AMN Reviews: Andrea Massaria & Clementine Gasser – The Spring of My Life [Amirani AMRN053]

Haiku have long elicited fascination on the part of Western poets and other artists who’ve been taken with their allusiveness and conciseness. How well their subtleties of form and content have been understood outside of Japan is a matter of controversy, but in some respects this doesn’t matter, at least to the extent that they’ve inspired independent works of art. With The Spring of My Life Andrea Massaria and Clementine Gasser literally translated a set of haiku into musical performances that are uniquely their own.

The two bring similar backgrounds to the music. Massaria, here on guitar, electronics and effects, is active in Trieste and Venice; he studied classical guitar before moving into jazz, improvisation, and other experimental fields. Gasser, from Switzerland, also studied classical music and jazz. Together, their playing shows an adventurousness tempered by a sense of structure.

For this set of pieces Massaria and Gasser took a series of haiku by the classic poet Kobayashi Issa and crafted mixed graphic/verbal scores around them. Like the three-line, seventeen-syllable poems, the individual pieces on The Spring of My Life are succinct—the shortest is under two minutes and longest is a still economical six and three-quarters minutes long. Also like haiku, these pieces work through suggestion and indirection. Each is an atmospheric vignette focusing on the interaction of space and color. Massaria and Gasser never crowd each other, but instead leave open spaces for each voice to develop unhurriedly. There are piano-like cascades over stabs of cello, uncluttered lines finely weaving in and around each other. Massaria in particular brings a wide palette of colors to his playing, suggesting at various times the sounds of the harp, organ, steel drums, and more. As this stubborn winter gives way to spring, The Spring of My Life makes for a reinvigorating soundtrack.

Daniel Barbiero


AMN Reviews: Jelena Glazova – The Malady of Death (2018; Pan y Rosas)

Latvia’s Jelena Glazova is a sound artist working in the musique concrete field. The Malady of Death, a two-track release, was made by processing her own voice. She views her techniques as a way of providing vocal expression without relying on actual speech. Remarkably, there is little on the album that suggests voice as the source material. Instead, Glazova manipulates her recordings to the point where they take on drone-like or percussive characteristics. Sparse waves of distortion overlap to create constructive interference in the form of beats. These oscillations combine in pairs or triads.  The elements mainly explore the lower-registers, often hovering in a frequency range that is easy to overlook. At times, these sounds resemble adverse weather patterns (e.g., thunder and lightning) or extra-planetary noises, which are in line with the overall emotional tone of the album. Toward the end of the second track, Mechanical Breathing, Glazova ramps up the intensity into roiling walls of rapidly vibrating distortion that climax with a windblown hellscape.

AMN Reviews: Eraldo Bernocchi, Jo Quail, FM Einheit – Rosebud (2017; RareNoiseRecords)

Consider this album one that slipped through the cracks. Released more than two months ago, it would have rightfully had a place on our Best of 2017 list. So, as the cliché goes, better late than never. Or, more accurately, it was worth the wait.

Bernocchi is the co-founder of the RareNoise label, a genre-making thought leader in unconventional and creative music for the last decade. Here, he provides guitar atmospherics in the form of long-held power chords, harmonics, feedback, and drones, any of which may be subject to electronic processing. Quail is a classically-trained cellist who experiments with distortion and effects. Einheit, of course, was a principal member of German industrial group Einstürzende Neubauten, and contributes found-object percussion and machine rhythms. On Rosebud, this unusual trio combines gritty ambiance with restrained aggression that results in six pieces that contain a surprising amount of subtle beauty.

As an example track, Xanadu begins with an ominous, horror-movie riff from Quail. Einheit and Bernocchi join in with rattling percussion and distorted chording, respectively. Bernocchi double tracks his guitar lines, trading off low-end duties with Quail, while also providing sustained, bent wails. Einheit’s efforts are structured and rhythmic, yet the eschewing of a traditional drum kit makes his input appear to be both more mechanical and less constrained.

Rosebud is a study in contrasts: composition and improvisation, familiar and strange, catchy and harsh, dense and singular. Each of these qualities can be found throughout, often juxtaposed with one another. While a studio construct, the one cannot help but think that the music herein would be nothing less than spectacular if performed live.

AMN Reviews: The Star Pillow – Symphony for Intergalactic Brotherhood (2018; Boring Machines)

Guitarist Paolo Monti is The Star Pillow, a one-man project that explores the outer boundaries of guitar-based ambient soundscapes. Symphony for Intergalactic Brotherhood includes three long-form bowed, processed, and layered improvisations due for release on March 30.

