Dressed in black with a grey collarless shirt, Gabriel comes out of a smaller room at the Galleria Sozzani (an art gallery in Milan) where he has been giving personal interviews to a few Tv stations. Greeted with a round of applause, he sits on a small red sofa together with an Italian guy there to help translating questions and answers.
What follows is an (almost) literal transcription of the full conference and therefore it somehow lacks continuity in the topics that a proper article would require (I only grouped a couple of answers given in different moments for the sake of convenience and a little better flow of certain arguments.
Here it goes.
Q. - Youve always been strongly associated with multimedia, ever since your Genesis days. Are you still attracted to this field?
A. - Ever since I was young, I have always been a big fan of films. In many ways this love has now moved towards interactivity. For the Dome show I felt like being a little child again: we were given a huge playpen and it would have been very hard to resist the temptation to fill this huge building with someone agreeing to pay us for it...
Q. - What youre launching today is not the new album - Up - that everybodys waited for eight years now and that was announced three years ago. Apart from your fame as a perfectionist, can you give us a more detailed explanation of why it takes you so long to complete your records? And dont you feel that there is a risk of loosing spontaneity in such a long process?
A. - Well, Im 50 this year, and old man take a little longer to get up. Also, when I find diversion I tend to follow them, and I like dabbling in different projects that wont get me stuck into an album-tour-album-tour routine. Besides, this gives journalists something more to write besides album and tours... The fact is starting for me is always easy, whilst finishing is very hard.
Q. - What do you think about the Internet technology and music downloads? Napster, for example?
A. - Ive always believed that if you cant beat them, youd better join them. And thats why we started our own distribution company called OD2. The point is its a bigger issue than just music. If all music must be free, then all films and all software should be free as well. But then the whole economic principle would collapse.
I still believe that technology gives more than it takes away. But for richer artists like me something like Napster is fantastic: in the end what it all amounts to is free advertising. For smaller acts, on the other hand, records make up 60-70% or more of their income. And if they loose it, they loose at the same time their chance of being professional musicians. So what we aim for with OD2 is to protect the rights of these artists.
A lot of people can use the Internet and Napster to test music, and we can hope that if they like it they will then go out and buy it. But its really hard at this stage to define what the limit is for piracy, and if you ask me directly, yes, I would like to see Napster close down.
Q. - Are there any similarities in the Dome project you worked at and the ideas you had for the Theme Park? And what about the Dome project as a whole that as raised so many discussions?
A. - Hmm... Its very different in that the idea of the Experience Park was based on making artists and scientists dreams come true. Ovo was great fun for us, a good way to learn more about certain aspects of multimedia that somehow built for us a better experience towards the ideas for the Park. But for the rest of the Dome exhibition I believe there was very little creative freedom allowed to the artists that took part in it.
Q. - Are you happy with what you accomplished at the Dome? Was there anything else you would have done instead that you couldnt convince others to do?
A. - Im very happy with the way the show has turned out. I would say that at least 80% of our original ideas have come through. But yes, there was a great building project by Norman Fraser for a Millennium Tower. That I would have liked to turn into an alternative health center - in more ways than one. I thought there was a chance of showing how future hospitals might turn out to be very different places from those we have today: with children and even audults play areas, psychotherapy, health clubs and so on. A place where one could combine the best of traditional medicine with the best of the alternative one. I would have liked it to become a symbol and an inspiration for the rest of the health system, but no one gave credit to such an idea.
Q. - There already is a cd on Real World recorded by an Italian band, Tenores de Bitti. Do you have plans for other releases with Italian musicians?
A. - Theres one band that recorded in our studio and whose record [it should be entitled Lost Souls] will come out in September, called Spaccanapoli. Theyre from Pomigliano dArco and it will be a great output of the AlfaSud factory... [that was sort of a joke: the AlfaSud factory was a project of the late Sixties/early Seventies which has indeed been described as a Cathedral in the Desert. The plant set up in Pomigliano with government contributions was a total failure and closed down years ago]. They have a female vocalist that I like a lot. And there is also Nuclearte, from Sicily that are very stimulating.
