It happened several days ago. I was walking home from my job at the International Wish Fulfillment and Time Travel Device Repair Center when I decided to detour from my usual route along the fairway and take a short cut through the city’s most beloved underground tunnel. As I descended, the warm, humid spring air gave way to dry cold and the golden sunset was erased by bleak, consuming darkness. I Heard voices howl from deep within the void, spiraling and encircling me. I walked on, my feet moving in a sparse, unsure shuffle. A cold rhythm fixed itself in my mind. I began to move faster through the dark. Fog rolled in at my feet. I felt the tunnel spin. A crack appeared in the tunnel wall and a man crawled out and stood in front of me. There was music in his eyes and on his skin and I knew that he was the source of the voices and the rhythms. I wanted to understand what this sound was so I asked him questions. He spoke backwards and with my eyes closed, I wrote it on the wall in purple blood. I never saw it but, there in the lonely dark, I knew it. And so it was, and now here it is.
What does the name Ornamenti d’Oro mean?
It’s Italian for “Ornaments of Gold”, the name of a beloved Siouxsie & The Banshees song from an album that was instrumental to my conversion to Gothness in the mid-90s. When I started this project in 2013 one of my intentions was combining the Italo Disco tradition with Darkwave and Goth, so there you go.
What prompted the decision to release Mater Tenebrarum on the cassette format? What are your thoughts on the underground cassette movement? Do you feel that physical media will always be with us or will everything be digital one day?
Greta and Jamie, the guys at the label Tensión Ritual, had the idea for a cassette release. They’ve been doing shows here in Madrid for ages and they wanted to start a tape label, so they approached me to be the first release. Personally I love cassettes mainly because I grew up with them in the 80s-90s, but also I love physical formats in general, I always try to get my hands on the albums I like on physical formats if I can. Honestly I don’t know if the cassette scene is going to last (of the rest of the formats for that matter) but for the moment they definitely serve the purpose of documenting this particular moment in music history.
Do you see an intersection between Goth, Darkwave, and Horror culture or are all three inseparable parts of one whole?
Ha, that’s an awfully difficult question to answer. On one hand I think they’re definitely parts of a continuum that we could loosely call “the Gothic imagination in contemporary pop culture” or something like that. And on the other hand, they are clearly separate traditions, sometimes they don’t even intersect with each other in any way.
That’s also very personal, for some people they are all part of the same thing, for others not at all, and I think this diversity is wonderful, one of the aspects that makes this tradition (for lack of a better word) very special and unique. In the case of Goth/Darkwave and for the same reason, I think our obsession with constantly gatekeeping Goth and trying to define its scope is counterproductive in the long term.
Does reading weird fiction influence the music you make? If so, how?
Oh yes, absolutely! Apart from my musical influences, weird fiction and literary horror in general are my main influences for sure. I’ve been an avid reader of classic horror since I was a teenager and it’s proven to be a long-lasting interest. I have a weakness for classic Victorian/Edwadian ghost stories, authors like Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Amelia B Edwards, Edith Wharton, MR James, and dozens more. I just love a well written, traditional ghost story.
And of course everything connected to Weird Fiction is my favourite type of literature, although let’s admit it is a pretty loose term. Also, sometimes the authors are so obscure it gets difficult to find their material; for example, I’m currently trying to find information and stories by an elusive writer called Jane Rice. Still, probably my favourite authors ever are Arthur Machen, Gustav Meyrink, and Pilar Pedraza. I’m also a reader of Black Static Magazine from the UK, I discovered it about a year ago when I moved to Spain and it’s brilliant.
My music is influenced by this type of literature not when it comes to the lyrics though, I’m terrible at writing lyrics; but I do want to convey a similar atmosphere. And just as lot of times Weird Fiction uses contemporary, even mundane settings to create that sense of unease, my idea is to use contemporary electronic music, and relatively simple and familiar song structures, to do that as well. Also I actually used some specific short stories as influences for some of the tracks (more on that later).
From the perspective of a reader, do you see the role of reading, and of literature, diminishing in our society at large? In Europe? In America?
Well I guess I can only talk about the reality I know best, which is that of Latin America, and more specifically my own country Argentina. What I see over there and concerns me the most, is that there seems to be a widening gap socially speaking, as if the social and economic mobility we started to gain during the XX century had started to fade again. In that sense, I feel like we are allowing for entire generations of middle and working class children to grow up believing that reading is a waste of time, I’m worried that those kids are being raised to be docile and ignorant. On the other hand, I see a lot of kids waking up to issues of social and economic injustice, engaging in arts and science, and being definitely more active than my generation or the previous ones. So I guess we have to stay vigilant about it.
What are your general feelings about mainstream, “normal” society?
I grew up in a left-wing household that was pretty elitist in a lot of ways, and I was made to believe that mainstream culture was terrible by definition. Thankfully as I got older I realised that nobody is above anybody else. When it comes to culture I think it’s crucial to respect other people’s interests if I want to demand the same respect from them. I actually love a lot of products from mainstream pop culture, I don’t see a clash between enjoying a Rihanna song and the most obscure Darkwave band in the world. Now when it comes to the social and economic system, then yeah, humanity is doomed.
Did you use any older synths or keyboards on the recording of Mater Tenebrarum? The opening keys on “Puente Peatonal” sound reminiscent of an old Casio.
