Astral Travel Agent: Not Waving Interviewed

For his new project, Alessio Natalizia of Walls draws inspiration from the theory of remote viewing to create "sound for places I have never been before". With his album Umwelt just released, he speaks with Joe Clay about pseudoscience and imaginary locations

Remote Viewing – the belief that people can see places or objects that are hidden from view – might sound like the kind of hokey bullshit peddled by the likes of Uri Geller and Derren Brown. But during the height of the Cold War, the US and Soviet administrations spent millions researching the idea. Both the CIA and the KGB ended up running Remote Viewing operations with little tangible success – but even the fact that something based around dubious paranormal philosophies was taken so seriously is amazing. The US government pumped almost $20 million into studying RV before abandoning the project. Even in the UK, the MoD spent a more reasonable sum (around £18k) in 2001 researching RV, before coming to the conclusion that the theories had little value.

But whether or not it actually works, there is no doubt that the principle of RV is an intriguing one. Especially so for the London-based Italian Alessio Natalizia (aka Banjo or Freakout, and one half of Walls alongside Sam Willis), who has used it as the inspiration for Umwelt, a brilliant album of raw, emotive electronic music under the Not Waving moniker.

Instead of trying to ‘view’ distant objects and locations, Natalizia has re-appropriated the practice as ‘Remote Listening’ and made an entire record, Umwelt, imagining a sound/song for places he has never been to before. However, it’s not a concept album, as Natalizia explains during an interview the Quietus conducted with him via the power of the mind – ahem, I mean, computer keyboard.

The album has been inspired by the "arcane militaristic practice of Remote Viewing". Can you tell me a bit about Remote Viewing and how you became interested in it? And how did this then feed into Umwelt?

Alessio Natalizia: I remember talking about Not Waving and Remote Viewing as a concept for a release with Sam [Willis] on a flight back to London after a Walls show, and in the last year I have become quite obsessed with it. All the original CIA documents of the experiments were put online after the project was declassified in the 1990s, and I have spent hours reading them and looking at the drawings and experiments results. The essence of RV was that people could "view", describe and draw distant objects and locations using extra-sensory perception and paranormal techniques.

You said, "I want to give a sound to places I don’t know", so each song is named after an obscure place – how did you select the locations? Did you just open an atlas and stick a pin in? Or was it more considered?

AN: I love the concept of viewing as sensing with mind. If your mind is able to imagine how places can look, then it can also imagine how places can sound. So the idea of the album was "Remote Listening" – imagining a sound for places I have never been before. While reading and researching about Remote Viewing, I had been writing down names of places that were connected in some way to the RV theories (location of experiment, place of birth of the remote viewer, place pictured in a drawing, etc). I would start from one of these places and travel on a map until I found the right place. I would just pick the names that sounded most interesting to me. Then I would work on a song with that name/place in mind, or simply assign a song I had already started working on to one of the names/places.

So how then did you go about visualising the places in order to give them a sound? I’m assuming you weren’t using Google Image, as this would negate the idea of Remote Viewing!

AN: No paranormal techniques were involved, if that’s what you were wondering! But actually I was using Google images. Of course this does negate the idea of Remote Viewing, but that is not what I was interested in doing. To hear the sound of a place you have to physically be in that place, and it doesn’t matter if you see what it looks like on a picture, you still can’t "hear" it. So I am not trying to view the place, I am trying to listen to it and give it a sound. I know all of this sounds quite hippy, but really I was just inspired by the magic and mystery that surrounds RV and theories like it, and that is what inspired me to make the record. Not the empirical theory per se, but the imaginative and surreal that comes with it.

Was it a spontaneous process? And how did it compare to how you usually make music?

AN: It was very spontaneous on different levels. First of all, I think being a new project for me… I think there is something special that happens with a new project that you can never recreate after the project is not "new" anymore. The fact that you have never been making music under an alias frees yourself a lot in terms of what to do. And this happens on a completely unconscious level. It’s like you don’t have any expectation and no objectives so you just go with it and see what happens, and I love that feeling. So working on the Not Waving music felt incredibly spontaneous.

