AMN Reviews: Gasparotti / Ciullini / Stancati – Portraits (2021; Unexplained Sounds Group)

On my second listen to this compilation of tracks from three Italian experimentalists, my 17-year-old walked into the room and remarked on its similarities (in spirit if not exact sound) with the soundtrack to one of his favorite oddball Japanese video games from the 1990s, Earthbound. I had watched him do a playthrough of the game about a year prior and recalled that the music was “experimental” and quite advanced for the time and medium. Doing a bit of research finds that the composers of Earthbound’s soundtrack admitted to being influenced by Zappa, Sun Ra, Steve Reich, Brian Eno, and Can among others (Earthbound also has a storyline and dialog as witty and creative as its music).

Back on topic, this release is the first of a new Portraits series from Unexplained Sounds Group, providing exposure to electroacoustic and electronic composers. There is more of the latter than the former herein, and perhaps a bit of post-industrial influence, but the sounds evoked are likely to be found compelling to fans of both.

Gabriele Gasparotti focuses on electroacoustic music and analog instrumentation, with heavy use of repetitive patterns, sequencing, oscillations, synths, violin, percussion, and drone textures. These patterns are interrupted by static, cosmic whooshes and evolve in a boundary-less fashion. The constant change maintains a degree of freshness that separates this organized set of unusual elements from a bag of recurrent sounds. The mood of these pieces is neither bright nor dark, just strange without being menacing. There is even a hint of playfulness in some of the lilting rhythms. The result indeed has an unmistakable vintage video game feel.

Mario Lino Stancati is a cross-genre adventurer, who uses gently-played acoustic and electric guitar along with wavering processed sounds and synth drones. He also employs vocals that blend into the latter. On the other hand, Stancati is not opposed to a bit of disquiet, as his tones are more uneasy than those of Gasparotti, especially when he combines them with electroacoustic elements. The final track from this composer incorporates multi-tracked spoken word vocals over ambient drones and an odd combination of percussive structures.

Daniele Ciullini is the eldest of the three composers and more focused on creating music for tape. Thus, his approach is perhaps the least traditional herein, with layering and fluctuating synth lines coupled with glitchy and mechanical noises, object percussion, and the requisite amount of charming hiss. Ciullini also utilizes spoken word recordings from various sources. The overall feel is more machine-oriented than organic, and yet peculiarly engrossing in its own unique fashion.