Wayne Flask meets ambient producer Sonitus Eco after the launch of his debut album
This article was originally written for Manic! however I am publishing it before the publication is out, in agreement with the editor, out of the huge respect I have for the artist and his work.
I walk, late as ever, into the square in Vittoriosa. Well, square is a misnomer for it is actually round, with around seven or more streets leading to it and at least two churches a stone’s throw away. It’s amazing how time cannot change much in tiny pockets like these despite the growing masses of fresh white limestone that spring from behind that house over there, or that facade being renovated exactly there.
Justin Meli, aka Sonitus Eco, is pacing around waiting for me (I must be around 15 minutes late now). We were mates, long time ago, when both of us were scouts in the Cospicua Group (which despite all rivalries with its neighbours, had its headquarters in Vittoriosa). And while both of us have learnt different things along the way, none of us can say time hasn’t changed much.
You’d expect someone with a potentially boisterous stage name like Sonitus Eco (Latin for “noise” with “Eco” referring to his frequent use of echoes in his productions) to be an equally brash, hyperactive character. I discover instead a quiet, soft spoken type, who gives brief answers and doesn’t waste too much time on unnecessary talk. He pauses briefly before giving each reply, often not completing his sentences, and at one point I suspect he’s uneasy at being recorded. His voice rarely goes higher than a whisper.
What is so profound in Sonitus Eco’s music, and his behaviour? You will mistake his debut album “It Is Loneliness That Makes The Loudest Noise” as unremarkable, unless you pay careful attention to what this man is building within the 73 minutes through his composed, hushed tones. Fingers carefully placed on the “quality control” button, Sonitus Eco delivers a haunting album, descending into an almost morbid pitch black darkness like an elevator to the core of the earth. There are subtle hints of Krautrock infused psychedelia – Cluster and Harmonia come to mind on occasion – and from my unorthodox seat as someone who hasn’t followed ambient at all save for the odd Aphex Twin album, I likened the atmosphere to parts of Nine Inch Nails’ collection of soundtracks titled Ghosts I-IV.
Ascention (sic) to Nowhere immediately sets the tone to the album, which rarely strays off from its spectral undertones. You feel there’s an innate sadness somewhere, a unique brand of silent claustrophobia; there must be the light at the end of the tunnel, somewhere, but not sure where.
Sipping a beer in his tranquil, unassuming manner, he tells me his career only began in 2010. “I collect synths,” he says, pausing once more. “Then I started experimenting and I came up with my own productions.”
In his first year as a producer, he went on to release four EP’s prior to the album, the most striking contribution of which, personally, is the tribute to the Mexican revolution and its key legendary figure Emiliano Zapata (500 Years of Struggle, July 2011). Other works include remixes of several artists on various labels, including Deepindub, Maltese netlabel Pinkpube of whom he is a partner, Sonntag Morgen, and Batti Batti.
A “sound design” enthusiast, Sonitus signed to the Silent Season label who release and distribute his works to foreign markets. The three hundred album copies issued have been snapped up in a matter of a few weeks, including fifty sold locally. The internet of course plays a vital role in the distribution of his material.
So, how does the up and coming independent artist feel about ACTA?
“Well it’s like a knife with two ends,” he says dryly. “My label is there to take care that the mechanical rights are not stolen. On the other hand I noticed my album was up on torrent sites after only two days from its release, in FLAC format [a much higher quality format than mp3] but I still sold all the copies. So in a way…” he stops.
He acknowledges there’s a very fine line to tread when making good ambient. “We sort of have the instruments to ruin the music. Putting too much, overdoing it, is like making decrepit pop,” he says. Not once, in fact, does Loneliness lose its balance, not even in the cathartic title track.
“I listen to a lot of stuff that isn’t really ambient,” he says. “I listen to industrial, bands like Coil, and shoegaze. I like My Bloody Valentine.”
We wind up the interview, and that’s where he drops the biggest hint about his album, a deeply personal experience. “I’ve worked with disabled people for the last ten years,” he says matter-of-factly. “The album… it’s about the loneliness these people face.” You could tell, from a thorough listen of Loneliness, that the topic touches him deeply. The innate darkness, the claustrophobia within the album goes beyond the building of soundscapes; here, it’s about these people’s space in society, their loneliness, their being misunderstood.
There is nothing more to add in reality, than the laconic, almost apologetic line on the sleeve notes saying “Dedicated to the lonely people in the mental institutions.”
We split to our separate ways after a brief chat about summer festival plans. Boy, how time has changed us, I think to myself as I make my way out of Vittoriosa, a glorious Saturday afternoon that ended way too early.
That evening he messages me with links to his discography. “Sorry, but I’m a bit shy,” he says. Truth be told, Loneliness speaks out more than nicely for him. Words would be useless.