Inside an Italian label at the forefront of a soft-noise revolution
In an era saturated with algorithmic ambient and pop by numbers, OOH-sounds offers an alternative listening experience.
Inside an Italian label at the forefront of a soft-noise revolution From left: more eaze, Pardo, and Glass (Hugo Lamy and Etienne Reimund). Photos courtesy of the artists, collage by Cady Siregar.  

Paris Paris, Texas Texas opens with four seconds of near silence. Disorienting, vaguely tuneful bits of static ping-pong in stereo before a droning guitar chord fades in. A few seconds later, an identical guitar track enters with a glitch, its overtones colliding with that of the original. Millisecond samples of field recordings from another world burp in and out, demolishing any sense of static pulse, as the guitars swell and are joined by a pedal steel, softer and in a higher register. About three minutes in, a voice enters, shrouded in Auto-Tune but still distinctly human: “I try to be open,” it sings slowly into a sea of soft noise.

The voice and pedal steel belong to the Texas-born, Brooklyn-based Mari Rubio, aka more eaze; the other guitar sounds come from Hugo Lamy, half of the French electronic duo Glass; Etienne Reimund (Glass’s other half) and Michele Pauli, aka Pardo, are largely responsible for the manipulations of the music — processing the source material through filters and effects chains that change the sounds at an atomic level. The album, which arrived in late March via Pardo’s label, OOH-sounds, originated with Lamy’s guitar improvisations, recorded in the studio above the master bedroom of Pardo’s country house in Montefiridolfi, Italy, a 40-minute drive from Florence’s Centro Storico. The precise location of the studio is important: OOH stands for Over Our Heads.

“It was also an abstraction of sound for me,” Pardo tells me on a glitchy video call, “because sound is something that’s always flown over my head.” Though blurry over webcam and in most press photos, he’s sharp featured and rail thin, with a patchy goatee scribbled across his pronounced jawline. You wouldn’t know it from looking at him or hearing him speak with boundless energy about his hyperactive lifestyle, but he’s nearly 60, having spent roughly half his adult life as the guitarist of the Milanese trip-hop group Casino Royale and the other half in Florence, raising a child while indulging a more experimental area of his musical palate.

In a soft-noise seascape, jagged waves rock you to sleep, and a smooth surface hides infinite undercurrents.

In 2015, he co-founded OOH-sounds with his friend Andrea Mi, a DJ and journalist who passed away in 2020 after a long illness. The label’s first releases — mostly short tapes from the likes of Casino Royale bassist Alessio Manna (Black Job) and Pardo himself (as Backwords) — kept one foot squarely planted in the dub world. In the ensuing years, though, the arc of OOH’s output began to bend toward abstraction.

In the summer of 2019, the label released Hegenrax, a four-track project by Italian sound artist Alberto Bertelli, aka Holy Similaun. Though generally a jarring listen, the project contains traces of what would later become the dominant strain at OOH-sounds, an aesthetic I’ll refer to here as “soft noise.”

Soft noise is more movement than genre. It can be found in many kinds of music, from tastefully glitchy ambient guitar records (like Paris Paris, Texas Texas) to harder stuff (like Hegenrax). Consider it a lens through which to listen, a dialectical means to interpreting a song or a sound. Think of soft noise like deep listening — Pauline Oliveros’s much broader and more-developed concept — but with a less ambitious goal: the simultaneous experience of sonics we think of as opposites. In a soft-noise seascape, jagged waves rock you to sleep, and a smooth surface hides infinite undercurrents.

Soft noise is not a mere outcropping of ambient music, though the term “ambient” in its contemporary usage has ballooned to encompass much of the music discussed in this piece. The algorithm-driven songs on Spotify playlists such as “Ambient Dreamscapes” consist merely of long, consonant chords engineered to soothe, whereas soft noise is full of dissonances and disruptions. Even at the pinnacle of the form, works like Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music For Airports (the genre’s foundational text) or Hiroshi Yoshimora’s Surround (arguably the style’s gold standard) are too gradual and harmonious to qualify for full soft-noise citizenship. After all, Eno wrote that ambient music “must be as ignorable as it is interesting.”

