With Greek mythology sitting so firmly at the core of Italian composer Gigi Masin’s newly released album Calypso, it seems apt that his musical journey has been somewhat of an Odyssey itself. Born in Venice, Masin’s career has been filled with all the twists and turns that would make for a great novel, from nearly qualifying as a History teacher to working as a creative-come-porter in the theatres of Venice during the 70’s. Years later and with a myriad of sold out venues, plane journeys and albums under his belt, Masin still proudly calls the city he grew up in home. We caught up with him to discuss what lockdown looks like in the City of Bridges, Calypso and his rise to prominence.
You’ve mentioned before that your parents didn’t consider music to be a viable career path, a situation a lot of young artists and creatives find themselves in. What words of wisdom would you give to them that you wish you’d been given when you were younger?
That sometimes life is not simple and puts you to the test. Do not keep anger against those who do not understand, to those who do not believe in your ‘talent’, because we all have a talent and it will be discovered or protected or watered as you do with flowers. Looking back only to rewind the road made me rethink with compassion and without anguish, for everything will find its place.
You first began experimenting in the late 1970s when you began to make sound collages whilst working for theatres in Venice, how did you find yourself in that job?
It was exciting and beautiful; you enter into a new world and you feel comfortable as if you always belonged. Everything is great, fascinating, everything gives you new ideas and the imagination never stops. Everything was analogic, meaning ‘heavy to carry’, which made you look more like of a porter than a creative. While the actors sat down to have a coffee or a talk you always had a problem to solve with the tapes recorder or a cable that no longer worked. Unrepeatable, wonderful time…
Your newly released LP Calypso draws inspiration from the mythical Greek island of Ogygia which was sparked by a trip you took to Gavdos, the fabled location’s real-life counterpart. How important has the influence of travel and mythology been on your work over the years?
I am a History enthusiast, I read a lot and often I have travelled following my curiosity as a scholar. I would have loved to teach History. I missed a handful of exams to finish college and become a teacher, but music took my heart and mind and I didn’t think about anything else for a long time. Travel, how wonderful it is to travel! I drove all around Europe, then I started travelling by plane, which I love the most, I would never get off… Here, speaking of Gavdos you could say the journey to get there and the myth of Ulysses began many years ago in my mind, which took a very long road, until a fairy reminded me of that journey I had to finish…
Where’s next on the bucket list?
Honestly sometimes I feel like a child on Christmas Eve, there are so many things to discover. I’d say now I’m just going to go back to travelling and playing in concert, start step by step thinking about the next record and let the fantasy do its job. There are a couple of projects I’d like to tackle, but sometimes it takes a lot longer than you would like. Who knows…
Have you found that the creative process behind producing an album has changed a lot for you over the years?
It is a small magic that is not easy to tell, to be summed up in a few words. Each time it is a new experience that always has to teach and always to surprise; the path that guides you to understand what you can talk about, what you want to tell. Let the music take your hand and accompany you where you did not expect to go, a journey whose destination is sometimes not what you thought but is beautiful, a real emotion, a surprise. A result is accomplished when the music decides that it is time to look forward to the next time, to the next meeting with the next fantasy.
Your 1986 debut Wind was originally developed as a personal project, the aim being to distribute the album to friends as a gift. The record remained relatively unknown for nearly three decades until crate diggers and dedicated early ambient fans propelled it to the cult status it now holds. How strange is it for you, 30 years on, to see original copies of your LP regularly fetch over $500 online?
I have some doubts that collectors are all full of love for music and music only, otherwise we would not see records, whose importance is perhaps relative, to reach prices that have nothing to do with their musical content. So it seemed to me that rather than being appreciated for the music, Wind was rewarded for its rarity, being an object rather than a content. Needless to say, the thing, as understandable as it was, troubled me and surprised me so much.
You re-released Wind after you realised young listeners were struggling to find the money to match the price tag attached to original copies. Is there an album you can recall dying to get your hands on as a young music fan?
When I spent all my money buying records and taking trains and travelling by car for hours to look for that record or look for news, or anything that would never be imported to Italy, the list of rare records soon turned into the list of records close to my heart. I never paid attention except to my sensitivity and what move my heart and brain. Fortunately, years ago there was no Internet and no one tried to get rich by selling records at prices outside of comprehension. Of course, I remember that there were records that cost some sacrifice but still, we were light years away from the speculation I see today.
Jumping from young music fan to the present day, you recently played a live set as part of Boiler Room’s ’Streaming from Isolation’ series. How was that experience?
Exciting… In this period of pandemic, playing is a commitment and a sign of willingness to overcome the difficulties, so I appreciated and supported with all my heart the initiative to open our homes for concerts at a distance. It’s like a building that opens its windows in the spring to let the sun in.
You’ve lived and worked in the beautiful metropolis of Venice your whole life, a city which has been making headlines during the Coronavirus after photos of the visibly clearer canals emerged, showing the return of some usually elusive wildlife. Have you noticed the impact of climate change and tourism on the city during your lifetime?
It is difficult to explain the transformation of such a particular and unique city. But if possible, the images that Venice gives us during this period of pandemic gave the right response. Jellyfish in the canals, myriads of fish, seahorses that go among the hundreds of islands and bridges that make the city an authentic jewel. The difference between the tourist and the traveller is so clear and understandable in Venice. It is a real tsunami of people who make it impossible for a Venetian to live in serenity, to walk, to move in the city so particular and wonderful. You understand without any effort that the Venetians are welcoming and proud of the place where they live, and are absolutely innocent of the havoc and barbarism that brings money only to a few people, who are probably not Venetian at all.
Unfortunately I imagine the Coronavirus has put a serious question mark over a fair few of your plans, but nevertheless, what does next year or so hold for you?
In the face of the unknown we have two answers: fear or strength. A force even minimal, serene, aware of the difficulties but trying to find a bridge to the future. Of course, all our plans and projects, concerts and tours have been cancelled or postponed. That’s understandable but terrible in terms of money and organization. We take this difficulty with the hope of overcoming it and finding even more beautiful and precious things beyond the horizon. This situation can be an important moment for our hearts and for our projects, professional and human. I am sure that under the thorns that today frighten us, we can expect even sweeter fruits.
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Image courtesy of PR.