By Paola Piersantelli & Guillermo Gallacher
Translated by Kevin Vaughn
We waited patiently for someone that we only knew in pictures. We brewed up some café, grabbed some medialunas from the panadería on the corner, and waited, talking anxiously about older albums and music videos we found on google. The doorbell finally rang and an elegant young man, composer Ulises Conti, entered the room. A boy with a wild head of hair, he bared a slight resemblance to Johnny Depp with glasses, and a hidden warmth that he would slowly reveal to us as our meeting progressed.
Almost immediately Conti caught the American accent of Kevin Vaughn, our editor and friend, and began recounting his 2008-2009 tour through the west coast of the United States: Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, and other small cities along the route. Vaughn couldn’t control a proud smile while Conti confessed his admiration for Santa Barbara, his beloved California haven. During this time he was also traveling back and forth from Berlin and Buenos Aires with Argentine artist Lola Arías presenting their album “Love is a Sniper”. It was during all this time, moving across three continents, that “Posters Privados” was birthed, although it had been in the back of his mind developing for years.
“First I had to do some other stuff, I had to do this album,” he says signaling “Los Paseantes”, “and I had to do this album,” he adds pointing to “Love is a Sniper”, “and when I realized that the next two years were going to be on tour all the time living between Berlin and Buenos Aires, not touring with my ensemble, I told myself, ´alright, now is the time for this album [Posters], and I did it…here it is!” he says pointing to his newest disc.
It’s a disc composed exclusively of piano solos, recorded in a single take (playing the entire work a ‘thousand times’ before the final recording). The word disc is used liberally, as there is a vinyl edition available with a hand-crafted cover made in Germany. The disc also comes with a download code to grab the music in MP3 format, in order to offset the low demand for vinyl in Argentina. It’s the first time an album has been offered this way in Argentina, placing Meta Música, the record label run by Conti himself, at the frontier of the Argentine music scene. His latest production, Posters Privados, is completely different from his last, a pattern all 5 of his albums have followed.
“I think of the album as if it were a book. I think about one thing, about a concept that I try to push to its limits, that’s why the albums all sound so different. What I wanted when I was making this disc was to create something that was totally clear and real, without the make-up, as if someone had taken a naked photo of me and posted it all over the internet. No photoshop. Nothing.”
It´s an attempt to escape, with this deliciously fresh piece of work, from the dizzying process of post-production, although he doesn´t speak negatively about the traditional recording process.
And the effect is a magical experience. To listen to this album one feels like a spy hidden in the room of a pianist. That was the intention, to offer absolute intimacy between the artist and the listener. From there came the idea to put on his “Pequeños Conciertos”, where Conti allowed a single listener to watch him play.
“That idea grew from the sound of the album, as an alternative to playing in a concert hall. I think that when someone goes to see a musician, the truth is they are going to a social event, and so this idea was a more practical reflection of the album: You want to come see me ? Well here I am. Just me playing my piano and having fun.” Playing for a single person is an adventure as you never know who you´re playing for, “you never know what life is going to hand you,” he adds laughing.
Conti messes around with his velvety hair, his presence fills the room, the way you might imagine the caricature of an eccentric orchestra conductor. His serious outer shell compels respect, but soon the formal manners disintegrate, and a neighborly face “from the working class” appears. He comes from a Jewish-Italian background, the only artistic member of his entire family. He formed a punk band at 15, and made it through all the bureaucracy at the National Conservatory (where he graduated with a degree in Composition), putting in a lot of discipline to finish his studies.
“I was guarded for many years,” he says, referring to his decision between recording albums, or teaching and continuing his studies.
After years at the conservatory and private tutoring, he released his first album in 2003, and things began to flow naturally. Posters has been in plans since 2005 (even before the release of his second of five albums). The thought of producing it in some German “super studio” never crossed his mind. The next two or three albums are also in the creative process.
“For right now, luckily, the machine is functioning 24 hours a day. They´re ideas, somewhere in my mind, desires. Desires to modify them into something very personal. They´re little obsessions, desires that you want to see made. They´re concepts.”
Conti’s music brings forth a lot of impressions from other artists and styles, oddly he doesn´t attribute his influences with his MP3 player.
“The influences aren´t what you would think. The musicians and people that you work with are the real influences.”
Conti tries to forget himself as a musician and develops a project as if he were a sculptor bringing shape to a simple concept. Only after the composing is finished, and when it is the moment to record and play, does he play the role of the musician. With Posters, the original concept was absolute simplicity. The album seems playful, simple, completely unpretentious.
“There is nothing elaborate about this album,” he adds.
The album isn’t solemn, which was intentional on Ulises part, as was every other detail in the CD, claiming that “chance is too vast of a concept.”
There is something very honest here, he is in charge of his own sound, he doesn’t fuss around with all the special marinades, just throw the meat on the grill and there you go: Posters Privados ! A photograph without touch-ups, a record of a modern musician.
“The discs I make all carry really distinct sounds. I´m in a place on the frontier, I´m not grouped into jazz, rock, classical, but rather stand at the intersection, it´s much more complete.”
That is exactly what Conti wants. For his label not to be labeled, not to be grouped on the same shelf as some genre. He’s a cosmopolitan artist, internationally appealing. Talking with Conti you feel like you are speaking with a new kind of artist. He is both an independent musician and producer, creating sounds that are both modern and global.
“I think that when people begin to recognize you in the streets, you’ve lost. I prefer to keep myself on the margin, somewhere out on the periphery. The industrial production that is consumed at such a massive level doesn´t sit well with me, there are only a few super popular things that I like. I turn on the TV and I want to die. I´m afraid of taking the reins of that kind of massiveness.”