Q. - After all the initial troubles in setting it up, whats the financial status of the Womad organization nowadays? Are you still involved in running the company? And what about Real World Records?
A. - Fortunately, Womad is doing well. On its 2Oth birthday it has finally shown a profit. A little one, but a profit nonetheless... Im not directly involved with Womad anymore - I only worked extensively on the very first one, which took over 18 months of my time - it is now run by its artistic director Thomas Brooman. Thanks to the support of Virgin Records, the Real World label is doing well too.
Q. - Now that you have an album out, do you plan to embark on a tour?
A. - I want to finish the new album first - hopefully within the end of this year or the beginning of the next - and then I will probably think about touring.
Q. - You wanted to turn the Dome in a model for a new health system, but at the same time Mr.Blair, who financed it, was busy destroying the NHS... Dont you feel like youve been the spokesman for the wrong person in doing the Dome job?
A. - The Dome has become more of a political foothold than it was at the beginning, and lets not forget that it was a conservative party project at the start. Im certainly not satisfied with Labour: they should inject much more resources into health and education... Still, I believe at the time we voted it, it remained the better available option.
Q. - Do you still enjoy playing live or are you bored of it by now?
A. - Absolutely, I still love playing with a band. But the problem with touring is that it leaves no time to do anything else but touring... And as I said before, I like diversions.
Q. - You started in multimedia with cd roms like Xplora first and Eve after. Do you think that this kind of technology was made obsolete by the advent of the Internet? And can we expect to hang open mouth, when your next album arrives, with more extraordinary and innovative multimedia stuff?
A. - The speed at which technology changes makes it very difficult for anybody to make any predictions. But I dont believe the cd-rom to be obsolete. There is a young programmer that works at Real World, Josh Portway, who is developing a new technology called Noodle that we hope to exploit more [a Noodle demo was available on RWNotes a few years back, while its first official release can be found on the second AfroCelt Sound System album, Vol.2 - Release]. In the case of Ovo there is no real element of interactivity, but we included a video and a little bit of the story.
What people usually listen to of my work is the final arrangement. But I like doing different things and approach an idea from different directions. in such an instance interactivity will put the choice in the listeners hands.
Q. - Pardon me if I sound stupid... But though Ive read the story and listened to the Dome version of the album, I still dont get the moral of the story of Ovo. Can you please explain what you meant?
A. - The idea is that each ideology is like a season: summer follows spring, then autumn, then winter... If something is to be born something else has to die. We tried to illustrate this idea setting the story through three generations of one family, where the father represents the agricultural, the son is the industrial, and the newborn is the post-industrial economies and societies.
Q. - In Ovo the only song you sing from start to finish is Father, Son. Can you tell us something more about it?
A. - Originally it was a song I had written for the Up album. But when Mark Fisher heard it he aske me to use it for Ovo as it fit in well with the three generations theme that we were working on. My dad is now 88, and two years ago I remember I thought that somehow I had never known him enough. So we decided to go for a week holiday together in the Moors. He has peracticed yoga for 40 years, and we decided to bring a yogi master with us. He used a discipline that helped us exchange energy through a lot of physical touch - which is something we British are certainly not accustomed to. One day, suddenly, in the middle of doing some pulling and stretching we couldnt hold it anymore, and we burst into tears. And then we hugged each other for the very first time in many many years...
I sang it for him at the piano a year ago, but he probably didnt hear or understand the words: now he has the record and he probably listened to it better, and just two days ago he phoned me to say he like the song.
Q. - Why did you publish two versions of the album? (this I managed to ask at the end of the conference while Peter was signing autographs..).
A. - The reasons are strictly commercial: first the Dome wanted to have something exclusive for itself, and at the same time the people at Virgin agreed in having something exclusive themselves. Also, when the Dome version came out, Nene Cherry was still in the studio recording her vocals, so we used a different version on the second release. But apart from the track list the music is actually the same in both releases.
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