After a longer delay than I would have liked, the Sound Propositions podcast is back. I’m very pleased to finally share this conversation with Bruno Stucchi, graphic designer and co-founder of the Die Schachtel label. Stucchi reflects upon the evolution of the label, the suppressed history of Italian experimental music, and the continued importance of big ideas.
Die Schachtel is a partnership between Bruno Stucchi and Fabio Carboni, who met online during the peak of eBay record collecting, before Discogs and social media convinced us that there is nothing new under the sun. (Not that these two will ever stop looking….) They exchanged records and, more importantly, they exchanged ideas, culminating in an ambitious excavation of the lost history of Italian experimentalism. The label debuted in 2003, and has since built a strong reputation for their meticulous editions, unquestionably one of the guiding lights of the current flourishing of experimental music in Milan and Italy more broadly. (Joseph Sannicadro)
Episode 13: OUTSIDE THE BOX
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Interview recorded in Stucchi’s studio in Milano, May 2019
Produced and mixed in Montreal, October 2020
SP* at Anchor
The reality of our century is technology: the invention, construction and maintenance of machines. To be a user of machines is to be of the spirit of this century. Machines have replaced the transcendental spiritualism of past eras.
– Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Vision in Motion (1947)
This conversation took place at Dinamo-Milano, Stucchi’s studio on Via Tadina, a location that was once the headquarters of Die Schachtel. Just down the street is the A+M Bookshop, the label’s original home, where Giuseppe Ielasi ran his Fringes label and organized concerts and events. The Mudima Gallery is also on the same block, founded by Stucchi’s teacher, Gianni Sassi, the founder of the indie label Cramps and a legendary figure in the Italian avant-garde. The coincidence of these physical proximities turns out to be not so coincidental. Collaboration is at the heart of the label, and the duo self-consciously set about filling a void in the cultural memory, connecting the present to the past. In 2007, the pair relocated to the Isola neighborhood to their present home at Artoteca Spazio O’, an interdisciplinary art space founded by Sara Serighelli and Angelo Colombo in 2001, whose basement houses Die Schachtel and Soundohm (mailorder run by Carboni). These non-profit cultural organizations are stronger together, and O’ remains a gathering place for art and music even as the Isola distinct has rapidly gentrified around them.
Die Schachtel is at the center of a feedback generating network helping to re-energize Italian music in the 21st century. While many Milanese artists and organizers have often (rightly) expressed resistance to the idea of a Milan “scene,” O’ has played an important role as a place of assembly, hosting art exhibitions, residencies, workshops, and concerts. What the space may lack in acoustics it makes up for in community. Ielasi was already organizing concerts at A+M as far back as the ‘90s, with notable performances by William Basinski, Michel Doneda, John Butcher, and Akio Suzuki among many others. Attila Faravelli, another contemporary Die Schachtel affiliate, organized concerts for one time at the Lift. But the situation began to change after 2011, and the milieu that had sustained this network of artists began to flourish as new venues and labels continue to appear, such as the cultural center MACAO, currently housed in an extraordinary squatted meat market. In recent years, venues like Standards (co-founded by Die Schachtel affiliate Nicola Ratti) have created even more opportunities for live performance and creative experimentation. During the first wave of the pandemic, Standards’ Quarantine Workouts were a highlight of thinking about creative responses to our predicament.
The fact that O’ is an ex-factory suits Die Schachtel well, and speaks to Milan’s reputation as a center of design and production. Stucchi is primarily a designer, and anyone who has held a Die Schachtel edition in their hands will be aware. From the very beginning, the label has given the utmost care to design, packaging, and meticulously researched yet accessible and bilingual liner notes. All of this, taken together with the music, helps to establish a narrative and to tell a story, building a parallel discourse to later 20th century Italian art and music. Stucchi’s design philosophy is intent on making connections between the music the release and the broader milieu of Italian modern art, from the light sculptures of Fausto Melotti to the arte concreta of Gillo Dorfles and Bruno Munari. The label’s editions invite us to consider the neglected connections between innovations in science and art, how ideas manifested into concrete art and concrete music, how spatialism manifested in objects, actions, and sound. Stucchi recognizes that packaging and design are inherently rooted in both ideas and materiality, finding resonance between art and music that has reshaped many assumptions about 20th century music in Italy and beyond.
