Interview: Beat Ratio goes back to 1985
Gabriele Raciti, an Italian musician based in Melbourne, is Beat Ratio. Strictly abiding by a self-imposed rule of only creating what he can from using 80s equipment, Beat Ratio worships at the altar of the synth, 4-track and Commodore 64. Samantha Allemann has a conversation with him:
When did you start playing music?
I first played in bands during high school in Italy. I was into pretty experimental stuff back then, so for the most part I just concerned myself with getting the craziest sounds possible out of my guitar by feeding it into dozens of effect pedals. Then while living in London some DJ friends introduced me to electronic music and it was like a new world had opened; music to dance to. Now that was a nice change from trying to deafen people with guitar feedback!
What are the biggest influences on your sound?
My main sources of inspiration are the sounds and production techniques of the late 70s and early 80s. I became fascinated by the way producers were able to create amazing tracks without modern software and thought “if they could do it, there must be a way!”. That’s why I set 1985 as the cutoff year for any equipment used in the project. I’m not a vintage-snob though and do enjoy listening to a lot of music by other artists made purely on software.
Why is it important to keep the art of the cassette tape alive?
In this increasingly virtual era, tapes are the last medium to offer a true hands on experience to music, from hearing the mechanical workings of a cassette deck engaging when you hit play, to writing song titles on a mixtape. It’s a lot easier to attach memories of a particular person or time in your life to a cassette than say a Soundcloud playlist, plus there’s just something magical about watching the reels spin and hear music come alive from that tiny strip of magnetic tape.
What do you mean by your approach being an “incentive for creativity and a way to escape perfectionism”?
Using software I became a bit of an editing addict. Trying to make everything sound perfect, I soon found myself spending more time dragging little squares on the screen than actually making music. Eventually I reached saturation point and bought a cassette 4-track, a synth and started Beat Ratio. Since editing on old recording gear is almost impossible, you’re forced to spend more time actually playing, which in turn allows you to better understand where the song is headed and come up with new ideas.
How do you source the instruments you use?
Ebay, Gumtree and op shops. The main criteria is that the gear had to be commercially available in or before 1985. It’s always a bit of a gamble though. You’d be surprised how often I receive non-working stuff sold as tested, only to hear the seller say something along the lines of “well, it was working when I last used it…15 years ago!”. Definitely glad I took electronics in high school!
What limitations do you face by using this gear?
Reliability is a definite concern with 30+ year old gear. That being said, most instruments back then were built to last and can generally be repaired. Limited tracks and editing facilities plus the total lack of any sort of undo function are some of the main restrictions, but you get used to it. Having too much flexibility is a double edged sword in my opinion; you don’t have to fully commit to anything until the last minute, so it’s much easier to end up second guessing yourself.
Do you ever just wish you could use Pro Tools?
My sequencer only saves data on tape so when I occasionally get the dreaded ‘Err.’ (error) message after waiting ages to load a simple sequence, I do ask myself why am I doing this, but I’ve learned to take it in my stride. The other issue is space; a few clicks and you can call up synths by the dozen on a DAW. Different story with hardware. Not too long ago I had to resort to an ironing board as I had no more stands to put stuff on! Not to mention the jungle of cables required to plug everything together and the back-breaking efforts to lug the gear to a live gig… ah, the joys of hardware!
How did you come up with your design aesthetic? How long does it take to make the graphic pics?
With 16 colours, 320×200 resolution, stretched pixels and many other quirks, using Commodore 64 graphics was an obvious choice for someone wanting to work with limitations like myself. My family had one when I was growing up and I have fond memories of digging it out and destroying multiple joysticks trying to beat my sister’s record on the 100m dash in Summer Games.
Creating the images generally takes a few hours as they are literally drawn pixel by pixel. I’ve tried various shortcuts but the results never quite look authentic.
What does the future hold for Beat Ratio?
Last year I bought a 1983 Betamax video camera which I’m using to record videos. It’s huge, weighs a tonne and records mostly in various shades yellow, but I love it! I’m planning some shows in the upcoming months and a cassette release later in the year.
Keep up to date with Beat Ratio here: http://www.beatratio.com
Interview by Samantha Allemann