As Zammuto’s sound collages reveal themselves, our own imagination kicks in, creating all sorts of possible story threads. His music is no longer outside us, but inside, as we follow his lead, embracing it as it evolves and develops. A drum lick turns into a metronome, suggesting the passage of time, then become more passionate a few seconds later. Telephone messages become heartbreaking slices-of-life that we have somehow intruded upon. We become part of the creation, and it becomes part of us. What a trip.
Indeed, he is musician whose main appeal is to the mind, rather than the more atavistic appeal of typical rock bands where they go for the gonads. His musical reach is vimineous, and those of us in the Berkshires are going to be able to preview the next chapter in his creative life when he appears at Mass MoCA on Friday, February 3, 2012 at 8:00 pm.
“We’re really looking forward to trying out our new songs.” – Nick Zammuto
Zammuto’s new band has been hotly anticipated and that it should debut at Mass MoCA is just perfect. Home to Banglewood and two Solid Sound Festivals, the performing arts division of the visual museum has its finger on the pulse of what is hot and new, with a constantly changing menu of up and coming bands, including Zammuto’s The Books which packed the place to the rafters summer before last.
Previously, as part of the North Adams based duo The Books, Zammuto received widespread critical acclaim and made great strides on the national level, touring extensively supporting major tours and headlining as well.
The New Group and Show
As with The Books, this Zammuto show will include a tightly integrated video projection, synched rhythmically with the performance. The show will focus on cuts from the new band, as well as classics from The Books and some never-before-performed Books tracks.
The Zammuto debut concert begins with a screening of the 35-minute film Achantè, directed by Emily McMehen and Geoffrey Sautner, which includes a brilliant musical score by Zammuto. It is an intimate, rhythmic portrait of Haitian Vodou featuring four communities in the south of Haiti. It parallels the Vodou creation story with the historical creation of the free nation of Haiti. There is little dialogue, so the film relies heavily on the score to communicate the overall feel.
Zammuto elaborates on the writing process: “As the composer I was awestruck by these images of ‘possession’. They are extremely intense, but instead of being dark or scary, I found a palpable sense of humanity and joy”.
Talking with Zammuto
Like so many who are unable to resist listening to his music and parsing every note, we long ago learned to just let it flow, and to enjoy the positive mood it always managed to induce. Still we had questions. And Nick was kind enough to indulge us by answering them.
Who will be doing the visual elements referred to in the news release?
I will be doing all of the visuals, as I did most of them in the Books. I’m working on them now, and only some of them will be ready for the show, but the band is extremely fun to watch, so I don’t think they’ll be missed in these first shows. The strategy with the video is a bit different as well. I don’t want to cover over the great performances of the band, so the visuals will be limited to short bursts and set pieces, so that the set breaths a little more visually.
How seriously are you heading toward a more rock edge with a drummer etc?
Pretty seriously! I have a newfound love of the drums, having avoided them for years. I think I found one of the best drummers ever in Sean Dixon, and it’s been great fun to work with him on odd but compelling beats. He does this one thing where he plays a clave pattern half time in one hand and double time in the other…its brain warping if you know whats happening. We’ll definitely play that one at the show. The band is a four-piece, and it’s meant to be a much more visceral and direct sound than I’ve used in the past. A lot of it could be viewed as rock, given it’s driving rhythm and big bass, but there are some radical elements in there that might make you think twice about labeling it at all.
I searched around for a video that would clue people in to your new sound but came up empty. And hints?
I just released an EP called Idiom Wind which is making the rounds now, getting a lot of attention in the indie press. You can find it, and embed it, from my soundcloud page. http://soundcloud.com/zammuto/sets/zammuto-makemine-ep (Its definitely on the noisier side of what were doing, so it only represents that side of things. We don’t have any videos yet, it will take some time for those to develop, although a guy from Burlington VT made a short documentary about my process that will hopefully be out soon.
Tell us a bit about Idiom Wind, when will it be available for sale?
These three tracks are the reworked and mastered versions of the sketches I posted last summer and fall. The label Make Mine from London is releasing them as a limited edition 7″ vinyl in January 2012. They will also appear on the upcoming full length record on the American label Temporary Residence this spring. You can order the EP here, only 500 copies, hurry up, they’ll go fast. http://makemine.bandcamp.com/album/idiom-wind-single
How would you describe the evolution of your work thus far?
