Monday, 6 April 2015

Tomaga; Making the familiar unfamiliar.

Photo by Antonio Curcetti.

Tomaga is comprised of multi-instrumentalists Valentina Magaletti and Tom Relleen. My first experience of them was live at Corsica Studios last year, their set was a mesmerising collection of sound sculptures-cum-music, fluid, rhythmic, organic. Seeming to ignore any genre delineation their music has been described as "darkly psychedelic, elusive and deeply imbued with images – as though they have set some curiously unsettled, surreal dreams to music"(1). With a new album coming out and a tour supporting Wire coming up they were kind enough to agree to an interview. 

You are both part of The Oscillation- is that how you started playing together or had you worked together before? How did the idea for Tomaga emerge?

We have been playing together for quite a while not just as part of The Oscillation, also touring and recording with other artists. Even if we like heavy psych and stoner rock we have never felt musically complete exploring just that musical genre. Tomaga began as an experiment in which all of our thoughts and emotions about music can collide with less attention to musical boundaries. We haven’t got a clear idea of what we want this project to sound like. If we have anything we have ideas about what we don’t want it to sound like, so really it is more like a mental state, or some kind of radio station of the unconscious, in which sunny days, rainy afternoon and long, long nights translate themselves into sounds via an endlessly changing collection of instruments.

You both play with a range of musicians-do these different collaborations have an ongoing effect on the way you play and approach music?

We like to think about it like a big dysfunctional family. We live surrounded by musicians and artists and we wouldn’t be able to achieve anything without this constant feedback and exchange of works and ideas. We have always been big supporters of what come out from musical communities, from La Monte Young’s, to Sun Ra, to Gnod this togetherness always delivers interesting results. Moreover, it reduces the cancer of the ego of many musicians out there who spend their creative talent getting too stuck into themselves. Making music should be about the divestment of the ego and submission to expression. When this is achieved it is like therapy from modern life! 

The second Tomaga release 'Futura Grotesk' came out last year and you have an album coming out this April on Blank Editions. Is the latest album a continuation of the style of 'Futura Grotesk' or a new direction? How did the ideas for this album take shape? 

We have a tape release on Blank Editions out on the 15th of April. It is a collection of works recorded at the same time as 'Futura Grotesk'. We spent a few days listening back to hours of material left from these sessions and thought that there was a lot of good stuff that would have been great to put out somehow. David Blanco contacted us asking if we were interested in a collaboration so we undertook a mammoth editing session and and created “Familiar Obstacles”. We are happy that Tomaga will release on Blank Editions, alongside the likes of Thurston Moore, Ted Milton, Yuki Tsujii. The label has a great aesthetic, as does it’s sister label Test Centre. It was a natural home for Tomaga music.

How did the recording processes for the two albums evolve? Were they similar or different? Is it a balancing act between improvisation and structure?

As mentioned above the process was the same. We have regular improvising sessions, mainly in studios in east London, and from these some material is created fully formed, whilst other’s begin from a tiny element that we like, that we might change and distort and build something new on top of.  We spend most of or time building a sonic environment to improvise in, so there is a tension between improvising and the limits of the sonic world that we have put ourselves into.

When you play live do you aim to replicate the studio recordings or use them as a 'launch pad' to work out from? How much of a part does the immediate environment-the audience/ building- play?

We were really surprised at first on how much we both gained from the live show! It is something that shaped up itself so naturally in a form that neither of us rationally planned or schemed. After the first few shows we became aware of the power of the project and we started to work around this new creature. It is surely bigger than its parts. It sounds different every time. We practice a lot and we bring some structures from the recordings but the audience and the place play a big part.

Nic Endo has on her Twitter page that "There is purity in noise that can serve as a very direct way of communicating emotion..." (2) is Tomaga's music a transposing of emotion into sound or more conceptual? 

We agree with Nic Endo’s statement about noise, and would equally apply it to improvising on another instruments, such as drums. Tomaga is our way to transpose our various emotions, of boredom, rage, fragility, joy. It acts as a way of expressing them, non-linguistically, so it is a bit like therapy or something. Or self-defense, a way of translating the world and getting something off our chests! 

Later this month (April 12-24) you are playing The Lexington and touring with Wire-how did that come about?

We jammed a few times with Colin Newman and Matthew Simms from Wire and became friends before starting working as Tomaga. When the record came out they liked it and invited us to tour with them. We feel incredibly honoured to support such a British institution! I still remember the day I bought my copy of Pink Flag.

What cultural resources (writers/thinkers/musicians/etc) have you drawn on, and been influenced by, as people and musicians?

They say that creativity is copying from many different sources as opposed to plagiarism that is copying from a single one. I guess we are privileged enough to be able to spend our days immersing ourselves in readings, exhibitions, listening, hence we are constantly influenced by everything that gives us space, and so making a list is very hard, but here goes, in no particular order: Egisto Macchi, Werner Herzog, Hannah Hoch, Brutalism, The Necks, David Foster Wallace, Delia Derbyshire, Brodsky and Utkin, Brothers Quay, Terry Riley, Marlene Dumas, Palmbomen, Chris Watson, This Heat, Charles Cohen, Roberto Cacciapaglia, Aperol.

Thanks to Valentina and Tom for interview.

You can find out more about Tomaga and hear some of their extraordinary music here 
Their new album 'Familiar Obstacles' is out soon on Blank Editions




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