(A semi-serious profile by Max Stachelschwein, originally titled So You Wanna Be An “Expert” Or – Heaven Forbid – An “Artist”?).

Born March 5, 1964, Massimo Ricci is a self-taught multi-instrumentalist improviser and composer, yet he’s worldwide known as an independent writer specializing in non-commercial music.

His blog Touching Extremes – described in the New York Times as a valuable read for “finding out about recordings of music that transcend the predictable” by influential composer Glenn Branca – is a no-frills, text-only source for reviews of improvisation, avantgarde, electronica, contemporary jazz and atypical genres, principally aiming to widen the difference between “significant” (or at least worthy of consideration) and “forgettable” in the overcrowded world of new music. In that sense, Ricci is generally willing to avoid negative reviews, convinced that “they usually sparkle a pseudo-cultural debate about something that ideally should be ignored”. In keeping with a strictly anti-intellectual stance his writings encourage new listening methods, analysis of sound-related physical reactions and ironic sociological commentary in opposition to vacuous criticism and pompous exposure of presumed “knowledge”. Started in 2001 as a sort of irregular web bulletin featuring – in the author’s words – “short descriptions of records that I bought and liked to be shared with cats and donkeys”, today Touching Extremes receives an average of 70/80 releases per month from artists and labels, “and I still listen very carefully to each one of them – even the utmost shit, which of course goes straight into the trashcan”.

Ricci’s vision defines the average human brain as basically unfit to decode unusual frequencies and understand rhythms different from binary or ternary, hence most listeners’ inevitable tendency to accept what’s dispatched as “good music” (not necessarily by an “establishment”, but also by stupid friends or colleagues) without a real evaluation of what they receive, their a priori refusal of dissonance and complex metres and – as far as many “self-proclaimed artists” are concerned – the growing abuse of the D(rone) word as a screen hiding their inadequacy. “There are also morons who believe to be depositaries of the Verb only because they play with – or stick their tongues up the ass of – someone with a name”.

Coherently with an admittedly hopeless struggle against superficiality, commonplace and low-budget spiritualism, he’s a firm non-believer in any concept of school, philosophy, psychology, official history, mass media and, above all, “desperation-induced social gathering”. According to Ricci, “either people are naturally gifted with a capacity – be it music, art, language, sport – or they’re not, and developing those features depends exclusively on the individual’s intelligence and mental strength. If one doesn’t possess the ability to vibrate, then pretending to vibrate is utterly pathetic. What really counts for this kind of subjects – more or less 95% of an average population, with a tendency to increase – is looking for a quick way to make money, being somehow “recognized” for something they did (most probably stolen from someone much brighter) and, last but not least, get laid – possibly trying to harass someone else’s tranquillity in the meantime”.

Touching Extremes’ motto “Sounds determine whether one’s an idiot”- while obviously strictly linked with these concepts – should not be easily dismissed as a taunt. It’s rather the concise manifesto for a deeply rooted series of long-time sonic and environmental experiences (Ricci started experimenting with different ways of manipulating his childhood’s records – thus obtaining the “most absurdly beautiful sounds” – at the age of 3) that can’t actually be translated into words. “It would be a waste of time anyway, given that the majority of the so-called experts is depressingly illiterate despite their ambitious curricula”, he says.

As a matter of fact, Ricci considers human language as an anti-evolutive means of communication and a ceaseless source of incomprehension and ego-derived stupid behaviours, the icing on a cake of constantly spreading absence of reason. “Over the years I’ve been greatly amused by the inverse proportionality between all this hubbub about “evolution” and the concrete lack of it. People read a couple of articles on a magazine, a book’s introduction at best, then start walking around acting like know-it-all jerks, teaching this, preaching that. But, for example, when it comes down to music everybody is ready to supinely acknowledge the most elementary rhythms and melodies as “celestial” or “ingenious”, obviously because they can’t understand what comes after the ABC, or even the A… Basically, we’re dealing with that kind of psychologically impaired individuals who need to join large groups to survive, otherwise they’d probably commit suicide after a week or so. These people will never get nowhere, whatever the official result of their life. The eternal illusion goes on. The problem at large is that the bulk of mankind feels entitled to declare themselves “masters” of something, without actually having a clue of what they’re talking about: an inconclusive versatility whose dramatic effects are mostly felt by the ones who have a real experience and follow the right direction, the effective prime movers, who work for themselves but also for those chumps who can only copy and reproduce at best. It happens all the time, in every field. One wonders about the incidence of degrees and diplomas in relation to the consumption of psychotropic drugs”.

At the beginning of 2005, Ricci was invited by composer and journalist Dan Warburton to contribute to Paris Transatlantic, one of the world’s leading websites for contemporary music.

Also in 2005, his writings were featured in sound artist Keith Berry’s landmark recording The Ear That Was Sold To A Fish (Crouton), nominated among the “albums of the year” by The Wire. Ricci is credited with “memory flashes morphed into words”, his short prose poems – rapidly sketched in an instinctive reaction to a series of photos that Berry sent him – as the source of the composition’s titles.

He is particularly interested in bringing to a wider attention the hard-to-fathom complexities in the work of unjustly overlooked artists, such as Roland Kayn and Alfred Harth.

Composer Darren Tate has subtitled his CD Trees Kissing Trees “for Massimo Ricci” as a friendly homage to the writer’s work.

Despite decades of instrumental research and recording experimentation, Ricci has not been interested in releasing his music in any format until now. He does not consider this as a priority, “but it could happen sooner or later, and I will accept the consequences”, he says. “At the end of the day, playing or listening to music which is able to affect our systems should ideally remain an intimate act. But egocentrism always claims its food, and I do my best to keep it on a pretty strict diet”.

© Max Stachelschwein, 2007

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