We paid a call on Xabier Iriondo, eclectic musician of Italo-Basque origins, manipulator and creator of sounds, totally committed to research and experimentation. In his studio, bizarre heirloom, vinyl albums, small straw sheaves and a number of musical instruments, most of which are handcrafted.
DROME: Let’s start from your passion for musical instruments that you collect and also build yourself. How did this passion of yours start and what’s the first instrument that you created?
XABIER IRIONDO: I discovered my passion when I started to play, I was 17 years old. From that moment, life cut a new path for me, which, on the one hand, was extremely radical, determined somewhat by a punk-like attitude to holding an instrument in my hands and being on the stage and play with my friends, on the other hand, it was inspired by the joy not so much to discover how to technically play an instrument as to find out its tone qualities. Such hunger for information related to the tone colours of the musical instruments has been increasingly nurtured over time, until, towards the end of the ‘90s, I took on and forged ahead with a research project on the experimental use of electric guitar. At a certain point, however, I realized I hadn’t yet been able to come up with most of the sounds I had in my mind and maybe I would never get to do that had I not designed and built an instrument able to produce them. Thus, during a tour alongside Damo Suzuki, I came up with the idea of designung and using a very primitive cordophone, which enabled me to realize that the potential of an ad-hoc built instrument could be other than that of an electric guitar. Hence this obsession of mine that later gave birth to the Mahai Metak, which I have been using for seven years now. In Basque, “mahai” means table, while “metak” means straw sheave, it is a metaphor evoking something ancestral, completely handcrafted by the man with his own hands, fragile but at the same time able to hold together many different things. This instrument fits me perfectly, I enjoy playing it. The playful aspect is essential to me. After building the Mahai Metak with the help of my lute-maker, I stopped playing electric guitar for two years. I just wanted to avoid applying guitar techniques in order to nurture my instrument with my own fancy.
D: Last September, after a long gestation period, your first solo album was released, Irrintzi, a very eclectic double-LP edition rich in inspirations.
XI: I didn’t want any temporal or structural limits. Being involved in a number of projects, at the outset this solo project wasn’t really well defined. I was aware that tackling personal issues could be the keystone and I also knew that I wanted to do something new, rather than producing a traditional LP, such as my previous musical projects produced in collaboration with other people (Afterhours, Six Minute War Madness, A Short Apnea, Uncode Duello, Editor’s note). It took me five years, but it wasn’t that bad as I could better sharpen the concept underlying my new album, which revolves around me, my experiences and my background. My aim was not that of sticking to a musical genre, but of producing lyrics inspired to some aspects and events of my personal life, for this reason I focused on four original pieces, each portraying a picture of my life. When it came time to pick the cover songs, the list was endless, however I definitely wanted a Bruce Springsteen song, my favourite singer ever. I also wanted a classic rock cover, so the song Cold Turkey written by John Lennon proved to be perfect, I have always loved it. I also wanted to include a “violent” and extremely powerful music piece, therefore I thought of the Motörhead. Finally, I wanted a piece from the Basque music tradition as well as an Italian cover song. In regard to the latter, I chose to mix a song by the most popular Italian singer, Lucio Battisti, whom I love a lot, with one track by an “unknown guy” who, however, had some interesting things to say: Francesco Currà, poète maudit who used to work as a metalworker at the Ansaldo industry in Genoa, Italy, during the ‘70s and who produced an album entitled Rapsodia Meccanica (Mechanical Rapsody, Translator’s note).
D: The collaboration and the exchange of ideas with other musicians are extremely important to you. Who would you like to work with?
XI: I have always dreamed of sharing the same stage with Bruce Springsteen and one day I hope I’ll make my long-held dream come true. The first time that I saw him playing live was in 1985, on his first concert in Italy. I was 14 and I was completely blown away. He isn’t just an artist, he is also a fantastic communicator. He is an humble person with a great passion for literature and for rock’n’roll, who has been able to get across to entire generations.
D: Irrintzi and in particular the song Gernika eta Bermeo show a strong tie with your Basque roots.
XI: The Basque Country is my second home, possibly the first. I feel Basque as much as Italian. This also accounts for the title Irrintzi (a Basque word meaning a long high-pitched scream) and the references to the Basque traditions, such as the cross on the cover of my album, called lauburu, one of the oldest symbols of the Basque independent tradition. The video clip of Gernika eta Bermeo, shot together with my wife Valentina Chiappini, also the author of the portrait on the cover, shows the beach of Saturraran, a very special place to me: my father and my brother’s ashes are scattered there, that’s the place where I swam for the first time in my life and where now my daughter is learning to swim. In the video clip there also are some frames taken in Xemein, where the Iriondo lived for several generations. There is a sort of octagon-shaped church built around some huge boulders, whereof no one knows the origin. I have known this place since I was a child.
D: For which movie you would like to compose a score?
XI: There are plenty, I love the motion picture world. I already have a project in this field: Mistaking Monks, in collaboration with Gianni Mimmo playing the soprano saxophone and Cristiano Calcagnile at the drums. The project has been inspired by the scoring of the movies directed by the Armenian film maker Sergei Paradjanov. I am fond of silent films, as well as of animated feature films and of the first full-length features, for example Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante or even something more dynamic such as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz of 1910.
D: Which sound daunts you and which, on the other hand, beguiles you?
XI: I have thought about that several times and actually there isn’t any sound, among the ones I know, that daunts me. I have never experienced an earthquake, maybe its roar might scare me, but I can’t say for sure. On the other hand, I love the buzzing noise of the cicadas, a very old sound, Socrates and many others wrote about it. It is incredible how such a small creature can produce such a loud and powerful sound.
D: Your research on sounds evolved into the field recording practice. In which place you would like to go capture sounds?
XI: Most of the places I go to record have something to do with water. I would like to jump onboard a boat trip to the middle of the ocean, away from the coast and the man. Obviously, I would like to see all those places around the world away from any form of civilization, but luckily there are already several relevant works carried out by ethnomusicologists, like Alan Lomax.
D: Where can we see you in the near future?
XI: On 28 and 29 December, I will be at Festival Muviments, in Itri (LT). I will team up with Roberto Bertacchini to present the project The Shipwreck Bag, and with Valentina Chiappini for the pictorial-musical performance Der Cavalinha and I will also present with a new project carried out with Alos, aka Stefania Pedretti, dealing with Antonin Artaud’s madrigals. January has in store many things for us, you can check it out on my website: www.xabieririondo.com
Text by Francesca Cogoni
Photo by Carlo Beccalli per DROME magazine
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