An Interview with Experimental Sound Designer Diego Stocco
Last month I posted a fascinating video by experimental sound designer Diego Stocco called “Music From Sand” in which he sampled sounds found in grains of sand. Ever since then I have been enthralled by his work. From sampling a burning piano to recording the sound of cornflakes, Diego is a true artist with a limitless sonic palette that is both playful and profound. Recently, I had a chance to ask him some questions about his music and a few other things. Check it out:
First off, what’s your name and where are you from?
My name is Diego Stocco. I’m Italian, and I work and live in Burbank, CA.
Describe, in 5 words or less, what you do.
Unique sounds never heard before.
One of my favorite pieces that you’ve done is “Burning Piano” where you literally set a piano on fire and sample it. What urged you to do this? What were your feelings as you watched it burn?
I bought that piano for 200 Euro when I was still living in Italy because I needed an old piano for the score of a short movie called Uno in Più (One More). Later on, that piano became impossible to tune, so it was just sitting in my studio, dying, covered in dust. In those days I was also producing a lot of new sounds for a virtual instrument called Omnisphere. I was experimenting and building instruments out of objects like a washing machine drum, a typewriter, toys and old pieces of furniture.
One day, tired of seeing it sitting there doing nothing, I had the idea to sample it while it was on fire in order to create a long lasting “last performance.” Although I had mixed feelings about doing it, I was very curious to hear how it would sound while burning. I was scared to burn the trees around the piano and a little sad knowing that it would be gone forever. All of the sounds you hear in the video were from the piano.
I love his early albums in particular. The first one I heard was Tubular Bells, but right after that I bought Hergest Ridge (really cool cover, by the way), Ommadawn, Incantations and QE2. I like how Mike Oldfield’s guitar sound is consistent with all his albums and how expressive, alive and truly musical it is.
What music/bands and visual artists influence you now?
These days I feel inspired by hundreds of different artists because the web is full of music, videos and art in general. Interestingly, it’s the mix of all these things that works as an inspirational point for me. Every day I can find something from an artist that I didn’t know about before.
Some artists value process over results. Which do you enjoy the most: building an instrument, playing it, or listening to the outcome?
I think it’s the entire thing. When I’m building an instrument or using something like sand or water I’m already thinking about the final sound and the composition I’d play with that sound. My main instrument is the piano, but creating sound design is a different experience, because it’s not just based on what I play, but also on how I sample and shape the sound. These phases happen simultaneously. I enjoy listening to the final piece once it’s ready, but at that point I’m already thinking about the next thing
Seeing you producing your music adds a lot to the overall experience. Do you ever plan on performing it live? Is that even possible?
I don’t know if I could replicate the same experience in a live performance. This kind of experimental sound design requires a lot of time and patience. It’s all about the details. Even when I’m mixing the music together I discover new things. It’s not like mixing a bass, a guitar and drums. There are no guidelines on how to get the best mix out of sand sounds, which is the beauty of it—no standards. If I did do a live performance I would mix pre-recorded sounds with the real-time interactivity of the instrument and the technique.
Do you plan on putting out a compilation of your work anytime soon?
Yes. I already have tracks online in several websites and I’ve been creating a lot of small compositions and longer tracks as well.
Your music has a very cinematic quality, what are some of your favorite films?
I have a lot of favourite films! The score is always a big factor in determining whether or not I like a film. I love Once Upon a Time in America, which was scored by Ennio Morricone. Close Encounters of the Third Kind, had a cool use of the ARP synth in the human-to-alien communication scenes. Johnny Greenwood’s music in There Will Be Blood was very interesting and I thought Thomas Newman’s Revolutionary Road score was great. Some of my other favorite scores were those of The Matrix, WALL-E and Slumdog Millionaire, which had great pounding percussion and good grooves.
What is your second favorite activity outside of making music?
I spend a lot of time in the studio, but in my spare time I like to travel.
What are your thoughts on Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, the overall brand aesthetics and the philosophy of DIY art for the masses?
Your website looks great. I love the layout and the vibe of it. After reading more I noticed that you guys are very active and doing interesting things. The combination of what you offer in your store and the artists you present are heterogeneous but with a well defined style, which I like. I also think that the philosophy behind Art in the Age gets through very well.
Finally, what’s up next? Can you give us a hint of what your next musical experiment will be and when we can hear/see it?
I’m currently finishing up the third volume of Epic Textures for the music production company Epic Score. These are tracks created specifically for film and video game trailers. They are very cinematic with huge bass-lines and deep textures. I can really go crazy with this type of production because the primary goal is to create stuff that grabs your attention right away. The first two CDs have been used frequently in a variety of films, tv shows and video games. Demos can be found on the site. As far as musical experiments go, I have some ideas that I’d like to explore pretty soon, and I’m customizing some new piezo transducers. I will keep you posted!
Thanks to Diego for the interview and be sure to check out more of his work on Behance.