Scott Davis speaks with Franco Falsini of Sensations’ Fix about what it means to be a musician, the evolution of his sound, and doing what it takes to pay the bills.
Franco Falsini is a wanderer. By freeing himself from the constraints of his hometown of Florence, Italy he is able to soar among the furthest reaches of both outer and inner space. He is a nomadic searcher, a seeker of beauty. Having left Florence for the States in 1969, he soon set up a communal jam environment in Richmond, Virginia and Sensations’ Fix was born. The band recorded six albums proper throughout the ’70s, and in 1975 Franco recorded Cold Nose (Naso Freddo), a beautiful, experimental meditation that provided the soundtrack to a film of the same title. After several cosmic serendipitous encounters, his son Jeyon was contacted by New York label RVNG and Franco’s masters were soon uncovered, including hours of unreleased gems. September 25 sees the release of Music Is Painting In the Air, a double cd/lp packed with these remixed and unheard treats. I talked to Franco over email and Skype about Sensations’ Fix, his time as an engineer in New York City in the eighties, his stellar dance label Interactive Test in the nineties, and his continuous experimentation with emerging recording technologies.
Scott Davis So, how did you end up in Virginia?
Franco Falsini I met an American girl, Lavinia Sherman, who was working as a waitress in the American Bar, Red Garter, where I was playing with the band Flying. We got married in 1969 in Florence, and in August of that summer we received the sad news that her mother was dying of cancer so we went back to Virginia, where we ended up staying for few years.
SD What was the vibe like during the time when this RVNG music was being recorded? How was the rehearsal situation?
FF We played all day and night and we recorded a lot. We lived together in houses that were chosen to make our lifestyle possible, and that meant away from the cities.
In the house were I lived In Virginia—where I met Keith Edwards (the drummer of the band) I had built a small recording studio in the basement where we recorded all our music. My son Jeyon kept all the tapes I recorded there and in the following years. He was
contacted by RVNG and they wanted information about me. Because the original records were selling at very high prices, they thought a remastered edition would make people happy. This record is a compilation of the work of that time. I like that they did it as a playlist instead of chronologically and a lot of that is Josh da Costa (of the band Regal Degal). He spent a lot of time with track selection and it really helped.
SD Where did the name Sensations’ Fix come from?
FF In the ’70s people had started this practice of shooting drugs that was referred as fixing, It was the band’s way of saying, instead of drugs . . . shoot this sensation into your body.
SD When you made Naso Fredo for the film, did you have an interest in making more soundtrack work? Was this album influenced by the mood of the film, or did you have some mellow solo jams that fit with the mood? What was the movie about?
FF The movie was about a person snorting cocaine and going crazy. It was a challenge technically and psyclogically since the music I provided was all done in alpha theta state, which is what you lose if you use coke. Music for me is also an alternative to drugs.
SD Was your ’90s dance label Interactive Test born from your interest in technology, or were you wanting to give the guitar a break?
FF I never felt myself to be a guitarist—I’m a musician and if you stay hours in studios, you learn sound, arrangements and many other important things. Being able to play an instrument helps, but the real drive is to be able to create music. From the beginning to the end, that is why I did Interactive Test. I think a lot of the Interactive Test stuff from the ’90s is pretty good stuff. At one point I went off and was just doing electronic music and was actually making things just for the dancefloor. We were making the records that we needed to make, you know? We would have the records pressed every week and then play them out.
SD Was this stuff known outside of Italy?
FF We sold them all over the world and in Italy a lot of the big DJ’s used them. We were a small label and we were doing things on a limited, one-shot basis without being tied to anyone. We could do a record one week and then do someone else next so it was a good experience.
SD These records are really, really good. I’m wondering why they haven’t been rediscovered like Sensations’ Fix?
FF Well, that’s because it hasn’t been connected. We were using different names, you know nicknames, aliases. It was like starting over. I think when people start to hear these, you know, they’ll start to understand me more, the path, you know? The musical path never stopped; it just changed.
