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Interview: Composer-Guitarist Tito Rinesi on Making the Middle East (1997) Album With Stefano Torossi and The Indian Tomb (1921) Soundtrack Project

Composer and multi-instrumentalist Tito Rinesi recently discussed making music, including recording a pair of Middle East-themed albums with Stefano Torossi in 1996. Rinesi has released over 40 CDs in an extensive recording and performing career that began with folk music in the late 60s in Italy and then San Francisco in the early 1970s. He later played in the progressive rock band Saintjust in the mid 70s before moving to music with an Oriental or Indian focus in recent decades. Tito Rinesi has studied traditional musical systems all over the world, specializing in India, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. His original compositions can be found on the stage, radio, screen, TV, and silent movie soundtracks..

a recent photo of Tito Rinesi

a recent photo of Tito Rinesi

6D: How did you first meet Stefano Torossi?

TR: We met through a common friend.

6D: Was the Middle East album for Primrose Music in 1997 your first project together?

TR: We collaborated on a previous album, Islam, in 1996. It was released by Fonit Cetra/RAI, which was then acquired by Warner Chapell, around year 2000, I think.

Tito Rinesi - Middle East (1996) Primrose Music

Tito Rinesi – Middle East (1997) Primrose Music

6D: How did the Middle East project come together? Whose idea was it?

TR: It was my idea, as I always studied and played the traditional music from around the world, mainly India, North Africa, and the Middle East, and Stefano helped me to find the way to produce it.

6D: Can you offer a few details about how you and Stefano worked together? For example, how many musicians were involved?

TR: I composed and played almost everything, after having discussions with Stefano Torossi and the owner of Flipper Records. Stefano’s help has been mainly on the concept and the production side.

Oriental Groove: World Music from the Middle East (2014) ExtraBall Records

Various Artists – Oriental Groove: World Music from the Middle East (2014) ExtraBall Records

6D: What inspired “The Eastern Gate” and “Black Muslim”? [Both songs are on ExtraBall Records’ Oriental Groove: World Music from the Middle East (2014) released 25 Feb 2014 as a download]

TR: All these tracks were influenced by my studies and practice of the Oriental traditional music – mainly the feeling, the atmospheres, the scales, the rhythms – but not limited to that. There are also some jazz nuances, improvisations, and so on.

Ethnic Nights - Sensual World Music Atmospheres (2013) ExtraBall Records

Various Artists – Ethnic Nights: Sensual World Music Atmospheres (2013) ExtraBall Records

6D: Do you recall any details about composing “The Sultan’s Favourite”” and “The Voice Of The Prophet”?” For songs like this, did you select the title at the outset? Or after the compositions were complete? [Tito Rinesi and Stefano Torossi’s “The Voice of the Prophet,” “The Sultan’s Favourite,” and “The Eastern Gate” are available on Ethnic Nights: Sensual World Music Atmospheres (2013) as a download from ExtraBall Records.]

TR: Almost always (99%), I choose the titles after composing, playing and mixing the tracks. For me, music is the first thing, of course. Any word, title or description comes after, when the creative process is completed, and I can listen to the results as an “outer” listener. This approach allows me to form a fresh impression of the music, and then the title slowly takes shape.

6D: Have you worked on any new material with Stefano Torossi since the Islam and Middle East albums? Are there any plans for new projects together?

TR: No, after that, we haven’t worked together since, and there aren’t any plans at the moment. We’re just good friends.

An Indian Surmandal demo by Tito Rinesi is on SoundCloud:

6D: Do you have a favorite among the following Eastern instruments, bouzouki, saz and the Indian harmonium? Why?

TR: My favorite instrument is definitely the bouzouki, as I play it a lot, in recordings as well in concerts. It represents a very important bridge between Eastern and Western music. For me, it has been the musical path to journey on for many years now.

a tetrachordo bouzouki (photo by Arent)

a tetrachordo bouzouki (photo by Arent)

The Surmandal and Santoor demos were composed to showcase the timbre and the tones of these instruments, that I sampled extensively myself. These instruments, as others that I sampled digitally, are available as sound sets to download through the Swedish company Precision Sound.

A demonstration entitled “Indian Santoor” is here:

6D: What first attracted you to Indian music? Was it during your tenure with Living Music in 1972? Or meeting Indian singer Pandit Pran Nath in Rome in 1973?

TR: Both situations: in 1972-73 I was a member of this incredible group named Living Music. We had concerts with music, poetry, slides, perfumes, … it was a holistic, complete multimedia experience. We also produced a monthly magazine called “Hemicromis,” with interviews and articles about the Oriental traditions, but also about the Beat Generation movement of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Ferlinghetti. Fernanda Pivano was a close friend to us, too. The instruments played by this group were also quite original and new for those years: two Indian sitars, tablas, drums, bass, flutes, acoustic guitar, and any sort of voices and choirs – a real expression of the Flower Power vibe!