The making music process was quite straightforward. I would set up all my equipment in the morning and work on one song for 10 hours, and I wouldn’t go back to it until I was mixing the whole album. But I would only work on one song a day. I’d repeat the same process the next day for about two weeks. I didn’t give myself a lot of limitations in terms of what the album should sound like, but more in terms of what kind of emotions I wanted to deal with. I wanted this album to be less emotional, or emotional in a different way, compared to the things I had done before. I wanted this one to be raw.

Some of the songs evoked feelings of paranoia in me – I was listening to ‘Sicklerville Blackwood’ walking home late one night and I felt a strong urge to keep looking over my shoulder to make sure no one was following me. Is fear an emotion you were hoping to induce in the listener?

AN: Absolutely. As I was saying before, I was interested in inducing a different set of emotions compared to the ones I have been dealing with in my other projects. I wanted to stop myself from being too melodic and emotional/sweet and talk through the record about other emotions like anxiety, paranoia, claustrophobia, abandon, abstention and escapism.

The title of the album – Umwelt – loosely translates as "self-centred world". What is at the centre of your world?

AN: Ha! Love is the centre of my world, but really this is one of those questions where the question will always be better than any kind of answer you will get.

Umwelt is a concept album. The term does have negative connotations – what are the pros and cons of making an album based around a strong concept?

AN: I can’t really think of any cons, apart from people maybe starting to see too much into it compared to what it actually is. I don’t know if I would say this is a concept album… I just got very intrigued by a subject and decided to make music inspired from the way that subject made me feel. I was attracted by the fact that a pseudoscience could be funded for such an extended period of time by the US government and become a militaristic technique to "find the enemy" and by the fact that something so incredibly dubious could be deemed possible and studied by scientists. Something extremely unlikely can quickly become believable. The contradiction of this fantastical and magical element against the empirical theories is something that makes my imagination wander around.

What are your favourite concept albums?

AN: Funnily enough I don’t know a lot about concept albums. Without thinking about it too much I would say Pet Sounds, [Hüsker Dü’s] Zen Arcade and, most of all, Deceit by This Heat.

What were the musical influences on the album? And in what way did they influence you?

AN: It is always quite hard to mention musical influences, because then people go like "Oh really? I don’t hear that at all!" So I try not to do that too much. But simply the music that inspires me is always the same… it doesn’t really matter what project I am working on. It is the music I grew up with. I think it is normal… there are some albums that you listen to so much when you are young, and I think in one way or another they become a part of you. In my head I am still playing in a punk rock band! The records that completely changed my life are the ones I get inspired from every time I approach a new piece of music. They are a lot of records, and I guess they are all connected by a certain kind of attitude, and the same way of making and experiencing music. I like music that is simple, direct and honest, and that’s what I would like my music to be.

What equipment were you using?

AN: Three synths, two drum machines, guitar, bass, violin, percussion, voice, a dictaphone and various effect pedals. It was mostly recorded live, the drum machine would trigger the synths and that would form the main body of the song. After I had the main part of the song recorded, I would go back to add some details with the other instruments. I gave myself some limitations, in the sense that I would work way more on finding the right sound before recording, in place of recording quickly, and then spend too much time editing and EQing. There is no compression whatsoever on the record. I hate super compressed modern records. It’s the worst possible way to listen to music!

Not Waving – so you’re drowning, right?

AN: Oh no, I hope not! Joking aside, the Not Waving name primarily comes from a This Heat song, but when I picked it I did think the Stevie Smith poem would fit very well with what I had in mind. It is such a powerful poem. So simple, but open to a multitude of interpretations about peace, death, fear and a sense of abandonment.

You and Sam (Willis, Walls) have your own label now – Ecstatic. Other than Not Waving, what else can we expect from the label in the future?

AN: We have a few Walls 12"s coming out soon and then an album from a friend that we can’t wait to share!

The new Walls track premiered on the taster mix you and Sam did to announce the label is pure acid/techno. Is this harder, more dancefloor-friendly sound representative of the new Walls album?

AN: We haven’t started working on a proper "new" Walls album, so I can’t really tell until we start working on it, but that is definitely the direction we are going right now with these 12"s we have coming up. Our album tracks tend to have a more classic song-based structure, coming in at around 4 minutes – the stuff we’ve been making recently is stretching out to around 7-9 minutes. Melodically things are a bit simpler and more repetitive, and with more focus on drums and percussion.

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