An interview with
Beppe Colli (2017)

By Beppe Colli
Nov. 26, 2017

Today the proud and ferocious, albeit tiny, web magazine Clouds and Clocks turns fifteen! An impressive achievement in the world of global media, something definitely worth celebrating.

So we asked Beppe Colli for an interview, to which he agreed. This time he invited us to his home, for a "live" chat. The conversation could prove to be his most revealing interview ever. Read on...

So, today is the day Clouds and Clocks turns fifteen. How do you feel about it?


But I seem to detect a strange mood here, more akin to mourning than a birthday celebration.

Well, as you know I've always tried to determine if the glass is half-empty or half-full. Now I've come to the conclusion that there's no glass anymore.

You're in a fun mood today!

Well, too bad.

Just last week, you featured an old Chris Cutler interview, and an old review of his Solo CD, and I noticed that those were the first items ever featured on Clouds and Clocks, after the First Editorials...

That's right.

... so I thought "Maybe Beppe is trying to tell us something here".

Well, it wasn't a conscious decision. At least, not at first. I just thought the album was a very good one, I think it still holds up, but it's quite undervalued, and it goes unmentioned, so I thought it was an interesting choice for my Remainders series. But reading the text, and especially the interview - my review was intended to occupy an ancillary position, so it's a relatively short one - I noticed how dense and complex his line of reasoning. Something which was not that common at the time, but is even more uncommon today.

Would you run the same text today?

Of course! But I wonder if there's anybody left out there willing to read such a text, out of  the tiny circle of the "happy few". That's what I meant when I said that I think the glass has vanished. Look what I found just the other day (quoting off a letter from a friend):

"I also appreciate your position regarding the current state of music. I feel the music's all-too-easily downloadable availability has really cheapened it for current audiences - so much of the intangible magic of music is lost when it's just a click away. I mourn the days when the back of an album cover was an intrinsic part of deciding to purchase an album."

And this was written in...

January 2002, when I hadn't even thought about starting a web magazine. It was definitely in the back of my mind, like "wouldn't it be nice if...", but I had yet to investigate if it was something technically feasible for somebody like me to do.

Sometimes I have a feeling there are some issues on the table that have been there for quite a while now, and that talking about them could definitely become boring.

Would you give me a for instance?

Well, the whole thing about streaming, and artists' royalties. I mean, it's old news by now.

Well, it isn't old news for them. I mean, every day they have to confront the same situation.

Sure, but maybe one is getting tired of reading about it?

Could be, but I think we're making the same mistakes all over again.

What do you mean?

Well, I read more and more about how it isn't that important if a movie is shown on the big screen, or on television, or on some kind of hand-held device, as long as it's well written and acted.

Would you disagree?

I think the whole grammar of movies has developed within a kind of physical dimension - the big screen - and that "a movie on TV" is not that different from an MP3 file of a great album that was once masterfully recorded and engineered. The point being that, if there are things that disappear when shown on a tiny screen, why put them in in the first place? A lot of movies shot to be shown on TV do closely resemble regular TV.

Some could define your point of view as being "elitist".

Well, "populism" is not that great, either. This year - or last year, I can't remember which - the Italian Minister of Culture decided that on a certain day of the month - say, the first Wednesday - those movie houses that agreed to do so could sell tickets at about one third of the regular price, let's say 3 euros instead of 8 or 9. This, "so that the 'not affluent' could easily afford going to the movies and so, get closer to Culture." But I've never seen any people going to the movies by mule. They go by car, and check the time and place of what they want to see on a smartphone. So it's not the price that's the problem, but the price as perceived by people. Which is something I think resembles the story about CDs being expensive, when in reality what it means is that the "right price" as perceived by many has to be equal to the cheapest available alternative.

I see.

There was a letter that appeared on a newspaper where a University Professor wrote that one of his students sitting for an exam had the text in photocopy form. When asked about why, the student replied that - at 28 euros - the text was definitely "too expensive". While on the table the same student had a smartphone priced at 800 euros.

Another issue one could say you talk about too often is music critics, their skills, competence (or lack of), and understanding of the music they talk about and review. Have you received any feedback about it?

