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Moers Festival Interviews: Virginia Genta

Moers Festival Interviews: Virginia Genta

Courtesy Klaus Dieker


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There is a tradition in the small German city of Moers, although its aims are far from traditional in orientation. Unless we consider the already sixty-year history (at least) of jazz-derived free improvisation. The Moers Festival has run since 1972, originally bent on exploring the vitality of free jazz, and still resolved towards that direction today, although now acknowledging the input of rock, folkloric, electronic and moderne new music elements.

Since 2008, the city of Moers has supported an Improviser In Residence, not just for the Whitsun weekend festival, but for the entire year. The musician moves their entire operation to a dedicated house, from which they parade through the streets, interacting with the local scene, organizing gigs, workshops and collaborative sessions with visiting players. There are surely very few situations that compare, globally. Perhaps even none.

In residence for 2024 is the Italian saxophonist Virginia Genta. She has moved into the new house, now that the old park-side joint has been retired. "It's a new place, it's super-new," she enthuses. "It's in the city centre, a really big house. I think that the people from the Moers Festival, they were happy with the old house, although it was getting a little run down. It needed some renovation. From my point of view it's good to change. It's really central. There's a little studio upstairs, for playing at night, without disturbing the neighbours."

It is a relief that this space has been sound-proofed, as a significant part of Genta's work, particularly those albums available on her Bandcamp page, are dedicated to the threatening world of sustained circular breathing noise-attack, her soprano or sopranino saxophones hooked up to a wobbling Marshall stack, issuing extended swathes of multi-layered constancy. This is where she resides mostly, of late, but Genta's long-running Jooklo duo with drummer David Vanzan operates in a more acoustic vein, even if in a rough-and-tumble fashion. She also plays clarinet and tenor saxophone, which offer softer alternatives.

Soon after arriving in Moers, Genta performed with Sinergia Elettronica, a Stuttgart foursome who wrap themselves in modular synthesiser wiring, keyboards, percussion, guitar played through a megaphone, with a light sensor interface. Genta says that the group's electroacoustic concept is to push the gear towards having its own (sometimes randomised) intelligence. Genta was blowing clarinet and saxophone through an amplifier.

"I like to play with an amplifier a lot," Genta explains. "because you have one more layer. I also like acoustic, of course, but when I'm playing solos with the tenor I like to hear all the sounds that are normally not present. I also like to play a lot with the response from the sound that you can have from either an amplifier or from the room itself. You make sound with the saxophone, but at some point there's a limit. I try to keep it minimal. I don't like to have too many effects. I like to play with the eq, and distortion. Every sound that I add is like one more instrument. On some projects I'm using flangers or ring modulators. It worked fine [the house gig]: it was over by ten, the door was open, everybody was free to come. One of the neighbours came to the show. It's friendly, with the people from the neighborhood..."

During March, she was playing Tuesday night solo gigs in unusual locations. Beginning with the main church, Genta moved on to the library foyer, and then into a tunnel in the park, exploring resonances all the way. "We want people to think about the saxophone, but also about the sounds of places they have in their town."

At the Moers Festival itself, Genta will doubtless be involved with its various organized and spontaneous improvisation sessions, but she will also be playing a more 'fixed' set with the American guitarist Bill Nace. "We first met in Albany, New York on April 15th, 2010," Genta precisely recalls. "It was during a Jooklo tour, and we shared a gig at the legendary Helderberg House with Bill and Paul Flaherty's duo Wovoka, and residents Burnt Hills. We already knew Paul back then for a few years already, and had heard of Bill from plenty of mutual friends. It was instant love, and we jammed with him and Paul straight away. A year later we were touring in the States as a trio with Bill, and many more tours and recordings together followed afterwards."

How is the process of making instant music with Nace? "It's total empathy and telepathy, an instant connection. One of those things that are hard to explain. The trio with him and David has always been completely well-balanced, even in the most harsh situations, which can happen easily when you tour a lot. Our appearance at the Moers Festival this year will be the first ever as a duo, as until now we always mixed our duo sounds while melting with the drums. The only exception is a recording we did a few years ago in Italy, and that will be released in time for the festival."

Several of Genta's recent LPs and EPs have been captured live by cassette recorders, and sometimes released as cassettes as well as digitally. Twenty years ago, Genta was more involved with releasing vinyl albums. "We used to do a lot of vinyl, from 2000 to 2012, and then the new vinyl boom kicked in and we were a bit overwhelmed by everybody putting out LPs."

Vinyl has become increasingly expensive, both in terms of production costs and the end-product purchaser price-tag. Also, there are extended waiting times at pressing plants, principally due to larger record labels muscling in with their gigantic orders. Genta currently prefers cassettes: "You can do it on your own. We have duplicators, and you can still buy blank cassettes, although even they're getting more expensive now. But you don't have to rely on a factory to get it done." Genta and Vanzan even got into cutting LPs directly from the lathe at one point, but there was a lot of vinyl wastage, plus limited runs that could only stretch to eight copies. The ultimate collectors edition!

Your scribe has noticed that Genta plays the curved soprano saxophone, once favoured by the great Lol Coxhill, but increasingly rare on the scene nowadays. "It's almost like two different instruments, with curved and straight. My straight soprano is a nice one, while the curved is really trashy, but in a way, I still prefer this one. The sound is loud and really straight in the face, especially with the noise stuff, through the amplifier. It's really sharp."



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