After that, in 1973, I listened to a concert held by the great voice master Pandit Pran Nath; he was the musical teacher as well as the spiritual guru of many important Western musicians in the minimalist area, including LaMonte Young, Terry Riley, Jon Hassel, and Steve Reich. That concert was a milestone in my musical life and pushed me to research and study Indian music very deeply and seriously. I started to listen to a lot more Indian music, and discovered a real treasure in their musical traditions. I ended up participating in a long series of workshop and courses to learn and study the singing of classical Indian ragas (with Sangeeta Chatterjee Bandhyopaday, Mangala Tiwari, Vijay Kichlu, Amelia Cuni, Sayeduddin Dagar, etc.) After decades of study, in 2005 I started to hold voice workshops in Italy called:  “Discovering your real voice with the help of classical Indian singing.”

Tito Rinesi - Meetings (2008) La Levantina Records

Tito Rinesi – Meetings (2008) La Levantina Records

Tito Rinesi’s “Mirra,” from Meetings (2008) and Verso levante (2012), feature pianist Michele Fedrigotti and uses images from John May’s 1921 film The Indian Tomb:

Click the cover to listen to the full Meetings album at

6D: As a passionate fan of early German cinema, especially directors Ernst Lubitsch and Fritz Lang, I am curious how did the opportunity to compose an original score for John May’s 1921 movie The Indian Tomb, a silent film which features the unmistakable handiwork of Lang and Thea Von Arbou, come about?

TR: A few years ago, there was a chance to broadcast The Indian Tomb through one of our main TV channels, RAI 3, and, before the agreement was concluded, I started to compose and realize the music for it, as I was asked to. Unfortunately, in the end, the business failed, so I found myself with these beautiful soundtracks already composed, recorded,  and mixed. I didn’t want to throw all the work away, so I asked a dear friend who had an editing studio in Venice to help me. I went there and we worked in his studio together for some days.

still from The Indian Tomb (1921)

still from The Indian Tomb (1921)

Now I have a “DVD prototype” of this silent film, with frames and sounds already synchronized, ready to be screened or broadcasted in some festival – or else printed as a commercial DVD. The Indian Tomb (La tomba indiana) is a wonderful work, probably one of the first epic films to be 3.5 hours or more, with an enormous outlay of money and manpower. The story is full of passion and drama, catching viewers from the first minute ‘til the end. The screenplay by Fritz Lang and Thea Von Arbou is superb. It would be nice if more people could look at it. I’m waiting for proposals …

on the set of The Indian Tomb (1921)

on the set of The Indian Tomb (1921)

6D: How did your remix of Peter Gabriel’s “Shock The Monkey” happen?

TR: A few years ago, Peter Gabriel’s label Real World started a Web competition, open to all the musicians who wanted to propose a remix of their artists. I participated in two of these competitions, gaining a lot of appreciation by listeners. In the first one, I remixed Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey,” adding new sounds, including a Persian santur sampled by myself that gave the composition a very original flavor. The second was Angelique Kidjo’s “Salala,” featuring Peter Gabriel’s voice.

Santur (photo by Afshin Max Sadeghi)

Santur (photo by Afshin Max Sadeghi)

Listen to Tito Rinesi’s remix of “Shock The Monkey,” using an Iranian Santur on YouTube:

The remix is also available HERE.

Tito Rinesi’s remix for Angelique Kidjo’s “Salala,” featuring Peter Gabriel’s voice is also online:

In 2012, Tito Rinesi and Michele Fedrigotti released the album Verso levante in CD and as a digital download.

Tito Rinesi - Verso levante (2012)

Tito Rinesi and Michele Fedrigotti – Verso levante (2012) La Levantina Records

Tito Rinesi and Michele Fedrigotti “Danza no. 4” from Verso levante is here:

6D: Are there any projects coming up later in 2014 that you can discuss at this time?

TR: There are quite a few coming up including with RAI and a couple for different independent movies. Check back in a few months for details.

Tex Willer (drawing by Aurelio Galleppini)

Tex Willer (drawing by Aurelio Galleppini)

Tito Rinesi and Euphonia’s “Mesa del diablo” from the 1994 CD Global Motion, which features Rinesi’s photos in an homage to Italian cartoon character Tex Willer, is here:

A live performance of “Malia levantina” with Tito Rinesi on bouzouki, Carlo Cossu on violin, Desiree Infascelli on accordion, and Piero Grassini on mandolin is here:

A playlist compiled by Tito Rinesi starts with “Salomè,” one of a series of fascinating videos he has made using a variety of film and photographic images, from the past to the present:

Listen to the full Middle East album by Tito Rinesi and Stefano Torossi, in WAV or MP3 format, at UBM Media.

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