Gabriele Panci speaks up about dark ambient music, New Risen Throne, Prophet Media agency, working with 3D graphics and virtual reality and more.
Italy has a reputable weight when it comes to ambient and dark ambient music; what music was Gabriele Panci brought up listening to?
Certainly, Italy has its important part in the ambient and electronic scene in general. In recent times I have been focusing a lot on what is produced in Italy and I am discovering very interesting realities, both artists and labels that produce ambient and dark ambient.
Unfortunately, I discovered this genre, or at least I became an admirer of it, a little late. I discovered dark ambient through black metal. One of the international projects that made me discover and appreciate the genre was Mortiis.
Havard Ellefsen was the first bassist of Emperor; a fundamental black metal group in the world scene; I was so curious to hear his project where I discovered a completely new world of unconventional sounds.
In particular, I discovered Cold Meat Industry and the whole universe connected to that label. Anyway, to go back to what music I listened to, I ranged both as a listener and as a musician from rock, industrial, black metal, grindcore.
Born in Rome, how does all that fascinating history and culture participate in shaping Gabriele Panci?
I’m not really from Rome, I was born and I live in the province of Rome, but even where I live there are signs of the greatness of the Empire everywhere. In particular, in the town where I was born and lived for almost 40 years (Palestrina, ancient Praeneste) where there is an extraordinary complex; the Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia built around the 2nd century BC.
For a long time it was certainly a great inspiration for music, and walking among the terraces that surround the structure has always given me great tranquillity.
Anyway, art and history have been and are currently very important to me, but I must admit that they are not the only source of inspiration, sometimes I find true spirituality, true art only when I am immersed in nature.
How did it all happen to Gabriele Panci, entering that realm of dark ambience?
I started the first experiments comparable to the dark ambient genre around 2000. I made the first sounds come out of very basic software that was still running in Dos, and then I moved on to less obsolete systems.
I started to spread the first demo Prophet around 2002 and since then I started to get in touch with small labels that produced the first works on CD-R (Flowing Ashes, Along Endless Path of Emptiness and Prophets from the Abyss).
Just because entrusted to small unknown labels, these first works did not have a great diffusion and my project remained in the shadows until I started collaborating with well-known labels. Starting from God is Myth, with which I made the first CD, I moved on to labels such as Eibon, Cyclic Law, Cold Meat Industry and Infinite Fog.
You began your music in 2002, how different is it to write dark ambient music there and now, when it comes to the revolution in digital music gear?
This is valid both for dark ambient and for the rest of electronic music in general. The first experiments, precisely because experiments in the true sense of the word, simply aimed at the diffusion of new sounds, unknown and unusual for the period.
The evolution of technologies and therefore of the tools used to create electronic music has marked greater processing of music. So, a genre that was born as a pure representation of minimalism, today has a more complex structure with more studied sounds than in the past.
What runs inside Gabriele Panci’s head before he starts writing music?
What goes through my head before I start making music has changed over the years. When I started experimenting with New Risen Throne, I dedicated every free moment of the day to music…something that is no longer possible now with my life that has changed.
Now I dedicate, or at least try to dedicate, to music as much space as possible but I don’t always manage to immerse myself in satisfying sessions.
Anyway, in the last four works I have practically developed the same concept, a story divided into chapters, so during these 14 years what went through my mind more than an idea was a continuous evolution of the idea that was developed until I had enough elements to get to work.
Can you walk us through your music writing process?
I like to accompany my music with graphics so usually, when I compose music, I work with 3D at the same time; honestly I can’t tell you which of the two things, music or graphics, is an inspiration for the other.
Sometimes I like to imagine landscapes to be created in graphics and to be sonorized, and while I am modelling them I also try to synthesize the sounds as close as possible to those I imagined in my head. On the other hand, sometimes I try to create in graphics the object or the being that produces the sound I am synthesizing at that moment.
What is it that your business (possibly) Prophet Media is trying to promote or produce?
Prophet Media is the name I use as a graphic designer. As a freelance, I mainly deal with 3D and Virtual Reality and I use this pseudonym exclusively when I create the graphics and videos for New Risen Throne…even if on the website there are only some reels of works that I have made with the agencies I am collaborating with.
When I will have time to do that, I will make a new website that is more consistent with what Prophet Media is. The passion for graphics and in particular for 3D is old, but I have managed to make it my job for almost 15 years and I currently collaborate with Italian and US agencies.
How does working with 3D Graphics and Virtual Reality influence your musical approach?
