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    Posted: January 15 2011 at 16:46

Runaway Totem is surely one of the most incredible band that you can find in Italy. They use their rich instrumentation (keyboards, vocals, backing vocals, guitars) to create ethereal, romantic climates, with the deep singing, the grandiose backing vocals. They use too some nearly Magma-like passages, a vocal paroxysm evoking Area, energetic King Crimson rhytms with a Amon Dull II touch and even Gentle Giant's echoes.

I have for the last two years dipped my toes into zeuhl and have really liked what I have heard so far. Runaway Totem being a zeuhl band, I got in touch with the band for their story and Roberto Gottardi answered my questions. 


When, were and by whom was Runaway Totem started ? Which bands were your inspirations ? What is the whole Runaway Totem ethos and philosophy ?

Runaway Totem exists since ever.
The history and origin of Runaway Totem are the history and origin of the Cosmos. Runaway Totem decided to avow itself in this reality through a universal language that, like math, can be understood by everyone: the Music. For this reason it started its Opus in 1988 at Riva del Garda (Italy), as the result of a specific project of Cahål de Bêtêl and Mimïr De Bennu (Renè Modena).
The Elements that compose Runaway Totem during the time inhabited different people. It's important to understand that their rotation isn't decided by human vicissitudes, but it's the result of Runaway Totem's will. Each Element, each event, is functional to the target that Runaway Totem gave itself. Behold then, when an Element goes away, it's because its function in that Place and Time has ended. So the Element goes back to its ancestry place, while the person who hosted it can't help from leaving the group.
Runaway Totem's Elements exist since ever and will exist forever: both those who already manifested themselves and those that are waiting for their moment to come.

The first line-up comprehends musicians coming from different bands, and it's formed by the following Elements: CAHÅL DE BÊTÊL (AURORA DI GIOIA) Guitar and Voice, MIMÏR DE BENNU [RENÈ MODENA] (DISMAL) Guitar and Voice, MAAHNT [GIORGIO GOLIN] (LINGUAPHONIE) Drums and DAUNO [GIUSEPPE BUTTIGLIONE] (ADEMUS) Bass.

After a first period passed composing, Runaway Totem begins a series of live concerts, working with theatrical and dancing equipes. This first phase takes the name of ANALISI and gives as a result the videotape of a live concert.
The second phase of the project is called SINTESI, and begins in 1991. Here JAMES REVELANT (YOUNG BLOOD) Voice, starts to work with Runaway Totem and Mimïr De Bennu leaves the group. As a consequence Renè Modena joins MEN OF LAKE.
During this time the group works with other musicians: ROBY SANTORUM (MEN OF LAKE) Sax e Flute and SERGIO AMADORI (LINGUAPHONIE) Keyboards.

This phase is followed by a video recorded live in Summer '91 “La Tana degli Specchi”(The Mirrors Lair), a demo tape with the same title and other recordings, like two other videos.

Over to your albums. Please tell us more about your debut album Trimegisto from 1993

In Winter ‘92/’93 Runaway Totem recorded its first album,Trimegisto”, distributed by the Black Widow label (Genova – Italy). For this project Runaway Totem works with ANA TORRES FRAILE Voice Soprano. This work is the beginning of a journey in the world of a music made of rough and heavy sounds in a “Magma style”, pinched and fast passages and of compositional madness inspired by Frank Zappa.
The result is a music that goes beyond and the different songs that follow each other show the journey to the listener, starting from “S. Giacomo de Compostela” and arriving to “Lapis Exilis”.

The follow up album Zed was released in 1996. Please tell us more about this album.

The '94 is the year of the beginning of CRONOS, new group's project phase. This new phase takes with it many changes, the most evident is the renewal of the rhythmic section, and the return of Mimïr De Bennu (Renè Modena).
The new line-up shows the following Elements: CAHÅL DE BÊTÊL Guitars, Keyboards and Voice, TIPHERET Drums and Percussions, NEZAH [DARIO-JACK-GELMETTI] Bass and MIMÏR DE BENNU [RENÈ MODENA] Guitar and Keyboards.

In Winter '95/'96 is recorded the second album, called “Zed”, and distributed by BLACK WIDOW label (Genova – Italy).
The album's release marks the end of the previous phase and the beginning of the new one, called KALPA. Here is decided to interrupt live concerts and to "enter in the Shadow".
For this cycle takes part of the group a new Element, VÎRHÜR [ROBERTO VERONESE] Keyboards and Synth.