Two design influences in particular are worth mentioning. The silver imprint common to many of Die Schachtel’s editions is a direct reference to Philips’ 21st Century Perspectives (Prospective 21e Siècle), a series curated by François Bayle and Pierre Henry which included many classics of 20th century electronic music. As the name suggests, this was music that was explicitly situated as the music of the future. (See below for a comparative cover gallery.) The other key referent is Fortunato Depero’s Futurist book Depero futurista, aka the bolted book, for the publisher Dinamo-Azari. This book inspired the name of Stucchi’s studio, and has been an important influence on Stucchi’s design aesthetic. Artists like Depero had sought to bridge the gap between life and art by injecting artistic principles into industrial design. For instance, while most people won’t know he was the designer, Depero’s most well-known work must be the Campari Soda bottle, which has been in continual use since 1932. This intersection of art, science, design, production, and advertising is one important part of the spirit of Die Schachtel.
The name Die Schachtel comes from a 1969 composition by Franco Evangelisti, a composer and theorist best-known as the founder of the Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza. As they explain, Die Schachtel is German for “the box,”
a metaphor for the conceptual and creative space occupied by both the composer and the publisher. It also refers to the production of sound artefacts and art multiples as “sonic boxes”, full of surprising and unexpected musical discoveries. Aim of Die Schachtel is to publish both archival and unreleased material from the most interesting (and often unknown) names of both the electronic avant-garde music and the sound-art scene, of the period 1960-1980.
The sound boxes owe something to the fluxboxes of Fluxus and to critic Germano Celant’s conceptualization of the record as a form of artist multiple. And already by 2004 the label had broken out of that imposed time period with Christina Kubisch’s On Air, which had originally been released as a cassette in 1984, a period in which the artist was based in Italy. For the Die Schachtel edition of 99, Bruno proposed that Kubisch draw a unique cover for each edition, which also included a piece of electrical cable used in the original 1984 installation.
Die Schachtel began as an excavation of the past, as much for Italians as for an international audience. They speak often of a secret history, outside established institutions and cannons that have built up often rigid and conservative orthodoxies. The label’s debut edition was Musicautomatica by Pietro Grossi, the first Italian composer of computer music and “an unsung hero” and “true revolutionary” whose work had become mostly forgotten. Released in 2003, that LP was greeted to a full page review by David Toop in The Wire (July 2003, #233). The label quickly received the support of Keith Fullerton Whitman’s Mimaroglu distro, followed by Forced Exposure, and the label was up and running. 2004 featured an incredible slate of editions, including work by Franca Sacchi and Luciano Cilio that are, to my ears, two of the most remarkable achievements of Italian music. While both brilliant composers, they were each outsiders in their own way. This suggests another important current of Die Schachtel’s work, producing a genealogy of outsider experimentation and a valorization of amateurism, celebrating objects which don’t fit comfortably into traditional disciplinary distinctions.
The success of the label has allowed for more ambitious releases, such as collections of the cybernetic music of Roland Kayn, or the 6-CD box set of radiophonic works submitted to the Prix Italia. It also allowed them to quickly expand their support to contemporary artists, beginning with the imprint ZEIT in 2006. While Die Schachtel would introduce the world to the obscure genius of Insiememusicadiversa, a virtually unknown Fluxus collective from central Italy, it could also introduce audiences to contemporary work being produced by member Angelo Petronella. ZEIT also released music from artists working in Milan at that time, such as Andrea Belfi and 3/4hasbeeneliminated. In 2010, the label released the massive survey Musica Improvvisa, 10-disk collection of contemporary music shining light on a wide spectrum of Italian improvisers. Subsequent mprints such as Blume Editions and Decay Music have allowed the label to expand into new aesthetic territory, bringing out music by Julius Eastman, Sarah Hennies, and Maurzio Bianchi, among many others.
