“I’ve always been terrible at remembering songs.” It’s a surprising pronouncement considering that it comes from Diego Stocco.
As a leading sound designer Diego has created his own instruments such as the experibass, extracted sounds from sand, worked with Hans Zimmer on the Sherlock Holmes soundtrack, and created a series of youtube and vimeo videos, including Music from a Tree and Bassoforte , which have reached over half a million hits.
To the uninitiated or musically challenged the work of creating new sounds for music or film might seem to be an obscure art. In fact, when Diego was a child his father admonished him for making “sounds not music. “ Maybe that’s why when Diego talks about his art he includes a good dose of tongue-in-cheek humor, “We don’t need noise. We need the sound of silence. It might sound like the Simon and Garfunkel song, but it’s true.”
As a writer, I might be someone who dreaded music class (I was declared semi-tone deaf after tests involving annoying chirping noises), but my frustration doesn’t come close to Diego’s annoyance with formal music teaching.
Accepted to the conservatory at the age of 11, Diego was kicked out the same year after sawing his violin in half to avoid class. By the end of our conversation I see that this little act of resistance was probably driven by an unsettled curiosity that believes “the line between music and sound is not really that important.”
Is there a sound from Italy that’s been important to you?
I grew up in the countryside and there was a railway that crossed this little village. My grandfather told me, “be careful because there are no barriers. When you hear the train coming don’t cross.” So I was there all the time [asking myself] “is it close?” Can I cross?”
Then my grandfather taught me how to put a coin on the railroad and have the passing train make it bigger I was just waiting for this massive sound to come (makes sound of a passing train) and then the coin flipping. Those are sounds that got recorded in my memory.
Another thing my grandfather said was “careful with the snakes” and I said, “which snakes?” He said, “You will hear them.” I said, “How can I hear the snakes? I don’t even know what they look like!”
When I heard “sssssss…” in the middle of the bushes I knew that was a snake. So I thought “My God! I need to be very careful and listen to what’s going on more than look.”
You can’t see the train coming. You can’t see the snake coming. But you can hear them.
When did you make your first instrument?
I had my first emotion with instruments when I was 9. I was studying piano … I was learning the scales and I was so annoyed. I wasn’t bored, I was annoyed. I was so actively annoyed by this thing that I was supposed to do that I hit the note BOOM! and I cracked one of the hammers inside the piano. What followed after wasn’t that interesting, but the moment itself sparked something.
When I was 12 I was switching guitar strings … then I started doing small modifications on the synthesizer. I didn’t want to break the only instrument I had at the time. Now I can. I’m not scared of breaking them.
Whenever you make an instrument it sounds very destructive… burning it or sawing it…
Well you have to take things apart. I mean if they stay the way they are they never change. There are people that are mad at me because I burnt a piano. So what? … I burned my piano. I made sounds out of it and people are playing those sounds. So the piano’s not dead and I shared something that is only apparently destructive with many people.
… The second stage was actually constructive. I had to burn the piano to build a new sound out of it.
When people come to you they don’t expect traditional music, do they?
They would be disappointed if they came to me expecting anything that is classic.
There are people that say “If you don’t know how to play a real instrument… “What do they mean by a real instrument? It’s not like the guitar was that real when they first invented it. … It became real or established after hundreds of years. So there isn’t an instrument that’s real or unreal, it’s just that people like to stick to what they know. They are scared of trying something different.
Do you discover or create sounds?
I actively create them because I imagine something and then I find ways to make it happen…
We are always attracted by sounds especially sounds that we don’t expect, that we don’t know. I think it’s the human curiosity that is in us. I think it’s just more accentuated in me, but we all have the same ability to listen to sounds.
Is there one of your project that has gotten more attention than the others?
Music from a Tree has gotten the most attention…
Music from Sand was a work that hasn’t really been understood at all. People thought I was just doing percussion on top of what I was playing on the keyboard. Everything in that is made out of sound from sand. I extracted sound from sand. I mapped it on the keyboard and played the sound from the sand.
Would you consider the sand the instrument or what’s the instrument?
Me. I’m the instrument.
Check out Diego’s latest video…