After working for ten years on The Books, it was time for me to branch out and get a fresh start with some new players, and luckily I found some great ones. Gene Back is the guitarist/violin/keyboard player from the books, and he’s continued on with me, Sean Dixon on drums, who’s deep love of polyrhythms makes hime really fun to work with, and my brother Mikey who is an incredibly soulful bass player. They all bring a tremendous energy to the studio and the stage, so I feel awash in inspiration these days because of them.
Sound wise, I’ve been able to improve my studio quite a bit this year which has upgraded my ears in a way. I have some new gear that has opend up some amazing avenues for exploration. One is a vocal processor that allows me to design really unique patches to sing through, which lends a certain man-machine element to some of the songs, not unlike James Blakes work, but more varied. It can all be used live in real time, which is oddly compelling to watch. The addition of drums has given the music a deeper throb, and got me thinking structurally in new ways, so the music has developed a stronger heartbeat. I’ve been working with Hammond organ and analog synth sounds more, which provides a growly texture and sustain to many of the chord progressions. All in all I feel like I just made my best record, so I’m psyched for what lies ahead.
Will Mass MoCA have any of your spoonboxes on sale, did you ever get time to make a few more. (I think they are great fun and clever) Can we embed the video of them in the story?
I wish, I made 15 of them last winter and they dissappeared really fast. Some day I’ll make more. Right now I’m working on a sort of home made laser show that will be incorporated into the Zammuto set. You’ll have to see it to believe it. I’m glad you’re fond of the spoonbox… kids love ‘em, especially. So sure, do embed the video. (The spoon boxes appear about 1:35 into the video.)
Zammuto and The Books
Zammuto’s previous outfit, the Books, performed multiple sold-out performances at MASS MoCA, including the memorable packed-to-the-rafters slot on opening night of the first Solid Sound Festival. The Books’ sound is characterized as sound collage, applying a cut and paste aesthetic, meticulously combining field recordings from old vinyl and cassettes with acoustic sources for a sound that is innovative as well as organic. Pitchfork describes the appeal of their technique: “Their music is easy to appreciate immediately because they use pretty sounds – it’s not harsh, noisy, they use space”. While still influenced by the sound collages created by the Books, in this new band Zammuto is gearing the sound more toward a traditional rock band with the incorporation of drums, which was rarely seen in past performances, and he will focus more on his composition skills.
At the end of this article we have embedded several Sound Cloud links that give a better overview of this complex artist’s development.
Nick Zammuto’s previous film work includes the HBO documentary In A Dream which earned him an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Individual Achievement In A Craft: Music & Sound, Biosphere 2 directed by Shawn Rosenheim, and textural sketches made for a BBC radio play titled Bring me the head of Phillip K. Dick.
Tickets for the debut of Zammuto on Feb. e at 8 pm at the Hunter Center includes the screening of Achantè and are $20 in advance, $24 the day of the performance, and $10 for students. Members are eligible for a 10% discount. Tickets are available through the MASS MoCA Box Office located on Marshall Street in North Adams, open from 11AM to 5PM every day but Tuesdays. Tickets can also be charged by phone by calling 413.662.2111 during Box Office hours or online at www.massmoca.org at any time.
The Evolution of Nick Zammuto’s Sound
The new band has a sound that keeps the best from the past, but also puts the band on the road to a stronger, more intense future profile. Just listen to his Idiom Wind EP.
While everyone hears what they are familiar with in new music, nobody will mistake either The Books nor Nick Zammuto himself as being copycats. Some hear echoes of Nirvana in his work. I hear Steve Reich (Different Trains), Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and oddly enough, the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, among others. Regardless, Zammuto is a one-of-a-kind, with a depth of musical knowldge deep enough to fuel his excursions into what can only be called contemporary soundtracks of human existence. Enjoy these samples of his output over the past decade, especially the Music for a French Elevator which are neatly composed vignettes of dream-like chansons.
Music for a French Elevator
“Four tracks from The Books’ EP, ‘Music for a French Elevator’, self-released in 2006. We wrote these tracks as a commision for The Ministry of Culture building in Paris, to be played in their elevator (except for ‘Three Day Night) which was a B-side of ‘The Lemon of Pink’.” – Nick Zammuto
4 Tracks from The Way Out by The Books.
“Four tracks from The Books’ fourth record, ‘The Way Out released in 2010 on Temporary Residence. I composed this record here in Vermont where I live now.”- Nick Zammuto
4 Tracks from The Lemon of Pink by The Books
“Originally released in 2004. I composed this record in North Adams MA, in a ramshackle apartment on High St. I remastered it and redesigned the CD/LP package for rerelease on Temporary Residence in March 2011.” – Nick Zammuto