Close enough, that’s a Yamaha PSR-200. It was the keyboard I used with a band I had in my hometown Córdoba called Ad-Nemo when I was 16 to 18, in the mid-to-late 90s. It was a great band, the product of the tension between our different teenage interests. In the end it sounded like a mix between 90s Noise Rock and 90s Darkwave or something. Not the most popular sound in town.
Actually for “Puente Peatonal” I played the exact part from one of Ad-Nemo’s songs using that exact keyboard, sampled it, and built the rest of the track from that. The rest of the sounds are mostly from that or similar 90s keyboards, also sampled and sequenced to interact with the beats. As much as I love analogue synths and all, I always prefer using those MIDI keyboard sounds as raw material.
What’s happening with the Goth/Darkwave scene in Madrid these days?
The scene is decent but small. One really cool record store (Rara Avis), a couple of parties and promoters that put together great events (one of those are my friends from Tensión Ritual), and that’s about it. Unfortunately there are very few bands, and I think a scene can’t thrive without bands, no matter how many cool artists play from other countries. My favourite part of the scene is not exactly muscal though, it’s this wonderful event called Semana Gótica de Madrid (Madrid Gothic Week), a series of lectures and academic conferences on all things Gothic, especially literature and arts, but also pop culture, films, etcetera. Also a couple of years ago they started their own award for writers, named after Le Fanu, how cool is that?
Was there any specific inspiration behind the songs collected on Mater Tenebrarum?
This goes back to the question about Weird Fiction. Half of the songs are direct references to specific short stories. “Great God” is pretty obvious, although the lyrics changed a lot from the early versions and the only connection to Machen now is the title (another song had the working title “Treff Loyne” by the way). “Una Advertencia a los Curiosos” is the Spanish translation of “A Warning to the Curious”, one of my favourite MR James stories and an example of how I’m constantly trying to translate that “what the hell is going on?” atmosphere from paper to sound. And the songs “Artículos de Piel” (roughly “Leather Goods”) and “Mater Tenebrarum” are both the titles of stories by Pilar Pedraza, a Spanish author who is still publishing and has this amazing body of work. As far as I know there are no translations of her work to English and that’s such a shame. The rest of the tracks are pretty much based on personal stuff, real or imaginary.
Musically speaking, all the tracks come from different moments in time so they are very different from one another, sometimes too much if you ask me. Some of them existed previously in one shape or another even before the existence of this project; “Humedad 72%” for example is a song I wrote when I was 16 for Ad-Nemo and was never used by the band.
Can you describe your process for making a record?
Well this album is the result of five years of playing live, writing and discarding a lot of material in that process. During that period of time I changed equipment, moved to a different city and then to a different country, changed my life completely as well, so it was bound to end up being a bit scattered. I had a lot of half-recorded material from different moments, so I re-recorded most of the instruments and the vocals trying to come up with a more cohesive sound. The worst part was recording the vocals, I had a problem with my vocal cords at the time but I wanted to finish the thing, so in the end I had to record the main vocals and the endless overdubs like a million times, it was extremely time-consuming. In the end, this project is mostly about beats and vocals, so I had to try and get it right. I spent a lot of time working on the tiny details, trying to clean up the songs, and then I sent them to my friend Sergey Kolesov (aka Astrosuka) who did some additional mixing and mastering. That was it. Anyway, I’m already working on new stuff and the process is proving to be completely different, which is always a good thing of course.
If you could become a ghost after you die, what kind of ghost would you be?
I guess I’d love to haunt a house in the middle of nowhere, getting to move the furniture around and all that stuff. The other possibility is becoming one of those weird little MR James ghosts, locked up in some tomb, or fulfilling the bureaucratic duty of guarding some half-forgotten relic.
Do you have dinner plans for the apocalypse?
Maybe getting together with friends to have a drink and watch the end of the world broadcast live on Democracy Now. Nothing fancy.
If you could either frighten or comfort people with Ornamenti d’Oro, which would you prefer?
That’s a great question! I guess … both? I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. Maybe that could be my goal for the next album: being able to comfort and frighten at the same time.
Do you prefer working alone or in a group /collaborative setting?
Actually I have two ongoing collaborations, a duo called Dimensión Maldita with my old time friend Manuel Osorio (aka Epiref), and a music/dance/performance art project with Ofelia Jarl Ortega. They’re both projects at a distance though, I’m not sure I could make music with someone else on a regular basis, rehearsing every week and such. I’m much too used to working alone after all these years.
How can we keep up with what’s going on in the world of Ornamenti d’Oro?
My album is on the Tensión Ritual Bandcamp page, and I released two EPs some years ago on my label Mun Discos from Argentina. I mostly use Facebook and Instagram to post news and stuff, and Soundcloud to post songs every once in a while. I have an old Tumblr account somewhere on the internet too. I also write some stuff, I had a couple of music blogs (in Spanish), and now I write music reviews for Peek-a-boo magazine, a Goth music blog from Belgium.
Super special thanks to Gustavo of Ornamenti d’Oro for taking time out to do this interview! Please check out the amazing new album, Mater Tenebrarum, and let your feet do a spooky shuffle of joy! You can get there from here:
The 2 previous EPs (one track plus several remixes)
Dimensión Maldita (collaboration with Epiref)
A clip from “Valquiria” a collaboration with Swedish dancer/performance artist Ofelia Jarl Ortega
Also, get your gloom on with this wonderful live performance from 2013!