More than being an instrumentalist, more than being a guitarist, I want to be a musician. To be able to compose, to compose out of nothing, out of samples even. Just to be able to compose. Facing composition in different ways will change your style and to me, that’s important. If you compose with the guitar all the time then you tend to become a cliche after awhile. So I would say that these records were a case of “let’s start with the drums or let’s start with some noise,” for example.
SD This music is really psychedelic though . . .
FF Oh yeah, everything has to be psychedelic man, you know how it is. . . . It’s like, we get high, and it’s working because we are in this situation.
SD How did you discover this music?
FF The thing was that a lot of these guys in the clubs wanted a system to record samples. Back then it was all midi. What I did was I used a couple of Amiga computers to trigger midi samples and then we had two or three Roland midi samplers with eight channels out, so we would have the sound on the Roland and the computer would trigger the sampler. That was the most we could do back then. I was using the Roland and they were really high-grade back then and they cost so much. We spent thousands of dollars on that system but they were only twenty-four beats. Now we’re using computers that are like you know—a regular PC has sixty-four beats man, which means that the ability for sampling has really evolved.
So if you get into digital, the possibilities that you have with the computer makes it so easy. The digital thing is just a strange media as far as I’m concerned. It’s something that needs to be used for this reason alone.
SD The program is like a middle man between the brain and hands though . . .
FF Well you still have the keyboard. I still play lines and stuff with my hands and still play off my head. Nowadays, though, you have a lot of programs, what I like to call “musical accelerators.” You know there’s a lot of talk about the CERN Large Hadron Collider, that thing that clashes atoms together and at that moment takes a picture to see if new atoms are created. Same thing with the music. You put all these random loops in and you sync them and check out the results. Some of it might be terrible, but some of it can make you say, Wow, I never would have played something like this.
SD Happy accidents . . .
FF Oh yeah, sure.
SD Now you have kids with these programs that don’t even really know how to play music per se, and they are making little bits and mistakes all day but then they put it together and make something new out of it. They’re tightening it up based on the music that they listen to.
FF Sure, they learn to do this with technology. You can pick out things. You can have ten minutes of something and work with it. You can pick out a part that you played, for example, and it could be great. Not everything in the jam has to be great. When I was working with the TEAC, man, there was nothing. (laughter) Not only that but I had to do the splicing by hand, Scott. It was crazy. You’d move the tape around till you hear the kick then cut it, splice it, it was crazy.
SD So did you just get new equipment as it was being released?
FF Well with the dance music it was just what I was into. I was actually working in New York before we did Interactive Test. I was working as an engineer. I did a lot of work programming the DX Oberheim drum machine with Mark Murphy from The System. It was mostly working with black music. A lot of these guys, they wanted to remix and there was nothing we could do except getting the two track and repeat it five times or whatever and splice it together. All this crazy splicing. I was really precise. I remember guys would be coming because I was doing all this and they would tell me how they wanted it to be like “Oh, I want that part there,” so we would record that twice then splice it together. Then we would make a copy and have those two tracks on the machine.
SD They would literally be standing there going through the remix process with you?
FF Yeah, man. They would stand there with me. A couple of those guys were pretty big at that time too. There was this guy who was working with Africa Bambaataa—what’s-his-name—Arthur Baker.
But anyway, I read about this program called SoundEdit. You could actually digitize the sound and edit it that way. I wanted to buy this, so I called the company in Los Angeles and they said sure, you can order it, but if you want check it out first we’ll give you an address of the only other person that has it. It was this guy from the Navy that used it for military purposes. I went and he was this bug guy. I went to his house and he was sort of a freak but really nice and he showed me how to use SoundEdit. I was thinking what the fuck is the Navy doing with this? (laughter). It was something with sonar in submarines, though.
To have that, I mean the first time you could see the sound, Scott this was amazing.
SD How did you end up in New York and start the Antennas, the band you were in in the ’80s?
