Saturday October 8, 2011 was the day Il Tempio delle Clessidre performed for a large Korean audience at the Sowol Art Hall in Seoul, brought to Korea through the efforts of Si-Wan, Seong, Korean DJ and record producer working with his friend Pino Pintabona at Black Widow Records. I was given the rare and wonderful experience of meeting the band, chatting with them, having lunch, sitting through sound checks and run-throughs, interviewing, and ultimately experiencing the true glory of the concert.
by Henry Schneider, Published 2013-04-01
photography by Henry Schneider
They arrived in South Korea on October 6, had one day for sightseeing, a day for the concert, and then flew back to Italy. The jet lag was a killer, but they will have fond memories of a wonderful experience.
The band is the brainchild of keyboardist Elisa Montaldo. As a young teenager, Elisa spent a lot of time at the Black Widow shop in Genoa exploring all musical genres and developing a love for Italian Progressive music of the 70s. Having written music and played in a number of bands since 1999, Elisa yearned to recreate the magic of the 70s. In 2006 she met Stefano Galifi, aka "Lupo," the vocalist from the legendary Museo Rosenbach. After several discussions, the two of them began to form a band that would play the renowned Zarathustra live. Finally in 2008 they enlisted fellow Genovesans Giulio Canepa (guitar), Fabio Gremo (bass), and 19-year old drummer Paolo Tixi to form Il Tempio delle Clessidre (The Temple of the Hourglass), their name a reference to a section in Museo Rosenbach's Zarathustra.
All members are accomplished musicians. Elisa is very humble about her keyboard skills, but don't let that fool you, she can really imbue her performance with great emotion and skill. Both Giulio and Fabio have degrees in classical guitar and Giulio has spent many years playing in a classical guitar duo. Fabio and Giulio have found inspiration from bands like Queen and Gentle Giant. Paolo studied percussion in a music academy and his tastes include Frank Zappa, Keith Moon, and the Beatles. And of course Lupo deeply loves the blues and soul singers such as Joe Cocker, Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, Elton John, and Michael Bolton.
Beginning with Elisa's musical concepts, compositions, artwork, and vision of connecting to a deeper emotional level, the band collaboratively created the "Temple" identity. Fabio composed many of the songs and arrangements, with Giulio, Lupo, and Paolo contributing their thoughts and ideas to help shape them into something much more than a mere retro band. In addition, Fabio scored the bass and guitar lines ensuring a tight integration with Elisa's keyboard interpretations and Paolo's improvised drumming, which proved immeasurable to Giulio and Elisa during the recording sessions. Elisa wanted to complement the music with an aesthetic identity intimately tied to the music. In keeping with her vision of recreating the 70s, she carried that over to the hand drawn artwork as well with input from the band and her brother Andrea. As Elisa did not want anything computer generated, they would brainstorm ideas for the artwork at their weekly band meetings and viewed drafts until everyone was satisfied. To convey this vision to their live performances, Elisa designed their costumes, designed their make up with personalized and strange esoteric symbols, and choreographed the concerts to create an original "vintage" atmosphere.
If you haven't guessed by now, Elisa is a perfectionist. She researched the sounds and timbres of the early Italian masters and meticulously tweaked and coaxed her synths to reproduce 40 different organ, analog synth, and Mellotron patches so essential to the beauty of the music. Makeup, costumes, props, choreography, smoke machine, and lighting are all tightly controlled and rehearsed to enhance the audience's experience to recapture that mystical ambiance so missing in many of today's performances.
To recreate Zarathustra live is definitely a labor of love and a tribute to Museo Rosenbach and I think that the result is better than the original. The music is complex, and given that the band can only gather once a week to rehearse, their hard work and dedication is a testament to the high quality of their performance. For example, during rehearsal, Elisa wanted the lighting crew to darken the theater and shine a spot on the book Lupo would be raising high in the air at the finale of Zarathustra. To rehearse this one sequence, she said they would play the final two minutes. Without skipping a beat, they launched right into the music as if they had been playing it continuously for the past 45 minutes.
Today Lupo is 63, but you would not know it from his voice. His vocals are as clear and strong as they were 40 years ago, but he does not share the energy of his youthful band mates. He allows them to shine, while he unobtrusively fades into the wings for the lengthy instrumental breaks. Since Museo Rosenbach broke up in the mid 70s, Lupo kept active performing in soul and hard rock cover bands and now he has come full circle. From the outside, we tend to think of bands as playing and performing music full time, but that doesn't put food on the table. So during the week, Elisa works for an optician, Fabio is a software programmer, Giulio is an ambulance driver, Paolo teaches drums, and Lupo recently retired as a hospital worker. Therefore it took them three years from the first note written to the last note recorded for their debut album to be released on Black Widow Records in 2010.
Since the friendly folks at Black Widow have known Elisa for a long time and listening to what Il Tempio was creating, Black Widow recognized a bright new talent and naturally agreed to release their album. The result was well received by the critics and Prog Archive rated their debut release as one of the Best Albums of 2010, making everyone extremely happy.