I try to combine music and 3D graphics as much as possible, not only because they are both great passions, but above all, because in my opinion dark ambient is among the musical genres that lend themselves to a visual accompaniment.
For some years I have also been working in the field of Virtual Reality and I have discovered a very powerful tool, able to immerse the user (almost completely) in a parallel dimension.
Eventually, I started experimenting with the use of this technology with my music and making the landscapes I mentioned earlier to be explored, and breaking down the music to create a real three-dimensional effect, in which the listener no longer has only Left and Right, but it is immersed in a sphere of sound.
New Risen Throne
Whose throne has newly risen, and what concept does the name carry?
As I mentioned, I discovered this kind of sound thanks to Mortiis‘ dungeon synth and my very first experiments (before the first demo Prophet) were certainly influenced by his work. A symbol that I saw very well connected to the concept of dungeon synth was the Throne. The New Risen is intended to refer to the use of new technologies to revive atmospheres connected to the past, to the more traditional world of fantasy.
New Risen Throne’s demo is called Prophet, what is the reason behind naming it so, and does it have any religious/spiritual connection to you?
No, no religious or spiritual connection in the name Prophet. In the period when I started experimenting with the first things in the genre, and therefore when the demo Prophet was born, I was very obsessed with the novels of Phillip K. Dick, which I have always considered to be a true prophet for what it would have been the technological breakthrough (and not only) that has invested us in the last 30 years.
As I see it, the figure of the prophet has nothing to do with spirituality. A prophet is simply an intelligent person who, studying the current state of the society in which he lives, foresees the future by living it and understanding its needs.
Quoting the album’s description here; after centuries of isolation the human race begins a journey in search of the causes that led to the end of its world, and for the first time it approaches the Structures, new life forms that have developed and evolved in the emptiness of “The Outside” – is a description of The Outside release; what in Gabriele Panci’s self-embodies that description?
Like I mentioned earlier, I have a great passion for Phillip K. Dick (but also for other classic science fiction writers such as Clark and Asimov) so transforming the concept started with Whispers of The Approaching Wastefulness into a sci-fi story is now was automatic.
Honestly, the series of albums was not the starting idea, but it took shape during the creation of Crossing The Withered Regions when I realized that I could extend the concept developed in the first, and enrich it in the following with a more apocalyptic vein.
Loneliness of Hidden Structures is the chapter that brings sound narration closer to a more visual and visionary approach of the story, and in which the figure of the Structures is introduced. They are born and evolved in the ruins of our world after our destruction, and they will be protagonists in the ending chapter The Outside.
Drawing a conceptual line, the events told in The Outside are in the same timeline as those told in the previous chapter but the protagonists of the story change…In Loneliness of Hidden Structures the structures are borning and evolving, in the last one, there are the Humans who embark on a journey into the destroyed world, abandoned for centuries.
The Outside album was released during the pandemic period which is still in continuity, how did that affect Gabriele Panci’s music on this specific release?
The Outside was released a few weeks before the whole pandemic mess started. During the first wave, so basically during the lockdown, I didn’t work much on the music except for a few sessions with Ketil and Alessio to close the Kegaal album, and I was mostly taken by work and the graphics of my project.
Cyclic Law has been producing my work for years now and I think it’s the perfect label for what I want to do with New Risen Throne, so it’s automatic for me to send my new works directly to Frederic without thinking about other labels.
For some years now, however, I have also been in contact with Rodolfo Protti of Old Europa Cafe, another historical label that has always attracted me for the amount of work it has produced for many years now, and who is also the organizer of the Congresso Post Industriale in which I had the pleasure of performing in 2018.
With him, we talked about making an NRT album on OEC, and since The Outside was almost ready I thought of proposing to both Rodolfo and Frederic a collaboration to distribute it with both labels.
Despite moving within the same musical genre, these two labels seem to have different audiences. This is probably because Old Europa Cafe is more oriented towards industrial and power electronics while Cyclic Law moves more into the traditional dark ambient.
The Outside as I see it is at the centre of these two currents and is having excellent feedback from both sides.
In your perspective, what personal changes represented themselves in The Outside record?
I think that over the years, my music has undergone an evolution both in the stylistic form and in the quality of the sounds.
Unlike the previous albums, in which there was a prevalence of medium/low frequencies and everything was exclusively synthesized, in The Outside I tried to range a lot even between the high frequencies and I used more classical instruments, such as guitar and percussion.
From the stylistic side, in each album the melodic component becomes more and more present and important, but also the presence in some songs of distortion and rhythmic parts that bring it closer to death industrial than to the dark ambient. In the last album, this evolution is certainly more evident.