FF I met this guy in Virginia who was an Italian-American born in America, Silvio Tancredi. His father was working at the Italian Embassy. I had all this equipment in Virginia. He said, “Look I have this place in the middle of Manhattan. You have the equipment, I have the space, so lets just make it a studio, like a demo studio. You can practice there and stuff.” But he said to me, “Look, the only thing is that you have to work with black music.” Back then I wasn’t so much into black music, you know.
So we had all these people start coming in and they were really good man. A lot of them played electronic music too. So we did that to survive. I was living at the studio, which had a room for me. I was working there and could make a little money and I also had time to record some of my own stuff. Most of the Antennas stuff I did there and later transferred to tape at Polydor.
SD This was in ’82 and ’83?
FF Yeah ’81, ’82, ’83. I stayed there for two or three years in the early eighties. The studio was at 25 West 38th St.
SD So what was happening with you in the years between New York and Interactive Test?
FF Well, I came back to Italy for good. I played around, trying to get something happening but there was really no way to make it happen. So I started thinking that perhaps I should do the label. I got organized to press records myself using the knowledge I got in New York. I’d met this guy in New York who was working with another label putting out their records. I used what I learned from him in Italy. We started around ’88, ’89. I remember I was in England in ’89 and they were doing the raves. It was really big there. Techno stuff—
SD —Acid House.
FF Yeah. You would go to this warehouse or whatever. Sometimes the police would come and bust the place and confiscate everything. I played those, some guys from New York would come too and we would play, but it was a job, you know? (laughter)
SD Whatever pays the bills, man.
FF I learned so much about rhythm working with those black guys in New York, man. It was different because they would come and they wouldn’t start with the guitar. I would usually start with guitar and then put down drums, then bass. No, they’d come in and get the rhythm down and then you could just play on top. It was a great experience for me. I think it helped me with the Interactive Test stuff. It was called Interactive Test because those records mix well with each other.
SD Yeah, they do actually . . .
FF The tonality, the breaks and such, it’s easy. They were tailored for that. Back then wasn’t like today. We would press like 500 records of one release. We always did limited editions.
SD What were you doing after Interactive Test?
SD Do you think your location (whether Florence, Virginia, New York, Los Angeles, etc.) influences the music in any way?
FF It does, which is why I travel as much as possible. I have this motor home now, so I have this mobile space. All my stuff is in there, all connected. From the year 2000 on, I’ve been living as a traveller, and that is how I survive with the music, going across Europe, devoted to the sound system. I will stay days in places playing with a lot of systems pouring sound all over, at raves. I’m a nomad, you know, I have this nomadic feeling. I like to be able to just stop in a place, play, people can come and play along, people can come and listen.
SD Do you ever think you might be idealistic or crazy for doing things this way?
FF No. I used to be presumptuous when I was younger, more arrogant. (laughter) But I always thought that the key thing was to advance. Everything you get into, the knowledge you gain, the music—which could be anything—learning how to record, or learning how to make a record, or just learning how to make a song . . . You know, you don’t want to get crazy, you want to get smarter. Basically, you do all this for one reason, survival. I want to be smarter so I can be able to cope with some situation in the heart, so maybe the things I know can save my life. It’s not that someone can come up and say, Oh, you’re so good. In the end, it’s just the knowledge. A lot of stuff I got into kept me out of trouble and helped me to stay focused in one direction and introduced me to good people. Just focusing on the music. Even meeting Regal Degal [the Los Angeles band that Falsini is currently playing with] and getting this record together is because of this music.
What I do is creating energy for me, like a device I put together to get energized with enough energy to survive.
SD Any closing thoughts on the future of music and expression?
FF You can change the world without anyone noticing. It would be cool to have burning man cities across the globe open all years long. (laughter)
Sensations’ Fix’s Music is Painting in the Air will be released September 25 by RVNG Intl.
Scott Davis is an artist and musician living in New York.