Sunday 2 August 2009

“For Chrissake, Is There Anything This Guy Doesn’t Like?”

This was a derisive question indirectly forwarded to yours truly by an unnamed participant to a forum about “critics” (a category to which this writer begs not to belong) in a pretty renowned website a while back. The answer is “yes, there is”, even if I don’t particularly love penning negative reviews, as repeatedly told. Let’s just say that when disposable records are received by nonentities, most probably they won’t be reviewed. But when the expectations are higher, the involved names are known and I ultimately remain dissatisfied with the music, an explanation might be required.


The reasons behind my non-appreciative response to this album (released by Taumaturgia) are not necessarily related to the (rare) sounds that Malfatti and Unami emit, which can be easily summarized in a few surges of low-frequency vibration and sparse schisms – presumably, objects and computer - mainly on the clattering/hastily clicking/cymbal-esque side, which sometimes attempt to mesh but, more often, remain innocuous in their naked coldness (maybe excluding a couple of domestic appliance-like humming washes). Treat instead this write-up as a symbolic lament for a whole bunch of current EAI releases, not as a personal attack against the Spanish label, Malfatti or Unami. First of all, I’ve grown sick and tired of having the environmental background practically dictating the direction of a record – as it happens in the initial part of Goat Vs Donkey - rather than the musical content itself. You may turn this rant into an appeal: let’s not release live recordings of erstwhile (no pun intended) “new silence” - ha! - until inappropriate factors are reduced to a bare minimum. Playing a CD only to hear external traffic, squeaking chairs, audience noise-cum-ever-present-coughing, even the quiet hush surrounding the inactivity of the performers, has become a silly practice that lets us observe the development of yet another format. If – as in this circumstance – the “music” is insignificant enough per se (because what’s comprised here is indeed shallow, in contrast to the weighty name of the participants) then placing it under such a common denominator - together with a hundred similar episodes of the same breed - means that everything this sort of artistic expression was striving for has by now taken the semblance of a well-rehearsed joke. This set was repeatedly analyzed, in every possible way: headphones, speakers, soft and loud volume, shut and open windows. It just doesn’t work, and no intellectual prescription to save the writer from his alleged ignorance will be followed. Let me say it again: this is the emblematic pictogram of a rapidly expanding plague, which authorizes the publication of performances that are not worthy of remembrance, except perhaps for those who actually attended them. As far as studio sessions are concerned, I’m definitely still willing to listen carefully, but the echoes from the outside world sound better when I find myself amidst them, not on a disc, unless they’re the subject matter.


When I received this record from Moonjune, my curiosity was immediately tickled by the lengthy press release, who tells the story of Sharp being “blown away” by Savoldelli’s first solo CD Insanology (unluckily not heard in this house) and portrays a sort of multitask monster specialized in sophisticated vocal techniques such as “diplophony, triplophony, flutophony and criptomelody”. Wow. Having also spotted the name of Jay Clayton among the teachers with whom the man has studied, the expectations zoomed. At the end of the program – which, to put it mildly, is pretty wearisome to listen to in its entirety – this writer’s impression was something along the lines of “a few passable inventions amidst a jumble of stereotyped electronic manipulations, with Sharp (guitars, sax, electronics) more or less as himself and Savoldelli (vocals, electronics) the facsimile of a Percy Howard/Demetrio Stratos hybrid, with a higher degree of cyber-chaos”. Specifically, the problems lie here: 1) The über-advanced mental picture of E# is always several stages ahead – not only of this particular partner, but practically everybody – so whoever attempts a duet with the New Yorker will do good not to try and overwhelm his crushing combination of rationality and convention-shattering digital dexterity. This didn’t happen, Protoplasmic often appearing as a veritable war of attrition rather than a collaboration. 2) Too many pedals, effects and knobs. The music, at times, goes very near to resembling an incoherent mess, no matter the angle you observe it from. It grows quite tiresome on the auricular membranes time and again. There’s no breathing, no vital sparkle despite the incessant cascade of acid bubbles. 3) Finally, and most honestly: after scrupulous analysis, it doesn’t look to me that Savoldelli (minus pitch-modifying devices) is the owner of this phenomenal array of oral resources. Ever heard of Phil Minton? On top of that I’d never, ever use the Italian language – Boris does it a number of times - when lateral thinking and sheer electroacoustic research should be involved, especially with a high-caliber sonic scientist like Sharp; to these ears - in 2009 - it sounds démodé, dusty, frankly annoying. Not on the laughable levels of mid-70s Battiato (to this day, the latter’s pseudo-esoteric rants sound as cheap as a fake shamanic ceremony in a village for tourists) but scarcely useful for this kind of project, for sure. Additional chances will be definitely given to this album, but the serious doubt that my opinion will change lingers on.