The opening track, My Dear Elohim, is an extended, shimmering drone with deliberately-paced sinusoidal ululations. It evolves through variations of this theme to a towering crescendo just before it ends. Unlike its predecessor, the short An Intergalactic Handshake contains elements that are clearly plucked guitar notes. These are slowly replaced by overlapping mid-frequency drones. From Dust to Stars rounds out the release, moving in a darker direction. The drones are bassier and growling, yet still cyclic and in line with the general approach of My Dear Elohim.

One of the compelling aspects of this album is Monti’s penchant for making guitar recordings sound like other instruments, cello and synths in particular. Nonetheless, the mechanisms behind his sound matter less than the sound itself. A strong release.

AMN Reviews: Pascale Criton & Ensemble Dedalus – Infra [Potlatch P317]

On Infra, the second album of work by French composer Pascale Criton (b. 1954), microtonal tunings and the techniques congenial to them are employed to create sound environments of incremental variations on pitch and color. The pieces collected on Infra and performed by the Ensemble Dedalus are for solo cello (Deborah Walker), cello and violin (Walker and Silvia Tarozzi), and a chamber quintet of cello, violin, guitar, flute and trombone (Walker, Tarozzi, Didier Aschour, Amélie Berson and Thierry Madiot, respectively). The sound gets its particular flavor from the tunings used; for the string instruments, Criton specifies a tuning of 1/16 tone, an interval chosen for its near imperceptibility. The focus of the compositions thus falls on eliciting shadings of sound color and the microdissonances and other aural effects produced by closely ordered pitches; there’s a certain understated drama in the discrepancies between slightly differentiated tones whose defining gaps widen and narrow within a restricted audio space. The performances are technically accomplished and highly effective in conveying the subtle movement and finely calibrated hues of Criton’s soundworld.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Matteo Liberatore – “Solos” [Innova 985]

“Solos” is the first solo guitar album from guitarist Matteo Liberatore. It was mixed and mastered by guitarist-composer Elliot Sharp. The recording contains twelve pieces that explore the sonic possibilities of the solo acoustic guitar without electronics or any overdubs. Instead Liberatore employs extended techniques that includes the use of objects like metal springs, alligator clips, a bass bow and a kick drum beater. This is not just sonic novelty or gratuitous use of extended techniques; each of the pieces while largely improvised, have clarity and purpose that creates really interesting and memorable pieces of music.

The first track “Agnes” builds a texture somewhere between a hammer dulcimer and the tremolos of the classical guitar, but with very modern harmonies.

“Untitled #9” is a stark exploration of counterpoint with the contrasting colors of the prepared guitar.

“Barrea” is a striking piece that on a blind listen I doubt that most listeners could correctly identify the source instrument. It is a lyrical noise piece with extensive bowing that sounds like its coming from a cello or two.

Then there is “Causeway” which is a haunting but a somewhat more “conventional” piece that explores a “folky” melodic theme that slowly transforms with each pass.

Matteo Liberatore’s “Solos” is a wonderful record that introduces us to an interesting new voice in the world of experimental guitar. Liberatore’s music is very imaginative.  “Solos” explores textures driven by propulsive rhythms, stark counterpoint of contrasting colors, and lyrical noise, sometimes all in the same piece. Highly Recommended!

Chris DeChiara

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AMN Reviews: KURUNDU (Zigo & Camila Dos Santos) – Yvykua Ipuva [Plus Timbre PT068]

Much experimental/electronic sound art can be austere and even severely cerebral; Kurundu’s five-movement suite Yvykua Ipuva, by contrast, revels in the polymorphous sensuality of sound.

Kurundu, named for South American ritual amulets, is a binational duo of Paraguayan cellist Camila Dos Santos and Argentinian electronics artist Zigo Rayopineal. Their collaboration has produced a set of richly atmospheric, layered musical constructions built in real time. Dos Santos and Rayopineal are particularly good at creating the illusion of spatial depth with sound, partly through a close attention to the stratification of texture and partly through the reverberant voices they tend to favor. The foundation is Dos Santos’ cello, suitably looped and processed. Her playing here is more about ambience than melody, although a melodic line does unfold slowly at the heart of the long second movement; her use of chords and drones, glissandi and extended techniques complements Rayopineal’s shimmering electronic settings. The latter dominate the fourth movement, which seems to allude to early electronic music’s sonic imaginings of outer space; the final movement puts the focus on Dos Santos’ cello—strummed, overpressured and bowed for harmonics and multiphonics, it sketches its self-portrait in a concave mirror.

Daniel Barbiero