
Seven Steps Behind is an unapologetically “beatless” album. Does this cultivate the greater depth of texture and space within this album?
My former project Vaghe Stelle had a lot of beats, a lot of drums and percussion. So, when I started Mana, I decided to leave more space for the melodies, to the instruments and tried to build on that. Using that space I tried to recreate the same grooves I was using before, without using the drums. I found that I had way more fun in composing music that way. I had much more space and I didn’t have a fixed structure to follow. It gave me a more elastic timeline.
The sounds and instrumentation choices are really surprising within your musical sphere. You have sounds that are quintessential within the realm of the Baroque classical period, most notably the harpsichord, can you reveal why you used these?
I have an obsessive relationship with music I like. If music appeals or a sound appeals to me, I listen over and over, maybe fifty times a day. So, if there is a musical aspect that I’m taken with, I really want to use that melody line or the instrumentation in my music. I will gather up all the sounds that give me emotion or catch my interest and I use them. I like to make music instinctively.
The album artwork is of a fractured mask split into four pieces and the mask itself seems to be wearing an expression of fear and repulsion. Does this artwork convey a larger theme within the album?
I am really into symbology, history and mythology, especially in the areas of Italy and the Mediterranean. There is a particular mask from the Mamuthones in Sardinia and this mask is worn during an ancient Pagan ritual in a small town in Sardinia called, Mamoiada. The mask represents people discovering themselves, transcending what other people think of them and finally being yourself. I interpreted it as being comfortable with the deepest self, digging into the subconscious and putting it on display. So, the artwork represents me offering my dreams and subconscious in a musical form.
On the track ‘Myopia for the Future’ your voice makes its debut, albeit as a heavily manipulated, indecipherable version of it. Was this non-lyrical delivery designed to invoke a certain reaction for the listener or another melodic sonic layer?
I am actually screaming things in a distortion pedal. The lyrics are purposely hidden because I wanted to give the impression or create the scene that you can’t see what is going to happen in the future, that there is nothing predictable.
Sticking to the use of your vocals, on the track ‘No body’ your vocal seems lodged between human and machine. It was unnerving yet strangely melodic. Sonically it is a very intriguing vocal performance. Did you set out to create a picture of this juxtaposition in the listener’s mind?
When I started that piece, I told myself I wanted to create a lyrical piece. I wanted to create an operatic way of singing, really epic in a way, using sounds I like. So, I used the synthesised vocals. In the end it came out sounding really not human yet still to me, lyrical and operatic.
Your voice features convey a fragmented, opaque narrative between nature and a modern, futuristic world, was this a central theme and inspiration for Seven Steps Behind as a whole?
I felt the need to make it more human even if the vocals are heavily affected. The use of the vocals was in order to tell a story in a clearer way than I was used to when I normally make music.
For the single ‘Solo’, there is a very intriguing and stylistically interesting video, could you tell us a little about the inspiration behind it?
The main inspiration is a cartoon called “La Linea” which means the line in Italian, created by Osvaldo Cavandoli. It was originally made for a TV commercial in the ’60s and it was light-hearted and made for kids. The whole cartoon is basically a line, moving on a timeline and the character was kind of funny. The idea was to take all the imagery and concepts of the artwork and make it light and easy to watch.
Hyperdub have a rich history of innovation and seem to allow their artist a creative space in which to explore new things. How has being signed to the label influenced how you grow creatively?
I think they gave me a big push. First of all, it’s kind of a dream come true, some of my favourite records are off the Hyperdub label such as, Burial’s Untrue or Dark Star’s North. Being on Hyperdub gives you a push to do your best, it makes you try to do something that is totally individual and also make something that was more understandable, so my music could be opened up to new listeners.
Seven Steps Behind is out now on Hyperdub.
Buy it here.
Words: Matthew O’Hare
Featured Image: Andrea Cossu