Well, it's not that I spend my time reading magazines looking for faults, it's that sometimes I just notice things. In my mind, I can easily understand why one would write about a rock re-release - by The Rolling Stones, say, or Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd - while knowing next to nothing about their music. Or writing a review of an "indie band" one thinks is the best thing ever because one is, say, twenty and has a quite limited listening experience. But Roscoe Mitchell? I've read some reviews where it's apparent that the reviewer doesn't know the first thing about that music, and this is not the kind of review that will give one visibility.

On the same page, I think too many people are getting used at things being "like this". Like, "we already know things are like that, what's all the fuss about?".

Could you give me a for instance?

Sure. I recently mentioned a music writer for la Repubblica - "Italy's leading newspaper" - Gino Castaldo as having written something really poor. People wrote, saying he's not a worthy target, that everybody knows he does shoddy work, and so, why have a go at him? I don't think everybody thinks he does shoddy work, too many people are in a much of a hurry, they don't look that closely.

Why is that?

They're in a hurry, life's a circus now.

Maybe we should make peace with reality, then.

But actions have consequences, and some of them are not easy to undo. Last year, a lot of people thought - wrote - that Hillary Clinton was "too close a friend" of the Establishment, and that Bernie Sanders was the real alternative. Not "a feasible alternative", mind you, but the only answer. And that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were practically the same thing, so why bother? Now we have the answer, but it's too late. Much worse than Reagan. This is class warfare, and we know who's winning. Some of the consequences could be felt for decades.

The point being that...?

That everything takes time. We can decide to live life like a circus, but reality will bite us. You know, when newspapers really mattered most people talked about the same things, the same being true for those getting their news from TV. Nowadays I meet a lot of people who don't even know about what happened in town - their town, my town, where there still is a local paper written and printed - but they know about some craze or funny fact they've seen online.

And the point is...?

I think that a group of people who spend the night looking at their smartphones while having dinner together at a restaurant is something ugly to see.

Sure the past wasn't all that great all the time, me thinks...

Well, I'll tell you this. One night, in the mid-eighties, I saw a Roscoe Mitchell-Anthony Braxton duo where the piece they performed was a unison arpeggio - they played something that was almost the same figure, but not quite - that went from pianissimo to triple fortissimo, so you had those beatings and overtones changing in time. The whole piece lasted about... five minutes. After one or two minutes people started shouting and protesting, and at the end peoples' roar was as loud as the music - this was in a theatre, sitting about 1.200 people, with no empty seats.

What happened then?

Well, after Braxton and Mitchell left the stage Lester Bowie came out, looked at the crowd, and started making farting noises with his trumpet right into the mike. People were silenced, so to speak, thanks to amplification.

The point being that...

The point being that the night before The Art Ensemble Of Chicago had played a concert, and the following night - I attended both - there was something like a salad, with members of the Art Ensemble, Anthony Braxon, and - get ready for this - Billy Cobham all playing, in various combinations. A lot of people who attended the second night mistakenly believed that they were gonna see a Billy Cobham concert, and I suppose they had never listened to music like the Braxton-Mitchell duo in their life.

What I mean is that the people attending those concerts beheaved quite differently. While today, most people don't seem to be capable of even watching a movie without checking their phones. Continuity is lost.

Who's the artist you've listened to the most during the last year?

Regina Spektor, definitely. Fact is, America can be discovered only once, and by now it has been discovered five or six times already, so I think sometimes it's just a matter of finding somebody who can make an old, tired, language sound fresh. YMMV, of course. But I can't stand those singers-songwriters playing acoustic guitar, their sense of harmony is really limited.

What happened to the avant-garde?

I wonder! I guess it's hail, famine time up there. I stopped reading the Wire at the time of their "New London Silence" coverage, and I haven't looked back since.

I've read that Ethan Iverson will start a new blog at the beginning of the new year, Do The Gig, in order to sustain what's left of the New York jazz scene. I wish him all the luck, it won't be easy.

You know, paraphrasing Brian Eno, I'd call the avant-garde now "Music for the Deaf". Not totally their fault, though.

Let's pretend this is a radio interview - you started out with radio, right?

... "and I ended up alone at the microphone".

Talk about bleak, right? Well, let's pretend this is a radio interview, and we're at the end of our conversation, and as you know after all the talk there's always a song, what would you like we'd play right now?

That Ben Folds song, Still Fighting It, I think it's called.

Talk about old-fashioned!

Well, there you go.

Beppe Colli 2017 | Nov. 26, 2017