For their debut release, they recorded most of the album in the studio and at home, but to capture the majesty of the organ on "Faldistorum," Elisa asked to use the organ in her village's church. They were granted permission and with it completely empty, they recorded this magnificent anthem. Fabio said that his heart filled with emotion as he walked around the church, hearing their music reverberate from the walls.
The band has been working on new material, but it is still in the formative stages. They have roughly 40 minutes of music, 4 to 5 songs, about the link between man and nature from different points of view. If all goes well, they should be wrapping it up by June 2012. This album too will embody Elisa's goal of infusing their music with the emotional and visceral side of progressive rock. I can attest to what they have already achieved. It rarely happens to me when I listen to music or hear a band perform live that I have chills. I was constantly experiencing chills racing up and down my body during the rehearsal and the concert. Pino had the same sensation and he has seen them perform numerous times!
If their Korean performance is any indication, they are headed for greatness. They have played about 10 gigs in the past year at festivals and theaters, opening for bands like Soft Machine Legacy, Goblin, Arti e Mestieri, et. al.
For a break in their busy rehearsal day, we went across the street to a Korean barbeque restaurant and had bulgogi for lunch. This was a mild meal, as they did not want a lot of spicy food and garlic. While we were waiting to be served a Korean woman waved to Fabio beckoning him over to her table. She could not speak English, but they tried to communicate. After a few minutes he came back. The next thing we knew, the Korean lady came to our table, handed her cell phone to Fabio, and said, "Talk." He had no idea what was going, but being friendly, he obliged and began talking. The person on the telephone was the woman's daughter in New York. Unbeknownst to all, this was the beginning of the warm reception they would later receive.
I was very impressed how kindhearted the band was and I felt immediately at home hanging around while they rehearsed and later in the dressing room for the interview. It was almost like we had known each other for years.
At 7 PM it was time to begin. The theater was large and almost full. I had been very curious about what to expect in the audience having only been to concerts in the US. The audience was a mixture of young and middle-aged Koreans and some Japanese fans. Many men were dressed in suits and ties and some women were very well dressed. Being in jeans and a t-shirt, I was in the minority and, other than the band, the only Westerner there.
The opening act was a Korean band named Marisosa, named after a famous bookstore in Seoul. They are a trio of guitar, bass, and drums who played two covers of Barclay James Harvest songs, sung in Korean. They gave an admirable performance and the audience was clapping along from the very beginning. As the evening was devoted to Italian prog rock, Si-Wan had asked them to only play two songs, which was good, as they were very loud. Thankfully Il Tempio kept their volume at tolerable levels and I had no tinnitus afterwards.
Now it was time for Il Tempio and an evening of musical magic. They were nervous and initially things were a bit rocky during Zarathustra, Fabio started having problems with his bass and wireless transmitter, causing unintentional breaks. The audience was very polite and understanding, and Elisa stepped in immediately just like a seasoned performer to fill the awkward silences and joked about the bass suffering from jet lag. Someone behind me shouted out that it didn't matter. They loved the music! Eventually Fabio elected to use a long patch cord instead of the wireless and the band played on. Fabio is not your typical bass player standing to the side. He is out in front jumping and gyrating with Giulio. Both command your attention. They are all excellent musicians, making you think that if you concentrate too long on one, you will miss something important elsewhere on stage. Moreover, tying everything together is Paolo's powerful, yet effortless drumming. He is one of the most relaxed drummers I have ever seen perform. Yet he brings a wide range of rhythms and emotions to their compositions. Fortunately for the concertgoers and the world at large, Si-Wan video taped the event and Si-Wan Records and Black Widow will be co-releasing a DVD in the near future.
After their 45-minute Zarathustra performance, the band took a 10-minute break to change costumes and returned to play most of their debut release. Now we were able to experience a different side of the band, from quiet duets with Lupo and Elisa to contemporary organ and synth drenched masterpieces without any obligatory drum or guitar solos. At the end, the audience would not let them go, so for their encore they played a final song from Zarathustra that elicited a resounding cheer. The audience loved them! They were clapping and cheering. After the encore, the band lined up for a "curtain call." I fully expected them to receive a bouquet of flowers, as the audience was that enthusiastic!
Back stage the band was in tears. It was probably a more emotional evening for them than the audience. Giulio said that he felt like he was in a dream and didn't want to wake up. Then two middle aged Korean women came into the dressing room for hugs and photographs. They left and a few minutes later they returned a bouquet of pink roses for Elisa!
The next thing we knew Si-Wan was telling everyone "andiamo," we have to come out to the front. Upon exiting the dressing room and walking to the foyer, we saw a huge crowd parting for the band and a long table. Before the concert many people were buying CDs, vinyl, t-shirts, and posters, which I found interesting as I imagine many of them would experience Il Tempio for the first time that evening. Now they were orderly queued up to have their purchases signed! Each person would hand the band a poster, LP sleeve, CD booklet, etc. and then talk to them for a few minutes. I had never seen anything like this before. However, Si-Wan said that this is how it always happens in Korea.
What a perfect way for the band to end on a high note! I am so grateful that I could be part of it as well. From the opening chords and mournful Mellotron to the friendly reception. May Il Tempio delle Clessidre continue in this direction and reach larger audiences everywhere.
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