Soft noise, on the other hand, should be difficult to ignore. It is born of curiosity without weighty expectations, influenced by vastly distant perspectives — geographically or emotionally, oceans apart or within the same mind — and full of harsh flashes, but still a salve for the scarred soul when applied altogether.

Past and present soft-noise practitioners not (yet) affiliated with OOH-sounds include Pauline Oliveros, Jim O’Rourke, Eiko Ishibashi, David Grubbs, William Basinski, Fennesz, grouper, Raven Chacon, Oren Ambarchi, Sarah Hennies, Ana Roxanne, Lucy Railton, Laurel Halo, claire rousay, Pendant, and ulla. Pure drone is generally not soft noise, but Phill Niblock gets an honorary degree from beyond the grave because his drones contain entire oceans teeming with life (as do those of Kali Malone and several others). Harsh noise is not soft noise, but Wolf Eyes have their moments. Pop and rock songs may contain elements of soft noise, but their formal structures and regular pulses generally preclude them, though the best shoegaze can bridge the gap. Metal is almost never soft noise, even at its most transcendental and ecstatic, but Sunn O))’s noise can be soft, even when their amps are turned up so high they push the air out of the room.

Knowing artists are often opposed to labels, I was hesitant to broach the subject of soft noise with the OOH alumni whose music I felt best fit the bill. Thankfully, some of them humored me. Holy Similaun, for instance, tells me it applies to the way it blends “extraordinarily harsh digital noises with comfier compositions and field recordings collages,” allowing him to “explore two diametrically opposed worlds that are intrinsically connected, like on a libra.”

Jake Parry’s 2023 OOH-sounds release under his former moniker unperson (he now goes by Losssy) is a direct attack on the pseudo-psychological strand of “functional” ambient music — the kind that’s now increasingly generated without human involvement. “Spiritual™ was essentially a polemic against the proliferation of corporate mindfulness media and the business-ization of mental health,” he tells me. “I tried to capture, parodically, the kind of saccharine calm atmospheres you hear on guided meditation apps, using sonic tropes like bells, rains, birds, etc., as well as typically unanimated voice-over suggesting anodyne life strategies.

“I juxtaposed this, manipulating these sounds, twisting them and distorting them in different ways to create a sense of discomfort and unease,” he continues. “The noise — the frenetic phenomena of life interfering with the peaceful ambience — reflects how the rough shouldn’t be blocked out and neglected in place of the smooth; it should actually be highlighted.”

Near the end of 2019, Pardo recognized the importance of forging a deep, in-person relationship with each new artist whose work he released. He says he first employed this approach with Brian McOmber, who had recently scored Afronauts, a short film by Ghanaian director Nuotoma Bonoma that presents an alternative history of Edward Makuka Nkoloso’s bold but ill-fated Zambian Space Programme. Inspired by the film, Pardo worked with McOmber to release its official soundtrack on vinyl.

Three months later, international travel and social gathering became impossible, but Pardo was undeterred in his quest for organic communion with OOH’s artists. “In the past, we said we were an independent label because the aim was to go outside the system of majors,” he says. “Now, we’re in a new era, which is interdependence: where everybody has their own independence, but when we’re together, we make the thing click.”

“The noise — the frenetic phenomena of life interfering with the peaceful ambience — reflects how the rough shouldn’t be blocked out and neglected in place of the smooth.”

The OOH artists I spoke to all agree that Pardo shows an uncommon commitment to genuine connection, combined with a deep love of strange music. “He’s such a head,” more eaze says. Pardo reached out to her in late 2020 with an invitation to make a mix for the label’s Noods Radio show. He’d been anxious to work with her since hearing her project if I don’t let myself be happy now then when? with claire rousay, released the week before the U.S. began locking down.

Despite not meeting in person for the first two years of their friendship, their conversations were so fluid that she doesn’t remember who ultimately proposed they work on an album together. “That’s the thing with Pardo, she says. “Things happen really naturally because you’re constantly in communication with him.”

The fruit of their first collaboration was 2022’s Oneiric, a dazzling display of soft noise in action: It’s a textural feast full of eerie dissonance, but it still evokes the dreamlike atmosphere its title implies. Pardo didn’t contribute to the album musically, but he created its cover art and layout — as he’s done for almost every OOH release — under his visual artist alias, incepBOY. more eaze tells me she thinks it’s the best-looking project she’s ever released.