Your third album is Andromeda and it was released in 1999. Please tell us more about this album.

1999 is the year of the third album, “Andromeda”, distributed by the French MUSEA RECORDS. In the same year Mimïr De Bennu leaves the group (and so Renè Modena). This work is the beginning of the “Cosmic Cycles” Trilogy, it’s the beginning of the Man’s travel in the Universe towards a new horizon. This travel starts from the spirit that descends in order to materialize itself more and more, till it becomes alive matter, or “Man”. Here too, like in the previous album, the music is more inspired by a symphonic and orchestral score, with some space-rock moments.

Your fourth album Tep Zeri (L'era degli dei) was released in 2002. Please tell us more about this album.

In order to continue the project of the CICLI COSMICI (COSMIC CYCLES) trilogy, started with Andromeda, the group equipes itself with a recording studio, the ALBULA STUDIOS.
The new compositions for the second part of the trology come to life in 2002, with the album “Tep Zepi (L’Era degli Dei)” (The Age of Gods), distributed by MUSEA RECORDS (France). The Runaway Totem belief is: “Time is not a straight line, but a helix that placed on Cartesian axes leads to see how Time repeats itself in cycles. These cycles aren’t always the same, but are always different in their equal continuity.” So the music reflects this thought and creates a continuity with the previous “Andromeda” and the next “Pleroma”.

2004 saw the release of Pleroma, your fifth album. Please tell us more about this album.

The new Runaway Totem's shape appears in 2003, with the exit of the Elements Nezah and Vîrhür, followed by Dario Gelmettti and Roberto Veronese.
Now the line-up is based on: CAHÅL DE BÊTÊL Guitars, Voice, Keyboards and Synth and TIPHERET Drums, Percussions and Keyboards.

Between 2003 and 2004 Cahål de Bêtêl and Tipheret compose, perform and record the last part of the trilogy, “Pleroma”, distributed once again by MUSEA RECORDS (France).
For the Cicli Cosmici (Cosmic Cycles) trilogy, Runaway Totem works with SUSANNA VILLANOVA Voice Contralto. The music is symphonic, Magmatical, complex and tells the return of the soul to the Origin, passing through “the World of Duat”, ruled by Osiris. It’s the “Book of the Dead” of the ancient Egyptians told in music. The songs describe the different steps up to the final assimilation of the soul in one of the two horizons. Every man is going to face this trial!

Esameron was the 2007 album. Please tell us more about this album.

The 2005 leads the path to the new phase, called NOUS, where is confirmed the decision to don't perform live and to "stay in the Shadows". At the beginning the line-up remains unchanged.
ALBULA STUDIOS is renewed, and transformed in TOTEM RECORDS STUDIO, with new resources and technologies.
In this phase the new project 4 ELEMENTI 5 is born.
Requiring this project a tougher and more aligned with Runaway Totem's thought expressive base, in 2007 is founded the RUNAWAY TOTEM RECORDS.
In this cunjuncture another Element comes.
The line-up shows: CAHÅL DE BÊTÊL Guitars, Voice, Keyboars, Synth, Bass and Sampler, TIPHERET Drums, Percussions, Kettle-drum and Keyboards, HOR-DOUATY Graphics and Webmaster.

The first movement of the new project, “Esameron”, recorded in Winter 2006-2007, is produced by RUNAWAY TOTEM RECORDS and released through the official Runaway Totem Website. It's also available on the catalogue of the French MUSEA RECORDS.

Why such an enigmatic title for this album?
Runaway Totem believes that the Ancients are our Masters. Runaway Totem never quotes the Ancients without imply that their teaching is fundamental.
Let’s start from Number 4 (Four). Its nature is something really weird: it’s the numbers One, Two, Three altogether, and the first procreated figure, that is two times two, so Four.
These numbers progress as a triangle, and the four of them create the triangle Ten, or Decade of Four, called MYSTIC TETRAKTIS.


