lunes, diciembre 31, 2012

The Time Travellers and the Musicians

The world of Aerial Phenomena is too a world of music and musicians. That is why a tribute to some of its creators is so terribly appropriate. But Roberto Bugiolacchi is perhaps not your regular songwriter.

Shortly after finishing my short tale Redención (Redemption) on a Spanish soldier of fortune living in the XVI century, I decided to give Alonso —its main character— a second chance in a fantastic sequel that would throw him into the future up to the present time, and then back to the XVI Century looking for a way to amend a broken love promise. When Viajeros del tiempo (Time Travelers) was written, "Promises" —a song contained in Psychedelic Love, British singer Baz’s only album— was playing accidentaly somewhere around, and just seemed to fit perfectly as a listen along recommendation. But to find more information about the song was not an easy task, and the first clue seemed so wrong… Someone named Roberto Bugiolacchi, an Italian planetary geologist!

But it turned out to be the right one and that’s how I came across this extraordinary personality that reminds me one of those Leonardo da Vinci (or should I say Galilean?) men from the Rinascimento —even physically!—, able to address just anything related to science or arts without almost no distinction. I can see no better connection between my own interests and those of Roberto, so the idea to contact him came naturally. Then, his own good humored kindness did the rest in making this short review to his career, motivations and visions possible.

