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“Vanishing Point.” A Theremin Concept Album

Photograph of Maurizio "ErMan" Mansueti at the European Moog Fest in Rome.
Maurizio “ErMan” Mansueti at the European Moog Fest in Rome. (Photo: Matteo Casilli)

Saggini: How was the “Timeless Sonic Factory” project born and what is the meaning of its name?

Mansueti: “Timeless” because I felt the need for a project outside the “conventional labels,” not related to a specific genre, but free! “Sonic” because the idea was to put in the project instruments from different eras, toy instruments, or vintage, from the Yamaha’s Tenori-on to the Stylophone, from the Moog to the Theremin, but with the aim to put in the foreground the Theremin as a solo voice. “Factory” because initially, the idea was to call artists I had met and push them to play something “unusual” or that they would never have done in their projects. The first record, “Theremin, the Way I Feel,” was a bit like this. There was Steve Piccolo (former Lounge Lizards! who remembers the no wave in NY in the early ’80s?) who declaimed, in Naked Theremin track, the “Dr. Benway” from The Naked Lunch by William Burroughs; there were Giorgio Li Calzi (on trumpet great Italian jazz musician) and Stefano Micarelli (electric guitar) great musician and producer. In short, it was not easy in 2008-2009 to release an album featuring the theremin, but it was possible with the help of many friends and Funky Juice rec., which believed in this experimental idea.

Saggini: Bob Moog is a name particularly dear to the theremin community. In 2009 you were instrumental to the compilation “Switched-On Bob – A Tribute To Bob Moog” (2009), a music project with over 20 artists from all over the world dedicated to Bob Moog, and in the same year, you participated in the European Moog Fest (2009). You also, together with Luca Luke Cirillo of The Transistors, interviewed Bob Moog for an Italian magazine (the interview is available on this site). Can you tell us something about your experiences in these events and your contact with Bob Moog when you interviewed him?

Mansueti: Everything started from a bet with the head editor Alessandro Casella of “Il Giaguaro” magazine for which I wrote: being able to interview Boob Moog. I collected the interview by email. We are talking about 1999, and the interview came out in May 2000. At that time, he was directing his legendary Big Briar, and the interview was mostly about the origins of electronic music, including the theremin. Still, it was not focused on the theremin. What is interesting is that he was very communicative, direct, and very friendly. That’s how I discovered that I could order the theremin directly from him! I’m talking about the Etherwave but branded Big Briar. Exciting experience because I was always in contact via email with those in charge of the production, keeping me informed about my instrument’s production and even the serial number! In short, as I always say, they were building for me a “Stradivarius”! This was the impression I had: a small company, very focused, great respect for the artists, and many professionals to keep you in touch directly.

About “Switched on Bob” (2008-2009) and the European Moog Fest (Rome, September 2009) were born after the bad news of his death in 2005. It was an escalation. The journalist Francesco Adinolfi called me first in May 2005 asking me if we could do an article on Moog Music and the importance of Moog Fest (and also to republish parts of the 2000 article) for the Italian newspaper “Il Manifesto – Alias insert.” The article would be published in the insert at the end of August, but we had no idea that Bob Moog would have left us in that month of August.

Then it happened that I decided to make a song dedicated to Bob Moog because its relevance seemed right, and we published it as Transistors in the 2nd album “Modern Landscape” with the help of Paolo Bruno Margoni (Margoo). It was on that occasion that we thought to make a tribute compilation. It took almost 2 years. In the end, with the contribution of Carlo Bagnolo from Cinevox Records, we arrived at Cherry Red Records in London, which was exalted by the idea. We received a very high number of songs, and it wasn’t easy to choose from. Still, I can say that having had many new artists but also great popular names like Wolfgang Fluer (from Kraftwerk), Dan Lacksman (from Telex and well known also as a producer behind many artists, but especially a Moog collector and player), and the great Jan-Jacques Perrey (the Happy Moog! Well known also with the duo Perry & Kingsley) with unreleased songs! Everyone wanted to make a tribute. Very exciting, even now, to remember it. I got in touch with Mike Adams, the president of Moog Music, so we also had the Moog Music consent. In this way, “Switched on Bob,” the tribute to Bob Moog, was born.

The “European Moog Fest” took place in Rome in September 2009. Francesco Borsotti, president of Midiware, the Italian distributor of Moog Music, put me in touch with “maestro” Enrico Cosimi and made me join the team that organized the event. Great Italian names like Claudio Simonetti (Goblin) in the lead, but also renowned jazz musicians like Riccardo Fassi, and then there was Enrico Cosimi, Vincenzo Vasi, my Timeless Sonic Factory, and other artists.

Mike Adams also participated. I was happy to meet him and give him a lot of copies of Switched on Bob CD! That year was the only year that Moog Fest was not held in Asheville.

Saggini: You have collaborated in-studio and live with many musicians, both Italian and foreign. Have you ever done this often as a thereminist? And how is the experience of a “session thereminist”? Have you ever received requests that indicated a lack of knowledge of the instrument by those who made them?

Mansueti: In reality, I would say that the artists who called me to participate have always been very respectful, and also, they have given me the right space to make the voice of the theremin heard.

Surely, I have good remembrance of the times of Luca Faggella’s album “Fetish.” Luca, introduced to me by Luca Cirillo (Transistors), had recently won the “Tenco” Prize. It was a great experience. A rock experience in which I played the Theremin in some “live” tracks, I also participated in the famous European Jazz Expo (Cagliari), where in addition to “stoner” rock songs, I also played more intimate songs where the theremin accompanied the vocal parts. Excellent experience because Luca Faggella let me do, and I, without overdoing it, I pointed out almost as harmonization, or a second light melody, how to add violins to his songs.

My best experience was with Alessandra Celletti, a modern, very well-known pianist who loves contemporary music as Gurdjieff, Arvo Pärt, Glass, John Cage. We designed a live act together, in the center of which there was “Love Attitude,” a suite in 3 movements. A sublime combination, because having Alessandra Celletti on the piano is a bit like having Philip Glass, or Michael Nyman or Wim Mertens playing, while you are the voice with the theremin. Then we recorded other tracks on some of Alessandra’s albums released for Transparency Rec. (USA). Sooner or later, we will again project something together because theremin and piano are perfect together because we both love to be “between the lines” and create “dreamy atmospheres.” And the audience response in theaters was wonderful.

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