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Bio

Fredo Viola's sublime music grew from an inspired marriage between 21st century technology and the oldest of musical instruments, the human voice. His songs have an innocent, romantic, almost mystical quality that seeks out the magical in the everyday. They feel like dream soundscapes, alien but strangely beautiful.

   



Most of Fredo's songs begin as improvisations, weaving multiple vocal lines into a sparkling tapestry of melody, harmony and counterpoint. Electronic or acoustic instruments are added afterwards, but the voice remains central. Sometimes he uses pure sounds instead of words, but always with a strong emotional impact. 

"When I started out making music," Fredo says, "it truly was just a means of getting in touch with a more honest part of myself." 

Born in London, Fredo spent his early childhood in England and Rome before his family relocated to America - first New York, then Los Angeles. In his teens, he sang professionally as a boy soprano with LA's celebrated Bob Mitchell Boys Choir, then left to study in New York with ambitions to become a film-maker. He is now firmly based in New York, where he perfected his unique fusion of music, performance and multi-media visuals. 

Fredo's debut album 'The Turn' combines traces of singer-songwriter pop, ambient electronica, classical, religious hymns and even mediaeval folk ballads. He cites a broad range of inspirations including Harry Nilsson, Bartok, Kate Bush, Bach, Belle and Sebastian, Shostakovich, Boards of Canada, Stravinsky, Odetta and Alfred Schnittke. But his mesmerising music clearly has a strong and singular voice that is entirely his own. 


"When people ask I usually say Beach Boys meets Sigur Ros, but I haven't really soaked up either of their music," Fredo says. "I think I have most been influenced by a great many years of listening to orchestral music, which is very free in colour and structure." 

Keen-eared listeners to 'The Turn' will already be familiar with 'The Sad Song', a meticulous layering of mellifluous harmonies and airy electronics, which first appeared on Fredo's debut EP in February 2008 to glowing reviews. The Guardian praised the track's "choral, quasi-religious intensity that is quite unlike anything else". Meanwhile, DJ Magazine called it "a curious mix of Philip Glass, Moondog and Radiohead-inspired sonics" and Allmusic.com branded it "delicate, ethereal, soothing, even otherworldly." 


A YouTube sensation which notched up 175,000 hits in a single day, 'The Sad Song' earned laudatory emails from author Neil Gaiman and film critic Roger Ebert. It also garnered Fredo an invitation to work with noir-pop icons Massive Attack, who flew him to Bristol to record guest vocals for their forthcoming album. 

The title track of 'The Turn' is another majestic highlight: soft and fragile at first, then building to something of an epic art-rock symphony. As its strident martial rhythm and climactic orchestral fanfares fade, the track recedes again into ghostly melancholy and sampled seagull sounds. 

Many tracks on The Turn feature abstract vocals rather than recognisable words, a rich tradition that Fredo shares with Sigur Ros, Cocteau Twins, early REM and other left-field innovators. Clearly defined lyrics, he explains, can be too confining whereas music is "ambiguous, exciting, terrifying, heart-breaking, joyous." The words are far less important than the deeper emotions beneath. 

"All my songs start out in gibberish," Fredo admits. "The funny thing is that once I make the sound it stays in my memory and I can repeat it over and over. So I suppose they are coming from some deeper part of myself. I find it distracting to have to think about words as you listen to music. It definitely pulls the listener out of the flow of emotions. I like to concentrate on the more abstract and potent emotion you get from music." 

'The Turn' is certainly a highly emotional album full of sunshine and sorrow, playful humour and sombre beauty. The euphoric rush of childhood memories on 'Robinson Crusoe' has the grainy, flickering quality of old Super-8 home movies. The pulsing techno-folk ditty 'Friendship Is' conjurs up a similar nursery-rhyme feel, with Fredo's intertwined harmonies bouncing off an electronically manipulated version of his voice. Meanwhile, 'Red States' is a breezy parable of love and war carried aloft on warm currents of Beatle-ish melody. 

The more experimental tracks on 'The Turn' inhabit the same free-floating realm as Radiohead or Sigur Ros at their most adventurous. A creamy swirl of spectral voices drifting through an electrical storm of science-fiction sound effects, 'K Thru 6' could almost be a lost track from 'In Rainbows'. On 'Death of a Son', the melding of choral chants with crisp electronic percussion strikes a bold collision of ancient and modern. 


The language of cinema had a huge influence on Fredo's musical evolution. While studying to become a film-maker at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, he became obsessed with the dreamlike style of Fellini and Bergman: "two extremely musical directors". 

Fredo then worked in film editing and animation design, which allowed him to invest in a home studio. His music always had a cinematic quality - one of his early tracks was chosen for the soundtrack to Jonathan Demme's classy 2004 political thriller, 'The Manchurian Candidate'. 

"As my compositions started to get more complex I started to aim some of the filmic ideas I had into the music," Fredo recalls. "I'd start thinking about sound effects, and what images they would conjur in the listener's mind. I never had formal music composition training, so when figuring out how to structure the more complex pieces, I would visualize the structure as if it were a filmic journey, or a dream." 

Fredo developed his musical and visual styles simultaneously, culminating in his striking "cluster video" performances, elegant fractal collages which combine multiple film and vocal recordings into a single audio-visual whole. Several fine examples are posted on his websites: www.fredoviola.com and www.theturn.tv. 

"The cluster ideas originated just from having to find a way to perform my multi-voiced songs live," he explains. "I figure this is the purest kind of live performance. Although it isn't experienced live, it's an uncorrected performance, so about as close as I can get without having a family of singing clones." 

'The Turn' is being released with a sister DVD featuring eight of Fredo's cluster videos and other experimental performance films. These includes alternate versions of key album tracks plus a gorgeous rendition of 'Silent Night' with the Norwegian basso singer Nils Christian Fossdal. Each film is a crisp little conceptual masterpiece in its own right, carefully distorting time and visual space, creating widescreen panoramas out of narrow architectural spaces and "ghost clusters" from multiple overlaid images of Fredo. 

"What I'm drawn to in my visual experiments is to take humdrum day-to-day imagery and transform it," Fredo explains, "to make it amazing again. When we are very young and just learning about the world, everything is amazing and very shocking in a way. I miss that! So I'm trying to restore that experience with my visual work, and with my music as well." 

Housed in a handsome gatefold sleeve, 'The Turn' is adorned with Richard Coleman's striking illustrations, which blend modern folk-art style with echoes of medieval religious imagery. The whole album package is a collectable all-round artwork: a tactile, tangible, cherishable thing of beauty. 

"Digital downloading has taken a lot of the magic out of the art form of an album," Fredo says. "It used to be you'd get this whole package with album art, liner notes, and a carefully thought out progression of songs. You would develop a relationship to the whole thing. Now, you download just a song and discard all the ones you don't find as instantly exciting. I find that very depressing, and it's my belief that the idea of the whole has to be restored." 

Fredo has further ambitions to bring magic back to owning an album, with interactive applications and digital artwork planned for future releases. But in terms of dazzling originality and spine-tingling beauty, 'The Turn' is already the sublime debut of the year. Listen and dream.

   

PHOTOS

Fredo Viola
Fredo Viola
Fredo Viola
Fredo Viola
Fredo Viola
Fredo Viola
Fredo Viola
Fredo Viola
Fredo Viola
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VIDEOS

Wood Smoke
The Turn Ghost Cluster
The Sad Song Video