The acknowledgment speaks to Pardo’s knack for translating sound into the realm of the visible, a talent that partly comes from his own experience as a self-taught musician. “My guitar playing was a lot of seeing the sound, seeing what the different parts of the band were playing,” he says, “and it’s the same with looking at a vinyl cover; I see the music that’s inside.” Performing this alchemy on the work of another artist also requires a deep knowledge of that artist’s aesthetic vision, the kind that can only come from bonding on a personal level.

Last year, Pardo traveled from Florence to the U.K. to watch more eaze play a set with Seth Graham after missing their performance at The Hague’s Rewire festival due to a case of COVID. “We were like, ‘Hey, man, don’t worry about it,’ more eaze remembers. “And he was like, ’No, I have to see you while you’re over in Europe,’ so he just booked a flight to Manchester and got there.”

Pardo’s impassioned pursuit of the experimental music he loves might seem monomaniacal from an outsider’s perspective, but it’s balanced by a laid-back spontaneity. “Everything is so easy in the end,” he says. “Building these personal relationships is really fulfilling. I make friends, basically.”

Glass’s first OOH-Sounds album, crY, came in September 2020. It’s more beat-driven than most of the label’s later soft-noise output, but there are two tenebrous, drumless cuts between the sharp, uneven rhythms of its four extraterrestrial club tracks. The short intro and interlude were added after Pardo encouraged Etienne and Hugo to inject more negative space into the record.

Later, visiting Pardo’s country home, Hugo picked up a guitar and started messing around. “I immediately saw Hugo is a fucking good guitar player, very instinctive,” Pardo recalls. “When he touches the guitar, it’s really like he’s talking with the instrument.”

No recordings came from that trip, but Pardo — who’d tried and failed several times to make an experimental guitar record that could satisfy his own high standards— saw Hugo’s potential as “an extension of [his] ideal guitar playing” and invited him back the following year for a more intentional set of sessions. Over the course of 10 days, they popped in and out of the upstairs studio, with Pardo acting as producer, processing the audio in real time while Hugo improvised, creating the base on which Paris Paris, Texas Texas would stand.

At first, Pardo was resistant to the idea of additional instrumentation, experiencing a knee-jerk negative reaction when Hugo put down the guitar and picked up a Minimoog. He let it ride, though, and Hugo delivered what ended up being one of the most impactful moments of the album — the low drone that acts as an exclamation point at the end of the record’s gorgeous second track, “le grand souffle céleste.” Ultimately, Hugo played every guitar and keyboard he could get his hands on. “I think we tried out all the hardware in your studio,” he jokes to Pardo on a video call.

Pardo’s studio mindset comes from years on the other side of the artist-producer relationship, experiencing the benefits and pitfalls of both scathing criticism and warm encouragement. (He’d also started two short-lived labels of his own, Royality Records and SHE-BEEN during his tenure with Casino Royale.) “External inputs are always good because it’s another way of seeing things,” he says. “Maybe you think, ‘This guy’s an idiot, I don’t wanna listen,’ but it stays in your mind, and you work differently. You function in a more organic way with other people.”

In the end, though, it was Etienne — 10,000 kilometers away in Peru at the time of the Montefiridolfi sessions — who acted as the album’s external editor, spinning Hugo’s sketches into new entities entirely. Eventually, Hugo and Pardo joined the process later (Pardo describes his role as “dub master” and Etienne’s as MaxMSP master), and the files were passed around until they sounded almost totally distinct from their original forms.

Despite the remoteness of it all, Etienne remembers the creative flow as playful and, of course, organic. “I had a lot of sounds that I’m not used to playing with — it wasn’t a synthesizer, it wasn’t a Gabber kick — but we put a lot of personal emotions into it, so we discovered a new way to work with the guitar, a new set of tools to express ourselves.”

Pardo’s challenge, as Etienne understood it, was to make a “record about guitar but experiment on that,” to dismantle the instrument’s components but “to make it sound, in a way, still like a guitar” — a soft-noise-coded sentiment if there ever was one.