—Robe, you are owner of an extensive production of science papers and songs, and it’s obvious you have passion for both fields, but how did all started? Tell us a bit about your life.
—Science was one of my main interests when young. I remember one of my most cherished possessions was my cousin’s Apollo mission book. I was also an avid consumer of Marvel Comics products, fascinated by all those inventions and pseudo-scientific subjects. When older, apart from a very brief liaison with the ‘paranormal’, soon moved on to reading Scientific American magazine (in Italian of course) pretending to understand its content!
The available undergraduate studies of my area did not offer a viable course of studies on scientific subjects, so I ended up with an economic studies diploma!
As per music, it was almost inevitable: the Italian towns of Castelfidardo and Recanati in central Italy are the center of music instrument production in Europe, with seminal manufactures such as ELKA, CRUMAR, FARFISA, and Paolo Soprani. EKO was the largest of these factories, founded by my uncle in the sixties and where my father worked at a management level. So, my house was filled with instruments of all kind… but crucially, the whole area was awash with budding pro musicians trying to make a name for themselves in a fierce, but healthy, competitive spirit. Top virtuoso local guitarists found some international fame, including Antonio Forcione and the late Augusto Mancinelli.
Encouraged by the many Italian top acts that were visiting the EKO factory at that time, from PFM to Bennato, I started taking music more seriously and, soon after learning my first simple chords on guitar and organ, I began writing my own music.
—A fellow Moon Zoo member —an all-volunteer endeavor aimed to classify moon images commanded by renown Scientifics— described you as “… yet another lunatic musician, he shares his time between multispectral data and multitracking his own 'compositions'. Social life an often neglected option and forgotten art…”. How do you see this depiction?
—Correct, since I wrote it! As one can imagine, trying to gain a doctorate while working as a supply teacher, recording my own CD and working in professional music projects at the same time (i.e. Baz) took a toll on anything resembling a normal and fulfilling personal life, by keeping me away from my extended and growing family (in Italy) and from creating one of my own.
—I know you admire enshrined stars like Gino Vanelli —if so, I can’t but agree— , but also less known talents as Eduardo de Crescenzo. What are your true musical roots?
There is not a lonelier place than in front of thousand of adoring fans while backstage your wife is not there or has left you.
Roberto Bugiolacchi
—Well, you know, when you are dreaming of becoming a ‘pro’, you always toy with the idea of someone one day interviewing you and asking this question! Chronologically, my early taste gravitated towards a few key poles: Santana, PFM, Pino Daniele, and Genesis. Soon this was followed by Weather Report, Gino Vannelli, George Benson, Michael Franks, the Police and Sting, etc. Obviously, I can’t list all of the musicians/music I liked, such as a couple of songs from the Bee Gees, Claudio Baglioni, Chic, Prefab Sprout, etc. even Eduardo de Crescenzo! But with these examples one can already extrapolate what other music I might be attracted to! I wish you asked what musicians I hate… more fun ;) !
—According to your Myspace, you have worked with Vangelis, Ola, Baz, Terri Walk… What is your experience working with full time musicians? How do they differ from other mortals?
—If you intend ‘mortals’ as talented, but ‘amateurish’ musicians, there is no easy answer. Two common denominators though: focus and strong belief on one’s abilities and products and… favorable circumstances, i.e. luck. Most of these people think that they were sent to earth by a God or whatever as a mission to entertain the rest of us. “It’s their ‘gift’ to us”, and sometimes, their tribulation… The day to day professional life, which I joined at times, works in peaks and troughs… One day on tour earning good money and chased by fans, and the other sitting next to the phone waiting to hear if the record company has enough money to promote your latest CD, and then uprooting yourself for months and living in cheap hotels and coaches. It’s not a life for the fainted at heart and mostly, of much glamour!
—Love keeps a central place even for a full-fledged scientific mind like yours in many of your song lyrics. Where do you keep getting inspiration?
—Life, like everyone else’s. People involved in ‘creative’ occupations suffer with complicated personal relationships, as mentioned above. This is why famous people that we all superficially envy for their success and wealth, more often than not commit either slow (drugs) or straight suicide. Fame and fortune cannot, for most ‘normal’ people, fill a gap that lost love opens. There is not a lonelier place than in front of thousand of adoring fans while backstage your wife is not there or has left you. Ask Phil Collins. And to end on a sickening cliché, really, loving and being loved, hopefully contemporary, is what life is all about. The rest is garnish.
—Now on this particular song, Promises, you know I have been unable to locate its lyrics and had to ask for help in order to transcript them. What is your contribution to this album and to this particular song?
—Well, Baz project started just as ‘another’ (guitar) studio session; her management company was putting together a high-quality demo to entice record labels to sign her. Artistically, we ‘hitted it off’ immediately and started recording new material, based on her lyrics. By the end, all songs but one on her album were co-written by , including the singles "Smile to Shine" and "Never Ending Story". I also did some preproduction for the album, but, rightly so, the helm of production for the CD was handed over to Guy Sigsworth, a famous producer who had just finished recording and writing with Madonna. The promotion of the album then focused on live radio and road shows featuring just Baz and me on acoustic guitar.
—As a science man, what are your most thrilling achievements?
Both science and music professions share an exiting but also uncertain path: they both progress (when lucky!) from contract to contract and they hardly follow a predictable course. Failure and success are often left to chance. We can only try and do our best and hope for a benign fate!
Roberto Bugiolacchi