Along with other Milanese labels, above all ADN and Alga Marghen, Die Schachtel have painted a fuller picture of aspects of Italian cultural history that were nearly obliterated. The 1970s are often remembered for political violence and intense social conflict. The 1980s ushered in a period known as the Reflux, a retreat into private life that lingered like a crippling two-decade-long hangover. The music changed. People were looking for new things, for lighter entertainment. It was the beginning of cable TV, of Berlusconi’s media empire, of Italo-Disco and McDonalds and the Pet Shop Boys. Many artists abandoned music for spiritual pursuits (Claudio Rocchi) while others became crossover pop stars (Battiato). The underground became more and more a place of bedroom producers producing Industrial and Noise, or else using new digital tools in pursuit of New Age music. “Money will ruin everything, and money ruined everything,” Stucchi tells me. It becomes harder and harder to find those lost classics, and yet Bruno and Fabio continue to unearth remarkable finds year after year.
ARTIST – “TITLE” (ALBUM, LABEL, YEAR)
Luciano Cilio – “Liebsleid Fragment” (Dell’Universo Assente, Die Schachtel, 2004)
Pietro Grossi – “Progetto 2/3” (Musicautomatica, Die Schachtel, 2003)
FIELD-RECORDING – grandine fuori, milano, 2019
Franca Sacchi – “Quando Mi Hanno Ucciso, Se Così Posso Dire, E Quindi Rinasco”  – (En, Die Schachtel,2004)
Enore Zaffiri – “Tr/e.54.IV” (Musica Reticolare, Die Schachtel, 2004)
Keith Fullerton Whitman – “Modena” (Playthroughs, Kranky, 2002)
Roland Kayn – “V. Invarianten” (Simultan, Die Schachtel, 2018)
Yes – “Roundabout” (Fragile, Atlantic, 1971)
Fabio Selvafiorita – “Untitled 7” (…A Gift For (°!°)…, Grey Sparkle, 2006)
Marino Zuccheri – Parete (Parete 1967 Per Emilio Vedova, Die Schachtel, 2005) [field recording on the site of the Italian Pavilion by J. Sannicandro]
Nuova Consonanza – “Concreto 1” (Azioni, Die Schachtel, 2006)
A Spirale – “Untitled 1” (Musica Improvvisa – Viande, Die Schachtel/ZEIT, 2010)
Area – Omaggio a Gianni Sassi
Christina Kubisch – “Listen Through The Walls” (On Air, Die Schachtel, 2004)
Gruppo NPS – “Insiemi” (Nuove Proposte Sonore 1965-1972, Die Schachtel, 2011)
Insiememusicadiversa – Untitled (Insieme Musica Diversa, Die Schachtel, 2004)
Giuseppe Chiari – “La Luce”  (Tempo Reale, 2019)
Valerio Tricoli – “Error” (Miseri Lares, PAN, 2014)
Marino Zuccheri – “Plastico, 1961” (Milan Rai Studio di Fonologia Musicale 1955-83, Die Schachtel, 2018)
Luigi Nono – “Non Consumiamo Marx” (Musica Manifesto N. 1 Di Luigi Nono, Die Schachtel, 2018)
François Bayle – “Espaces Inhabitables, V.” (Tremblement De Terre Très Doux, Ina-GRM, 1979)
Lino Capra Vaccina – “Canti delle Sfere” (Antico Adaggio, Die Schachtel, 2014)
Andrea Belfi – “Cera Persa 1” (Cera Persa, Latency,2016)
Battiato – “I cancelli della memoria” (Clic, Bla Bla, 1974)
Tony Schwartz – “Wimoweh” (New York 19, Folkways, 1954)
Giuseppe Ielasi – “09” (Aix, 12k, 2009)
Piero Milesi – “Between the Scale and the Apple” (The Nuclear Observatory of Mr. Nanof, Cuneiform, 1984)
FIELD-RECORDING – hammering somewhere in the building, Milano, 2018
Franco Evangelista – Die Schachtel (Die Schachtel, Deutsche Grammophon, 1971)
FIELD-RECORDING – Parco musicisti Milano, 2017
Sound Propositions is written, recorded, mixed, and produced by Joseph Sannicandro.
selections from Prospective 21e Siècle
selections from Die Schachtel
Compare also with the work of Fausto Melotti