A very important job and one that gave an excellent quality to the disc is what Frederic Arbor did with the mastering. For all the records I have released with Cyclic Law, he has always dealt with this fundamental part.
The Outside album features a track under the name of What We Have Seen; reflecting backwards and until this very moment, what is it you saw that might have influenced you, flipped your life concepts or deeply affected you?
You have to imagine the whole series of albums ranging from Whispers to The Outside as a series of books that make up a saga and then you have to consider that track as the chapter of a book and therefore as part of a story.
The music on the album is the soundtrack of a story I’m making in VR and that particular track talks about the moment when the end of the world takes place.
It is a bit complex to explain how I am visually realizing this moment in VR…it is an almost complete immersion in an abstract scenario that slowly crumbles, just as the musical movement that accompanies it is slow (and almost relaxed).
The contrast between raw (and catastrophic) images and the tranquillity of the background track can increase its drama.
Circles are usually symbols of oneness, completion and eternity; what concept does the New Risen Throne logo reflect?
The logo I made for NRT represents a sun, but obviously, from the logo, it is not clear whether this sun is rising or setting. One might think that the risen throne is the sun itself, or conversely that the throne will rise once the sun has completely set. I leave the freedom to interpret this as you wish.
Cover art for two albums of New Risen Throne holds abstract graphic work that is unique, although an album such as Whispers of The Approaching Wastefulness features a camera shot image; tell us more about New Risen Throne notion.
I have always tried to connect the music and the graphic design of the albums in the best possible way. Generally, graphics and music develop in parallel and, as I mentioned before, there is certainly a continuous exchange of inspiration on both sides.
Over the years I have alternated both simple photos and 3D in the artworks, but in both cases, I have always tried to graphically realize what the music I composed was transmitting to me.
Up Close & Personal
Looking back, did Gabriele Panci ever think he would make it this far with his music? What advice would you give artists or musicians who are thinking of doing their music?
No, certainly when I started I didn’t think in the least that my music would have done so much (a relative term, since we are talking about a niche genre anyway) and that it would have received for the most part positive feedback.
I began to suspect that I was making decent music when I started collaborating with iconic labels of the genre, and from then, it was a constant climb with more and more important contacts.
The first piece of advice that comes to mind…Just don’t disdain the idea of starting from the lowest level and starting to make contact with even the smallest and most insignificant labels, this is how you understand how the whole Gear works.
Growth, if there is the basis for it to arrive, will be automatic.
Name a book that has influenced Gabriele Panci? How did it influence the person you are now?
I was lucky enough, from an early age and thanks to my older brothers, to have a library stocked with many books of different genres. In particular, one of the novels that brought me closer to science fiction was Philip K. Dick‘s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.
From that book, I took a passion for that specific literary genre, but in particular, it introduced me to what would later become my favourite writer.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is an excellent novel and will remain one of the most important novels for me, but my favourite is certainly The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. The narration, completely disconnected from the regular flow of time and space, makes it in my humble opinion a fantastic book.
If Gabriele Panci would pick your favourite Italian and International ambient musicians, whom would you pick, and why?
You put me in front of a difficult choice, but so I can tell you straight away that the Italian ambient artist is Bad Sector, not only because I have always loved his music, but because I have seen him at work and in live performance, it is a must-see (as well as listen, of course).
There are too many internationals, but I tell you Desiderii Marginis because when I realized that the genre attracted me a lot, he was one of the projects I listened to the most.
In an imaginary overview, how do you think ambient and dark ambient music would sound like in the future?
This thing intrigues me a lot too, but I don’t feel like making any predictions…Currently, we catalogue under the Ambient (or Dark Ambient) genre projects that deal with the writing and realization of their music in a very different way.
I’ll give you some examples.
I am currently collaborating with many projects both for the realization of my next album, both for parallel projects, or for simple collaborations for other projects albums and what I have been faced with was a great variety of skills used to create sounds.
Within the Kegaal project, I find myself collaborating with Ketil (Taphephobia) who uses a lot of the sampled guitar in his/our pieces, me and Frederic (Visions) who use almost exclusively computers and synths and Alessio (NERATERRÆ) who in addition to the electronic part also uses percussions.
Other examples are Sysselmann and Black/Lava who use a lot of percussions and more traditional instruments to create an absolute tribal ambient. Who knows what will be the trend that will be more in vogue to create this kind of music? Will it be the same as now? Let’s see…