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Interview: Federico Albanese – The Piano Poet

Federico Alabanese interview on Cone Magazine

Who is Federico Albanese? The multi-faceted musician takes some time away from his piano keys, to talk us through twilight visions and his analog renaissance, following the release of his 2nd record – The Blue Hour.

“When I was writing the album, I felt I was in a transitional state myself,  the pieces were shaping up this way, without a conclusion, kind of always transforming.”

It is not often that I find myself moved, and simultaneously soothed by a record. And rarely do we dabble in interviewing classical musicians here at CONE. However, theres a first time for everything. Federico Albanese, (a name like that and the romanticism is palpable) makes a dazzling first for CONE, in us expanding our musical horizons, and providing coverage across genres.

The 33 year old Berlin resident has been revered for his music versatility and natural flair in cinematic composition. There have been comparision’s to Ludovico Einaudi; both are Italian, both are immensely skilled at the piano, and capture a modern classical sound through gorgeous soundtrack works. And that Albanese was once the other half of La Blanche Alchimie – a dream pop duo with Einaudi’s daughter, makes this musical affiliation even more suitable. But its the Milanese composer’s recent release, his 2nd album entitled The Blue Hour, (on the Sub-label Neue Meister) that had CONE most intrigued.

You’re living in Berlin currently. How’s that been?

Fantastic, Berlin is a magnificent city.

Your instrument, the Piano, talk us through your journey into mastering?

FA: I studied piano when I was young, from 5 to 12/13, then I quit , since I didn’t want to got to the conservatory. My musical interests were shifting into a rather different world back then. So I got back to the piano at the age of 21/22, and I was finding it very useful to write songs for my last project “La Blanche Alchimie“. From that moment on the piano became my main interest. I finally understood the power of that instrument, and realized I wanted to write music with it, and perfect my playing. So everything I had studied when I was a kid became very useful.

And your other musical versatilities, you gravitated first towards Rock music before finding your ground in composing for the Piano.

FA: I’ve gravitated towards many genres; from Punk, to Stoner Rock, Doom, Jazz, and alternative Pop music. I studied clarinet for 2 years, then the electric Bass…I’m interested in music in general, I like everything as long as it’s good music. I can’t really explain why at a certain point I ended up making music for the piano, it just happened, maybe I just needed some peace in my life.

And you also compose for Films, as well as producing sheet music.

FA:I haven’t done as many film scores as I wanted to. I love to put music on images, it is just pure beauty, and it’s so amazing to get inspired from other people’s stories and visions. I make sheet music of my own music, and share it online. I like the idea of people playing my tunes at home, and adding their own touch to them.

You’re from Milan. Do you like to cook, travel?

FA: I’m 100% italian ( My father is originally from the south of Italy my mom from Milan ), and I love to cook. I’m cooking right now actually. I often invite friends over and cook for them, It’s very relaxing. Because of my work I’m on the road pretty often, and I really love it, it’s one of the best aspects of my career.

“There is a particular moment when opposites are very close, almost touching one another. When there is still light but not quite darkness. A world in between, where all things are uncertain, vague, floating into shade.” – Federico Albanese (PR)

 With The Blue Hour, Albanese has crafted the soundtrack to serenity, paying homage to the transient period of twilight.  His select choice of instrumentation is surprisingly minimal; the vocal piano, accompanied by a single cello and a range of electric synths. Yet The Blue hour captures the full, rich resonance of a chamber orchestra; providing a tender melodious sounds that make the heart swell. The Piano is our tour guide, capturing a haunting beauty that feels visceral. As Albanese plays, the Piano evokes ethereal cinematic soundscapes. Capturing twilight’s gloom, melding it with the glittering lightness of dawn; moving ambiguously from night to day and back again. The  journey is shadowy, sometimes angst ridden, and very lyrical.

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In The Blue Hour, the twilight theme comes across as a liminal space, between the light and dark and you play quite a bit with that.

FA: The blue hour represents to me a moment of transition. It interests me the idea of a subliminal world that is not complete yet, it still has to find its way to shape up. And I can relate many things to this idea. When I was writing the album, I felt I was in a transitional state myself, and the pieces were shaping up this way, without a conclusion, kind of always transforming. Initially I was struggling to find a resolution but then I realized that that was how they were meant to be, in the middle, not defined.

The album really captures a cinematic sound. Does film/cinema inspire your musical direction?

FA: Definitely. My music is strictly connected to images. When I compose music I like having a picture in my mind, as if I was telling a story with the music, describing a scene. So films inspire me all the time, and it’s so fascinating to see how film composers relate themselves to the film and can translate the emotion of a scene through the music. Creating suspense, contrast, or even detaching from the film plot and creating a sort of different perspective with the score.

You recorded using analogue tape Recorder. What quality does this bring to the sound instead of standard studio equipment? 

FA: It sounds better first of all . And it’s also more realistic. I believe that all standard studio equipment should be analog, rather than digital, or the combination of the both. Sometimes a digital system is useful as it’s very fast, but if you produce digitally, you still need to pass the sounds throughout an analog system afterwards to bring them to life.

There are other reasons too. For example, if I can, I tend to record the piano parts directly with tape. Firstly it sounds fantastic, the tape gives a natural smooth compression to the track. Secondly I care more about the execution of the piece,  I have to be precise, there’s not much editing you can do. So I basically take my time to develop the piece and understand it, then I press Rec. While mixing with analog gears, you learn how to be more confident and to know precisely what you want. As long as you decide on that there is no turning back.

Moving away from classical, you also experiment with electronic production. Do you use it to render a more contemporary sound? Or is it  just for the purposes of practicality.

FA: I started using the electronics to enrich the piano sound, to give some space to it, creating layers of sounds in the background. My use of electronic’s are very simple, and limited to its purpose. I usually start from the piano sound, then I run it into pedals and loop it. So it all remains pretty much analog.

Berlin’s renowned for its House/Techno scene. Do you listen to those genres?

Yes I do, sometimes. I don’t go out to clubs very much, so I’m not really catching on to the new hype dj’s/producers so much.

Any top music picks for CONE?

I would suggest subliminal techno duo CASSEGRAIN and, as I just finished watching it, Johann Johansson’s score of SICARIO. Its stunning work.

“I love to put music on images, it is just pure beauty, and it’s so amazing to get inspired from other people’s stories and visions”

Listening to The Blue hour is a visual experience. The record is destined to be a soundtrack to film. My music is strictly connected to images.When I compose music I like having a picture in my mind..” proclaims Federico. But not only are images conjured, emotions are stirred. Pangs of melancholy, matched by moments of luminous conciliation (try the title track Migrants and the quivering beauty that is Céline). Albanese presents his compilation of diverse musical stylings, inspired by the his backlog of genre exploration. “I’ve gravitated towards many genres; from Punk, to Stoner Rock, Doom, Jazz, and alternative Pop music.”  It’s a gorgeous soundtrack to a journey, an album for escapism, one that’ll gracefully lull you to sleep.

You played in the UK in April last year, how was that for you coming here and performing for the first time?

Fantastic, one of my big dreams was to finally come and play in the UK. It’s happened now, and it will happen again in a few weeks. I couldn’t be more happy.

Federico Albanese will be playing in London on February 9th, and on the 10th in Bristol.

Words by Leah Abraham



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