Telekom Electronic Beats

Unwinding With CTM Star Lorenzo Senni After Untune

Lorenzo Senni is no longer the sole property of the underground. The Italian composer’s early releases appeared in 2008 on Simon Scott’s Kesh imprint and then on his own Presto!?, and his detailed, effervescent electronic music rapidly gained the respect of abstract computer music fans. However, he didn’t remain a secret for long. His profile reached new heights with the release of his “pointillistic trance” albums Quantum Jelly (2012) and Superimpositions (2014), and after his appearances at the avant garde music and festivals Unsound and CTM, Senni’s name was on many lips.

Senni’s trance works marry the analytic precision of the likes of Florian Hecker with the wide-eyed euphoria of ‘90s hardstyle, allowing the genre’s beatless moments to disperse in seemingly endless sequences. Senni was perhaps the number-one breakout artist at the Unsound Festival in Krakow last fall, and I met him in Berlin shortly after another standout performance at CTM, where he presented new piece titled Advanced Abstract Trance. The project, which had only been performed as a studio version until CTM, dissects the genre’s aggressive drops and presents them in a sterile yet overwhelming display, punctuated by obscene carbon dioxide cannon explosions. Though the performance is certainly puzzling, it’s also enticingly playful and optimisitic—much like Senni himself.

Laurie Tompkins: Tell me about Advanced Abstract Trance.

Lorenzo Senni: Before Superimpositions and Quantum Jelly I did a record of abstract computer music called Dunno. I wanted to go back in that direction and use the sonic material that currently interests me. Quantum Jelly was born because I was interested in the build-up of trance tracks. I went through thousands of tracks and analyzed build-ups to see what was going on. I used the same method on Advanced Abstract Trance, but I was looking for breakdowns and studying what was going on with the falling bass and the moments that follow the drop, when the producers need to keep the tension high but provide a sense of release. I put together a display of these moments. It can be a stressful and frustrating listen sometimes because it seems to give false starts.

Yesterday, a friend asked me, “Why don’t you layer it?” The answer is, because it’s supposed to be a display that wants to be a composition, rather than a composition in itself. I hope it will develop every time I do it. There were already bits written by [computer music trio] Evol in this performance. Friends who I really respect are slowly joining the project, which will become a collaboration.

Superimpositions is completely beatless, and the moments between the beats of a standard trance track are really stretched out. AAT is all attacks, but because you’re hearing these isolated explosions one after the other it defeats itself,  it refuses to build up.

Exactly. Neither are supposed to build up. Everyone has an idea of how this material develops in a usual track. When you give just a few seconds and then another one, the brain wants it to go somewhere over time, but instead, I’m giving another strong impulse for the sequence to restart. This material is made to climax, and it’s very precise. If you don’t have time to make it explode, and you have another strong input, you begin again.

Do the carbon dioxide cannons give people a proper drop within the context of these stunted moments?

They raise the hope that there will be a drop. Usually, carbon dioxide cannons go off and everyone goes wild. In AAT it’s a bit mutilated, but at the end it’s a real drop with this long CO2 emission until the gas finishes. When the cannons are winding down, the pressure increases and it sounds like a trance build-up. It’s a cold breeze that’s acoustic, loud, and very precise.

So, essentially, you’re bringing club dirtiness into the concert space.

Exactly—or, more than exactly. It’s circumscribed euphoria.

What’s the attraction of reimagining trance? With the title Superimpositions, for instance, there’s a sense that the super saw waves in your Roland JP-800 are piling up, but also the idea that if you could go back to early hardcore afresh you could rewrite its history.

We have a different point of view and different technology now compared to when trance was first made, but it’s also important to me that we have an emotional link with it. These tracks are highly structured and dry, and without at least a bit of emotion they’re uninteresting.

A title like “Elegant and Never Tiring” from Superimpositions really evokes that feel of infinity in your music. To me, infinity embodies the optimism of the never-ending party, but it also taps into this contemporary reality of an endlessly overbearing social life.

For me, it’s just a display. I really like the idea that people have to make an effort with the music. With AAT, I give short inputs and the audience has to develop it into a longer idea. With Quantum Jelly, it’s an inverse process. For a period, I was very into early Plastikman, before Consumed. When you get the archives box you also get the studio takes. You’ll have an 11 minute track with a 50 minute studio version, which is super precise with the filter moving in a very minimal way. I have this little section of a longer build because I like the idea of really learning from something.

Trance, like many ’90s dance styles, is highly accelerated. Zooming in on a small section of the build up is, to me, political. Perhaps the music urges us to slow down, concentrate wholly and re-evaluate?

I was looking at this musical structure seated in my studio, and not trying to make club tracks. I wasn’t looking at where the track could go but something very different. So in that sense, yes—but I’ve also had very diverse reactions. Sometimes it was very confrontational, and sometimes people were really happy even though it was 4 in the morning and they expected beats. I’m very open to the reaction, and honestly I’m not interested in being challenging just for myself. It’s for an audience.

Your stuff is certainly provocative in a different way to Florian Hecker. There’s less aggression in your music, it lures you in.

Maybe I could play loud or play a track for 15 minutes, but I’m more interested in leaving a bit of space for people to get involved. If it’s not enjoyable because of its length, at least you can pick up on its melodies. I’m interested in seducing people into a territory where they feel comfortable, but if they look around, they’re like, “Where am I?” When I’m in the studio I fight to be not too much one way or the other. If I go too much into routine trance then I’ve failed, and if I go too much into abstraction and lose the emotion, I’ve also failed. It should be just on the precipice.

There’s so much cheese with trance that if you don’t play it just right, there’s a risk you really could make something rubbish.

It’s very risky and that’s important. It’s interesting in that it takes you into the mainstream, and you have to deal with things outside the closed circle. I like playing with fire and keeping things moving.

Quantum Jelly was released on Editions Mego, which puts it in a crucial context of abstract computer music, despite the trance influence. When you work on something, are you creating with a specific imprint in mind?

I’ve always liked Mego, and when I was nearly finished I only sent one demo out and it was to Peter [Rehberg]. I said, “I’m not used to sending out demos, but you should listen to this.” He wrote back to me in 30 minutes saying “Let’s do it. Track 06 should be twice as long.” I wasn’t really thinking about the label, but I wanted Peter to hear it. With this new material, I got a lot of propositions from some unexpected labels, but I had to ask them to let me go deeper before I committed. I want to be free of their expectations, and totally proud of what I’m presenting. People around me are making a lot of records, like maybe three every year, but I want to come back every few years with something condensed and strong.

It must be a struggle to be that disciplined.

I like that you used the word “struggle.” I was reading this interview with an artist really respect, and I was a little disappointed in him saying how much fun it was to make a record. Even if I can understand what he means for himself, I can’t accept the word “fun” from an insider’s perspective. It’s fun when I’m here with you, drinking, and when I get to play and meet people through music, but being in the studio trying to make something good is really a struggle.

Maybe there’s the context of dance music, and the function of these things being party fuel?

Do you think that if you talked to Robert Hood or Plastikman, or Carl Craig doing their good stuff they’d say it’s fun? I just can’t see it.

I was reading some of the sculptor Richard Serra’s writings recently and he was saying that the quality of work is in the effort that’s gone into it. Even if you end up with a minimal final piece, you can somehow feel the hours that contribute to something really strong.

Exactly. Friends always kid with me like “It’s easy for you, you just open the filter,” but it’s a real struggle.

To read more coverage of CTM 2015, click here, and to read our review of Unsound 2014, click here.

Published February 10, 2015. Words by laurietompkins.