The Decade restrain in it all the possibilities. It’s from here the Origin’s Triangle, the character of which is to have Nine units gathered around the divine and unintelligible Unity. The pharaonic myth shows all of this through the heliopolite Mystery, where is narrated the creation of the great ENNEAD (the Nine Principles), emitted from NOUS, the primordial Waters. But it’s not possible to comprehend anything, to know anything initial that it’s not triangular, in a way that only the figure built around the aboriginal Trinity will be the first comprehensible perfect form. The Decade’s triangle, the MYSTIC TETRAKTIS, is the metaphysical or divine triangle, while the triangle of Fifteen, PENTAKTIS (MANIFEST TETRAKTIS), will be the first triangle of the things:


Your most recent album is Manu Menes from 2009. Please tell us more about this album.

in 2007 begin two new parallel works: the first one regards the second movement of 4 ELEMENTI 5, called “Manu Menes”. The second one is part of the new REMINISCENZE (REMINISCENCES) cycle, that comprehends the next release of live recordings kept by Runaway Totem before it "enters in the Shadow".
At last 2008 records the return at the bass of Dauno (Giuseppe Buttiglione), essential Element for helping in the achievement of the new 4 ELEMENTI 5 movement, “Manu Menes”, and in the Runaway Totem thought.
Current Elements: CAHÅL DE BÊTÊL Guitars, Voice, Keyboards, Synth and Sampler, TIPHERET Drums, Percussions, Kettle-drum and Keyboards, DAUNO Telluric Bass, HOR-DOUATY Graphics and Webmaster .

The year 2009 opened with the release of the new work, second movement of 4 ELEMENTI 5, “Manu Menes”. Produced by RUNAWAY TOTEM RECORDS, it's released by the French MUSEA, by the Italian LIZARD RECORDS, by the American SYN-PHONIC and, through the official web-site, by RUNAWAY TOTEM RECORDS itself.
In order to realize this album, another Element descended between us, contributing with her voice in giving substance to the Opus accomplished.
Current Elements: CAHÅL DE BÊTÊL Guitars, Voice, Keyboards, Synth and Sampler, TIPHERET Drums, Percussions, Kettle-drum and Keyboards, DAUNO Telluric Bass, ISSIRIAS MOIRA DUSATTI Vocals, HOR-DOUATY Graphics and Webmaster.

This II Movement (Manu Menes) is for itself on a thin order, it can’t be perceived by the senses like the corporeal elements and their combinations. What interests here is the “microcosmic” application, the one referred to every being considered particularly; regarding this, here are represented the “self” and the “I”, the personality and the individuality.
The teaching of the “self” to the “I” is, from this inner point of view, the intellectual and over rational intuition , through which the “self” communicates to the “I”, when this one is “qualified” and prepared in a way that this communication can actually be established.

You are currently in the process of releasing your first live album called At the Gates of the Shadow. Please tell us more about this album.

This work is a Runaway Totem Live sound document, recorder at Genoa, Italy. That night on October 1994 was special, because Runaway Totem shared the stage with a very interesting group of your land, that is the mythic “Poisoned Electrick Head”. They presented their work “The Big Eye Am” and Runaway Totem presented “Trimegisto”. Two very powerful concerts and we think that who witnessed the event can say “I was there”.
Premised this, the album is part of a wider project called “The Books of Reminiscence”. This is the First Book, there will be others in future.

How is your writing and creative processes ?

Runaway Totem develops a project in different phases. These phases allow us to focus the music time by time. Now we’re in the phase of the “NOUS” and one of the projects is “4 Elementi 5”, of whom already two albums have been released, “Esameron” and “Manu Menes”, its first and the second movement. Answering to your question, as far as regards the compositive part it’s not a big deal.
We write a storyboard about what we want to develop musically, which topics will be treated, which books we’ll refer to. That’s the reason why we’ve been defined a project-band. You can understand from this that’s not important how we develop the compositions, if we begin with the music or the lyrics, but the important thing is to translate in scene and music the opera. To us is important that the result is an album where the listener has the possibility to have personal feelings. Every person is an universe on its own, a kaleidoscope of singular emotions and the music has to whirl all around at 360°. You understand that a listener can also have antipodal feelings from who composed the work. There will be people who’ll like the album and others who won’t like it, everything left to the personal feelings and sensibilities. For Runaway totem is source of prestige even if only one person is positively impressed by our music.

I would describe your music as darkened zeuhl. But how would you describe your sound and music ?