“I make friends, basically.”


more eaze was the last to join the party, though Pardo and Glass had contacted her early on in the editing process about singing on the record. “I had the most chaotic, worst year of my life in 2023, and this was the first project I worked on during that time that got me out of a big funk,” she says. “I’d been stuck and not that excited about a lot of what I was working on, but I felt so motivated to work on this because of how good the material was.

“It reminded me of the glitchy electronica stuff I love from the early 2000s,” she continues. “Fennesz, of course, and a lot of the early Oren Ambarchi recordings. Microstoria, but with Bark Psychosis and Talk Talk vibes, too. I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I definitely wanna add to this.’ I was trying to find the forms that were inherent [in the recordings] and arrange what I was doing so that it would complete them.”

She started working on her parts while on tour with Lomelda last year, sitting in her hotel room one night while her traveling partner was out with friends. The tour had earned her exactly enough money to buy a 1950s pedal steel, and, when presented with the title Paris Paris, Texas Texas — referencing Wim Wenders’ iconic film exploring open space and heartbreak in the Lone Star State — she decided to use it.

“There’s a Jim O’Rourke quote: ‘The pedal steel is the closest thing to an electronic acoustic instrument you can get,’ and I think that’s very true,” she says. “It pairs really well with the types of sound sources [Pardo and Glass] were using, frequency-wise, and it seemed like a really natural fit.”

When it came time to record her vocal parts, she decided against her usual meticulous approach: “I’ve never written lyrics like I did for this — it was almost freestyling,” she says. “I was trying to think of my voice as a texture to fit in with the others, and I wanted to break free of thinking about things in a structural way.”

When Pardo and Glass finally received Mari’s parts, they were blown away — by the fact that the songs were now, for the most part, fully formed, but also by the fact that she’d added pedal steel unprompted. “She gave something two times stronger than what we sent to her because she was able to make it her own while still understanding the direction we chose,” Etienne says. Pardo agrees, calling the pedal steel “a magical something that added to a picture that was already there.”

Starting in 2021, OOH-sounds’ soft-noise release rate quickened from a drip to a trickle to a stream, with Scott Young, yab; yvanko, Synalegg, and WesqK Coast contributing to the canon. 2022 saw two OOH X more eaze projects — oneiric and the A/B single perfume/sad — and a wonderfully weird cassette from WE​Ƚ​∝​KER. But it was 2023 when the floodgates opened wide, ushering in soft-noise from Parry’s unperson project, Nick Malkin, and Dylan Henner, as well as a serendipitous meeting of contemporary classical and experimental ambient from Rupert Clervaux and Dania. The revelation of Paris Paris, Texas Texas kicks off another banner year for soft noise at the label, with several exciting projects yet to be announced.

Meanwhile, Pardo hasn’t totally abandoned the brasher, more aggressive sounds he came up on. Last year, he worked separately with New Orleans producer XDCVR_ and noise legend Shit & Shine on projects he describes as “mad” and “crazy,” respectively. And the next OOH release — Plethor X’s What U Mean, an afrofuturist exploration of colonial trauma — will mark a return to in-your-face, danceable rhythms.

Pardo’s plan, of course, includes live events as well, continuing OOH-sounds’ residency at the renowned Centro Pecci and programming DIY shows in a former church. A true believer in the power of community and culture in the fight against fascism and chaos, armed with a lust for outside life to match his heady ruminations, he ends our conversation with a series of prescient soft-noise metaphors.

“We are in a very noisy moment globally,” he says. “The politics are shit almost everywhere: You will have fucking Trump again in a second, and we have the most right-wing government in Italy since Mussolini. ‘Soft noise’ makes another side of noise pop out, like Pauline Oliveros’s [theories] of seeing sounds and noises, and what is a noise, and when a noise becomes sound. I think it’s based on how much you can deal with complexity. Noise can be very disturbing, a tricky thing to jump into because it’s such a crazy universe of particles.

“I bike a lot in town, and Florence is packed with tourists all the time,” he goes on. “When I have to cross the very center, I have this huge crowd of people, and from a distance, I say, ‘I won’t be able to go through.’ And then, when I go in closer and closer, everything becomes more simple because you see, ‘Okay, this person is at a little distance. They will see me, I will see them.’ And it’s so easy to go through.”

Inside an Italian label at the forefront of a soft-noise revolution