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Expedition CD guide



The result of a five-year project of concerts, travels (derives*) and performances, or “Expeditions” led by Steve Piccolo and involving the participation of many musicians, visual artists and poets. Each Expedition entailed interaction with the “natives”, or artists with local roots, as well as recording of local sounds. The CD is a selection of pieces developed during these projects. It comes with a booklet designed by artist Luca Pancrazzi with excerpts from Expedition texts.

(*Term used by Guy Debord and the Situationist International to describe the artistic practice of wandering around the city)

Travel (even tourism) tends to give us a heightened sense of experience. In an unfamiliar city or country we suddenly seem to notice things we would never notice at home. Look at that funny dog! What nice windowboxes they have here... Even the design of urban furnishings, manhole covers, bus stops... everything seems to be charged with a special meaning. If the journey also has a focus, a purpose beyond just spending money and killing time as a tourist, the experience is even more intense. If you are traveling to write a book about something, to learn a language, to study a religion or to find an unknown species of a plant or insect, your perceptions are more clearly focused.

Listening to a record, reading a book, looking at a painting should be a trip. Not that it necessarily has to have a departure and a destination and a return home. But it has to have, in our view, that sense of heightened experience and discovery that comes from purposeful travel.

“Steve Piccolo has come a long way since co-founding the Lounge Lizards in the glorious NY 1980s. […] Today’s complex noisescape meets with moments of lucid detachment in this sonic diary of mental and physical travels. […] Piccolo and Sato seem to scan the surface noise patterns of our overcommunicating world, hypothesizing an approach to information closer to our way of processing perceptive data regarding weather conditions than to any futile attempt to absorb even the smallest percentage of all the messages flowing around and through our bodies. In this sense, perhaps they are suggesting that the tools of musical improvisation represent a possible survival strategy for the future.”
- Felice Villa, Static, no. 4, May 2003 (Rome issue)

STEVE PICCOLO – One of the co-founders of the Lounge Lizards, author of successful pop songs (Self Control), sound artist and recording artist from New York, lives and works in Milan, Italy since 1990. For complete biographical information, discography, photos see website www.stevepiccolo.undo.net

GAK SATO – Groundbreaking electronic composer/performer from Tokyo, record producer, remixer, plays theremin, percussion, keys. Living and working in Milan, Italy since the mid-1990s. His latest solo CD is Tangram (Temposphere, 2002). For more complete info see his biography at www.stevepiccolo.undo.net, and his homepage http://homepage.mac.com/ggsato

LUCA GEMMA – Formerly the voice of the popular Milan band Rossomaltese, he has now set off on a solo career, releasing his first single (“Luca”) last year for CGD East West. He has written songs for a number of Italian pop artists, and is also well-known for his work in the theater, both on stage and as a composer of soundtracks.


1. The writer inside
The first track is about a graffiti writer. People have made signs in the territory since prehistoric times to indicate their passing or their presence. Writing tags is an aesthetic practice that engages the senses in a new way of perceiving the city as territory, a canvas, a backdrop or a found object to be signed, like Duchamp’s fountain. Our way of working with the sounds of the city makes us wander it like writers. Heightened awareness of sound goes together with heightened visual awareness. The act of wandering generates aesthetic experience. The wanderer simultaneously generates and experiences what is generated. He becomes responsible for the aesthetic impact of the places he observes. Therefore he can justifiably sign them, as artworks.
The writer in the song signs buildings, interiors, dresses in shop windows (fashion designers sign things they may never have seen nor touched), like Piero Manzoni he tries to sign people. The drug of aesthetic experience makes him insatiable, he wants to share his euphoric “discovery” state with others.
Obviously he gets arrested. When the judge asks him why he wrote his tag everywhere, even inside people’s most private spaces, he replies: “I wanted my signs to drift like music.”
This introduces the theme of the entire record: the possibility of sound and words to convey complex environmental experience.