—Well, thrilling is a big adjective! I suppose the ‘thrill’ for me, and most people developing original scientific work, is to have one of your own publications referenced by colleagues. Talking at prestigious conferences is also an almost show-business experience, especially in the US. I did a few in front of people who worked on the Apollo mission; in particular last year I gave a talk on the same campus in Houston where the astronauts lived and trained. I closed a circle there, which had started, as said, when I was a young boy.
—As an educator, you love to teach, and it shows in projects like Sound Base Studios. How do you envision music education as a tool for personal development?
—Well, music has been used as a didactical tool since time memorial. On a personal note, I cannot enjoy new knowledge that I acquire without passing it on and sharing it… I am one of these guys (or bores?) who find it pleasurable to tell people that July and August names come from Julius Cesar and Augustus …
Since I was a boy ‘why’ was my key word and I always tried to explain to myself how things work, especially the human mind. And the first journey I took, and still ongoing, was trying to understand myself, why I felt what I felt, behaved in a certain way, or what made me tick. The key to understand the world is to understand oneself, even if some of the findings and the journey itself might be less than pleasant. Curiosity is the key word. Promote curiosity and questioning should be the priorities of any educator. Facts can be absorbed later. That is what differentiates us from computers. Am I rumbling? It’s a difficult question to answer.
—As an amateur astronomer myself, I wonder a question: Do you belong to any astronomy club or do anything related to astronomy beyond your professional studies?
—I am afraid not. Planets fascinated me most, unsurprisingly the Moon first, and I neglected in my interests the rest of the firmament. Nonetheless, one of the key spurs to science was attending an astronomy evening held by the local nuns when I was young! Inspiration may come from unexpected sources…
—As a music player and producer, what are your plans?
—Well, I have just come back to the UK after four years in Germany, and I am now re-establishing contact with some of my colleagues and friends of past. I am recording a CD of new and old songs of mine with a strong Latin feel, helped by some great drummers and percussionists. Also, I will be soon start working again with a very talented singer called Amra, whom I recorded many great songs in the past, but lost contact for a few good years.
I am also toying with the idea to release Italian versions of my songs, since I have lyrics in both languages… we shall see!
At present I am continuing my lifelong quest of finding a collaborator/producer to unburden me of onerous task of writer, performer, arranger, producer… and having the chance of just concentrating on the writing and singing… But finding a good producer has turned out to be the hardest thing around: either people are very bad and amateurish, or forbiddingly expensive talented pros (very few)… hmmm.
—As a professional grade guitarist —a really good one—, you keep looking like pure energy singing and playing. How good would it be for myself or anyone to be able to express their feelings, to speak their minds out through music, creating or just playing it. Do you use music for that?
—Absolutely. Singing while strumming a guitar is pure therapy for me. It’s a primordial shout when life steam builds up a bit too much… a release valve. Highly, highly recommended to anyone. Go for some physical exercise, run for instance, then sing (or shout, it doesn’t matter) a few tunes, take a shower… life becomes manageable again!
—You are fluent in English, but also able to speak Spanish… Do you know Spain? Do you think we —the southern countries— are going to make it in this debt crisis?
—A political question! My Spanish is very basic, although for years I have been meddling with Spaniards and picked up a few expressions here and there… Love the language and consider it a kind of Italian dialect, and vice versa, of course!
As per us Latins… we have lived above our means for too many years, enriched ourselves beyond our resources, unnecessary millions of jobs in the public sector, pensions at 50, etc... Add an inept political system and family-rooted selfishness (a weak sense of common good) and here are the main causes of some of our deep financial problems. Are we going to heal? We could be out already if we give up most of the greed and materialism that we got accustomed to. Most people can still afford one small car, a fridge, and basic food. If we forget about BMW, iPads, and other unnecessary toys, and clamp on those primordial urges of acquiring more and more material goods, then we can live happier lives, even in time of crisis. Just passing thoughts…
—Now for something lighter… What kind of music could we find in your player as of lately? What do you recommend us to listen?
—Ohhh, big question. My MP3 player has everything from classical to jazz to dance. What you will NOT find in my player is HipHop or any kind of ‘Urban’ – loops oriented music.
One CD I strongly recommend is Goldfrapp’s Felt Mountain, from 2000. Classical, experimental, dance, jazz, and killer tunes. Intelligent and creative. A little-known classic.
—Yes, I second that recommendation. I'll have to catch Alison Goldfrapp one of those days for an interview! Robe, do you intend to keep combining your scientific career while adding songs to your catalogue or maybe jump to some other multimedia fields of expression? I am sure it’s getting tempting for someone already familiar with imaging technologies. Where is Roberto Bugiolacchi going?
—Ahhh, where is ‘RB’ going? Great question, difficult for anyone to answer, as we know, life is like a meandering river that can switch course by exceptional events. Or even mundane ones… Both science and music professions share an exiting but also uncertain path: they both progress (when lucky!) from contract to contract and they hardly follow a predictable course. Failure and success are often left to chance. We can only try and do our best and hope for a benign fate!
As per multimedia temptation, throughout the years I have already spread my finite, very finite talent thinly across too many fields… but never say never… we shall see! If there are any budding video/movie artists out there… please do get in touch for collaborations!

Robe owns a vast list of songs and science papers. Check, and for more.

Photos courtesy Roberto Bugiolacchi.