'Channeling Ancient Elements with Futuristic Soundscapes' — an Interview with Tommaso Cappellato
A photo of Tommaso Cappellato on stage playing a Sensory Percussion hybrid kit

Drummer, producer, DJ and composer Tommaso Cappellato is a musical maverick ‐ running the gamut from free‐form techno to hip hop production and jazz improvisation. Mentored by jazz visionaries Harry Whitaker (Black Renaissance), Michael Carvin (Pharoah Sanders) and collaborator with techno master Donato Dozzy.

Tommaso's seemingly unorthodox breadth of style and vision gives us a truly unique new school artist. From building his jazz chops as a resident drummer in NYC, to hip hop excursions alongside Brooklyn MC Yah Supreme; traveling to Senegal to meld with local world music masters, to leading his own award‐winning spiritual jazz project Astral Travel; collaborating with experimental electronica and techno artist Rabih Beaini and visionary Egyptian producer Maurice Louca to presenting his solo artist project ‘Aforemention' through Mark de Clive-Lowe's imprint Mashibeats ‐ Tommaso is the modern renaissance man, bringing together his lifetime of artistic exploration and exposure to create his own concept of a jazz‐informed experimental electronic soundscape.

Tommaso is playing at Nublu on January 11 as a part of Winter Jazzfest 2020.

Can you tell us a little bit about your musical background? What inspired you to record and perform music professionally?

I grew up in a musical family in Northern Italy. I was a natural on the piano, but ended up focusing on drums since age 11. I was self-taught til 17, then started taking lessons with a few local jazz drummers. I relocated to NY at age 20 where I studied at Drummers Collective and later got a BFA in Jazz Performance at New School University.

My main teachers were Michael Carvin, Victor Lewis, Billy Hart, and Jimmy Cobb. Soon after I graduated I started playing in a wide variety of ensembles and secretly producing my own electronic tracks, something that came in handy years later when I decided to put out my own records.

Being a musician is a vocation, I had no choice but to follow my inner passion. On top of that I began understanding how musicians have an important role towards expanding people's consciousness, inspiring others to dream and hope for a better future. Traveling to new places and constantly meeting new people is my passion and I find a lot of joy in doing so.

Tommaso playing a Sensory Percussion hybrid kit

How did you hear about Sensory Percussion?

Interestingly enough it was not through other drummers but through my good friend Mark de Clive-Lowe, who is an amazing pianist, dj and producer.

The concept is for me to be a vessel channeling ancient elements with futuristic soundscapes.

What projects do you currently use Sensory Percussion on?

I'm mainly touring with my solo project performing material from my two latest albums: “Aforemention” (Mashibeats/Ropeadope) and “Butterflying” (Mother Tongue). At the moment I use an entirely acoustic jazz drum kit with 4 sensors attached. I mainly map the drum rims and the edges of the heads with samples I created myself. On top of that I use Ableton for backing tracks and either a stand alone synth or a midi keyboard with sounds coming from Ableton.

What is your background in electronics?

I'm completely self-taught. As a teenager I'd spend lots of time in music shops trying out different devices and started using sequencing programs such as Reason by Propellerhead in the early 2000s. When I decided to build a solo set I investigated whatever devices I would need in order to achieve something specific that I had in mind.

What DAWs and synths do you use?

When playing live I currently use Ableton Live 10, and either a Roland JDXI Synth or an Arturia Mini Lab MKII shooting sounds from Ableton. When producing in the studio on top of using Ableton Live, I like to use sounds from Reason 10 and other vintage synths such as the Juno 60, Yamaha DX7, Roland SH2000 and whatever is available in the studio I'm recording at.

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What was the process for incorporating Sensory into your most recent live show?

I've always been eager to have a melodic/harmonic extension to the drums without having to touch other devices, so when I came across the Sensory Percussion technology my dreams came true. Telling a story is the main focus of the solo set and since introducing this technology the process has become easier.

Tommaso performing a hybrid Sensory Percussion-Acoustic kit there is a keyboard synth visible, as well
Tommaso performing live

I've noticed that you often map sounds to the rims of the drums, while leaving the head of the drum unmapped (not layering anything over the acoustic sound of the drum), what inspired that choice?

My aim has been creating a hybrid set that could seamlessly blend the acoustic side of the drums with either earthy melodic sounds, and some outer space effects and voices. The concept is for me to be a vessel channeling ancient elements with futuristic soundscapes. Keeping the acoustic side of the drums in its integrity as well as being able to use other technology is the whole point. I've mostly been lucky to come across some really great sound engineers in different venues that understand the proper balance between these worlds making them sound like one organic instrument.

Tommaso's Live Setup:

    • Acoustic Drums (gretsch/rogers/sonor)
    • Bass Drum 20 x 14
    • Snare Drum 14 x 6
    • Tom Tom 12 x 8
    • Floor Tom 14 x 14
  • Cymbals
    • Cymbals (Zildjian/Bosphorus)
    • Constantinopolis Ride 20"
    • Bosphorus Crash Ride 18"
    • Bosphorus Hi-Hat 14"
  • Electronics
    • Roland JDXI Synthesizer
    • Roland Octa Capture 8-channel Interface
    • Apple Mac Book Pro Laptop
    • Novation Launchpad MKII
    • Sunhouse Sensory Percussion (4 Sensors Pack)

Do you have any other projects currently in the works?

My solo project keeps expanding, I'm constantly producing new tracks and incorporating them in the live set. I just released a beat tape entitled Butterflying with two new bonus tracks supporting the tour I just completed in the US last October.

Some of the tracks were composed in one take by using the sensors. My next album will be out in Spring and feature my ensemble “Astral Travel” focusing on the poetry of Sun Ra.

It's quite experimental and it fuses elements of avant-garde jazz, spoken word and electronic music. Currently I'm working on a massive amount of material recorded during a residency I did at Pioneer Works in NYC in September 2018 and featuring an array of amazing musicians who dropped by the studio and sat in to record. Really excited about this one!

What advice do you have for Sensory Percussionists hoping to augment the acoustic sounds of their drums?

I think what is most important is to have a clear idea of what the artist wants to express. Of course experimenting is key and sometimes ideas come from trying things out. Yet once a considerable amount of material is collected, it is wise to go through the sounds and tracks and decide what is most effective and interesting for the sake of the performance and message.

To obtain a proper balance between electronic and acoustic sounds the proper sample needs to be chosen, and of course it's a matter of personal taste. I usually create my own samples which are usually pretty lo-fi and that helps the blending being more organic.

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Have you discovered any cool Sensory Percussion techniques recently that you would like to share?

My trademark has been to assign single notes or chords to the rims of the toms, turn automation by velocity on and change the pitch according to a specific harmonic scale. On the bass drum I usually assign a long bass tone, chord or drone. I could go on playing this kind of kit for days and not get tired.

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