We have to make a premise.
Define our own music with adjectives, substantives (prog, progmetal, zehul, rio, pop, rock, blues, classic, etc.) that contain the universe sprung from it, for Runaway Totem is limitative. That’s not because we’re full of affectation and we think that our music is the utmost, but right because we give the possibility to the listener to enter in that personal universe that every person creates listening to “music”. More generally, every composer composes his own intimate feelings, without veils, denudating the “self” and so taking it to the listener’s attention, who will be able to transpose it or not!
We don’t want to seem naïf, we perfectly know that most of the composers write songs only for the mere will to appear, for vainglory, for money, and with this way to act, “music” suffers enormously. We live in the world of consumption, where even art has to have its labels in order to be sold. So the user of these arts (music, painting, cinema, literature, etc.) has some guidelines and he’s not forced to build a deep and wide culture up (like it should normally be) in order to access it. In this way, art becomes factory (in all its forms) and usability is its bard. All this for answering to the request and the offer of our consumerist world.
You can understand how art (any) will never exist with these conditions!
Let’s go back to the “Music” (with capital M, and not because we want to classify good or bad music, old or new, etc., otherwise we would find ourselves in the same weird story of definitions).
Tag the compositions written, played, sang, implies debase the work done.
Prepack and box the works of the human genius (define genres, subgenres, sub-subgenres, etc.) seems to us a harm and a lack of respect for what the artist made with such an effort.
With this we mean: Any composition deserves respect not much because it’s nice or ugly, but because it’s been created. It didn’t exist before, if not only in dreams, and then it has been brought to the awareness of the world. In order to do this, the artist entered in a special mental state, that elevates him towards the Heaven (even if he’s aware of that or not). Listening without prejudices, without judging, listening what is proposed freeing our “self”, listening to what he tells us. Letting the frequencies take over our body in order to have those vibrations and sensations that the artist hopes to be felt (even if they’re disgust, boredom, fear, darkness, tension, intolerance, but also light, potence, joy, etc.). We don’t mean with that that people can’t have their personal tastes. Surely every person loves more a composition than another, right because the beloved music is related with his personality “self”. We don’t like what’s not related to our “self”.
They idea is: “all Art is creation, so respect is demanded!
Runaway Totem believes that in the creation there are no nice or ugly things, good or bad, big or small and so on, in all the Cartesian dualities, but that there’s only the “Yn” and the “Yan”, so not duality, but compenetration. Everything exists because the manifested and the not-manifested are connected. Without the darkness there wouldn’t be light, they’re part of the same manifested plan.
So you can understand from this, that Runaway Totem doesn’t define its own music, much less that of other composers.
Runaway Totem leaves free will to people to define their own music.
Runaway Totem thinks that the press and the specialized press is free to define any music with genres, subgenres, etc., taking the responsibility of what they write and say.
Ultimately define music is a everyone’s free act. Runaway Totem doesn’t define any music, listens to and tries to internalize it, any music it is.
Anyway, Runaway Totem’s influences are multiple, even if not so obvious. One above all, the great Frank Zappa! Claude Debussy, Luciano Berio, Giuseppe Verdi, Robert Fripp, Fred Frith, Todd Rundgren, John Cage, Luigi Nono, Igor Stravinskij, Olivier Messian, Cristian Vander, the supreme Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and many others contributed to create the inspirational base of our compositions.

How is the distribution of all your albums these days and where can they be purchased from ? What is you experiences with the music industry ?

We should start a very long discussion here too, that will lead us on trails that could lull to sleep the readers, so we just say that our albums can be purchased on internet on Amazon, Musea, Syn-Phonic, Cosmos Music, Lizard, BTF, Stuff Atomic, Andromeda Relics and naturally on our website.  

What is your plans for the rest of this year and next year ? To wrap up this interview, is there anything you want to add to this interview ?

This year (2010) we’ll finish our new work’s recordings, “Le Roi du Monde”, III Movement of “4 Elementi 5”, that will end the trilogy. Next year (2011) for the first of march we’ll release the album. Other things are on the way, but it’s still early to talk about them.
We thank Prog Archives Staff for giving Runaway Totem the possibility to express freely its own beliefs. Keep on this way, you’re on the right road.
Bye everybody.
Runaway Totem

Thank you to Roberto for this interview 

Their PA profile is here and their homepage here

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memowakeman View Drop Down
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 15 2011 at 17:08
This was quite a good interview.
Love this band!

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: January 15 2011 at 17:19
Great interview! Tep Zepi and Esameron are both great albums.
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