2. Nickels and dimes
In every civilization worthy of that name there existed a law of hospitality. In the plains of the American West, the steppes of Russia, the desert or the jungle, a wayfarer lost in the dark had to be given something to eat and a place to rest. This law was based on simple survival instinct, making “do unto others” function in both directions. Today in the US it is legal to buy automatic weapons and shoot anyone who strays onto your property by mistake in the dead of night. The wayfarer in this song knocks humbly at the door asking for a place to rest. But he is also aware of his true nature. In many myths and legends of ancient times, the beggar who knocks at the door might be a prince in disguise, who wants to see if there are any wise men among his subjects. Or as in the tale of St. Julian (Flaubert), the beggar might be God himself come to test the virtue of a mortal.

3. A day in the life (Beatles)
Perhaps the most famous urban drifting song or slice of life snapshot. Revisited with sounds from the world, children in a playground, traffic, new harmonies.

4. Rumble
Originally a sound piece based on video games and amusement park noises. The ambient sounds with their excess of cinematic pathos have been replaced by drums and bass in frantic acceleration. This is the rhythmic memory of a sonic situation that has otherwise been completely “erased”. Check out Gak’s Stylophone solo.

5. Wasting days
A riff from a piece by the band Massimo Volume (produced by Steve) becomes the setting for an adaptation of an ancient Chinese poem. This introduces the theme of futility, the explorer’s dawning realization that the act of observation alters what is being observed.

6. Stakeout
A word used by policemen tailing a suspect. A bar, in a place of transit, sounds that could come from anywhere in the world. But the relationship between the watcher and the person watched borders on love. The original finale had sounds of cars on rain-soaked nighttime streets in New York. The new theremin finale is accompanied by the sound of a ride in the old Milan streetcars, from Steve’s studio to Gak’s studio (tram lines 4 and 27).

7. Return of the stray man (with guest beat by Painè)
A real New York homeless person, a “bum”, explains his function in the societal ecosystem. In anthropological terms there were hunters, growers and gatherers. Agricultural peoples stayed in one place. Others were nomads, the descendants of Cain. This song narrates the nobility of the urban nomad and his function as a reminder that we depend upon nature and each other for our existence, no matter how strong or how rich we are.

8. TransRussian lecture (by Luca Gemma)
A collage of words by John Donne and Charles Baudelaire, suggested by Bruce Chatwin in “The Song Lines”. In the past travel was difficult, and all great thinkers yearned for new horizons. Their words remind us that the sense of homeland, of belonging, is in many cases one of the most negative influences on mankind, causing wars, unhappiness and racism. The entire CD theme begins to come together as a reflection on the condition of “homelessness” as a choice, “rootlessness” as a spiritual and aesthetic practice. It should also be noted that the two main creators of this record, Steve and Gak, both live by choice (for the moment) far from their native countries.

9. Anyway (flashback)
Like a memory of a past life, all the actions in a single day of a young professional in New York. Literally a day in Steve’s life, at least twenty-five years ago.

10. The expedition
Revised version of one-minute piece originally composed for a record released in New York last year (State of the Union 3). The words come from a paragraph in a story by JM Coetzee that narrates an expedition. In one minute they sum up what could be the screenplay of a full-length movie of the genre “great white hunter in Africa captured by natives involved in magical rites barely escapes with his life.”

11.Ticket home (music by Luca Gemma, words by Steve)
The realization that no matter how far you travel, how much you observe, you will always be looking at pure illusion until you connect the voyage to an inner exploration of the self. Disappointed by the impossibility of actually making lasting change, of having any real impact on a world where the weeds tend to sprout back up and cover even the most beautiful temples, the explorer realizes everything is fake. This realization, in a sense, is his ticket home, his way out of the Expedition. But “home” is not a homeland, it is a self. At this point, wherever he goes, he will feel at home. Dedicated to Sun Ra, who always said he came from another planet and made his tale of separation from “home” into a technique of awareness through music.

12. In this city
A cyclical process of consciousness from macro to micro scale. Enlarging the micro one finds a new macro and so on, penetrating layer by layer. City, street, building, apartment, room, chair, person, brain, memory, city. Probing deeper the process gets faster and less detached, more emotional.