Mountains, meadows – and fjords
My days on Facebook are more or less over. I never really found much inspiration there, and in the end I was only checking in on a more or less daily basis to say happy birthday to my friends – the daily reminders were the last practical use of the platform. But even that has stopped more or less.
Every now and then I return for a few moments and browse through the endless stream of advertising that is sometimes interrupted by a picture of someone at the beach. But on very rare occasions, something glitters in all that insignificance, and I find a tiny nugget of inspiration. Like the day I saw one of the really rare posts by Geir Jenssen (or Biosphere, if you prefer).
And no, he didn’t talk about his own work – he pointed towards this really obscure album, Italian Ambient music from the late 1970s. It’s kind of funny how minds work. If you have never heard of an Italian musician that does great Ambient music, you simply assume that there simply wasn’t or isn’t anyone doing significant work in that part of the music world. Nonsense, of course.
The accompanying text that Jenssen added to his post was from a Hardwax review that finished with the conclusion that “Prati Bagnati has a transformative beauty unlike anything else”. To me it read sort of like “if you don’t get that album you’re a damn fool.” Without even checking the album out on Bandcamp, I ordered it.
With praise like that it’s no spoiler when I say that I am happy I did. I have listened to it at least a dozen times now, partly because it’s such an enjoyable experience, partly because it is soothing and calming after a ridiculously long work day.
What I learned during this time is that this really isn’t an album by a team of two artists but rather two half albums with Messina taking the A side and Lovisoni the second one. Is that of particular importance? Not necessarily. I didn’t notice that at first and never felt that the album was in any way lacking coherence.
Messina supplies the title track too, a twenty-three and a half minute beauty that is much more accessible than his liner notes. I’m not sure whether the original Italian text he supplied is equally hard to make sense of or if it is just a rather dodgy translation. It’s hinting at the book his composition refers to, “Le Mont Analogue” by French surrealist René Daumal. The book is described as bizarre and allegorical, about a group of people that embark on a journey to climb a mountain that is imperceptible, except for the base of the mountain – the door to the invisible is always visible.
Judging from what we hear, the base of the mountain must be an immensely beautiful place. After all, we are in the dewey meadows of Mount Analogue, where people live in harmony, where nature is lush and exotic. It’s a peradam, a place or object that is only visible for those who seek it. Like this album that is only revealed to those who seek, not knowing what they will find, and listening to those who know.
Listening to Messina’s wonderfully soothing piece is somewhat intriguing as it immediately brings up associations with music that has just been released one and a half years ago – Floating Points and Pharaoh Sanders’ “Promises”. A similar meditative approach, a simple recurring theme (on Messina’s composition it is played by Michele Fedrigotti), the way the synths spread out layers of calm beauty to let the few notes sparkle and shine – both albums have a similar way of wrapping you in a blanket of serenity, Messina and Fedrigotti even more than Shepherd and Sanders. You wouldn’t think that they were recorded more than 40 years apart.
Raul Lovisoni’s approach is even more minimalist and experimental while his liner notes are much more analytic and comprehensible. Mostly, that is – his explanation of “Hula Om”, the first of his two contributions, will probably only enlighten those among us who have a deeper understanding of the architecture of music. He says it is “built on a first set of 25 notes, divided on the base of five rhythmic and melodic cores”. Oooookay. And when he adds that “the entire piece is shrouded by a geometric carlessness” I am definitely lost.
The question is – again – whether that matters. Lovisoni draws a parallel to a Gothic cathedral, saying that stones and beams and all the other things used to build are nothing but means to an end, that the essence is in “the thought and in the will of man, who have designed and implemented that cathedral, as well as in the feeling of the faithful, who have lived it.” Again, the translation seems a little off, but the thought is clear. He writes that the sounds are mere means as well, “their order either strict (“Hula Om”) or hopefully abandoned (“Amon Ra”).” True. The people who are visiting the cathedral don’t have to understand the architectural beauty of it. They come for the essence – just like we are when we listen to Lovisoni, even without understanding the musical structure.
So, even without being able to access the theoretical background it’s clear that “Hula Om” is structured while the second piece “Amon Ra” is very much unstructured, as in deeply improvisational, a piece that will only have been played like this one single time – when it was recorded.
The impact is quite the same though. Patti Tassini is the artist that plays it, on a harp that was, as Lovisoni puts it, “slightly edited”, and it does something that one might find fascinating about Bach, you understand that what you hear is almost mathematical in construction, but your reaction to it is not respect, it’s joy, you respond to the essence. “Amon Ra” consists only of vocals and glasspiel (filling different sizes of glasses with different levels of water and then playing notes on the rims of the glasses with moist fingers). Its meditative feel is much more prominent than on the other tracks on the album as the vocals feel like mantras, and the sound the glasses emit may be improvisational, but certainly not without intention and impact. The insert the album comes with shows several images of musicians sitting together in a meditative posture, grouped in a circle, kneeling on an oriental carpet, supposedly while supplying chants like the ones we hear on “Amon Ra”.
Eno’s “Ambient 1: Music For Airports” was just a year old when this album was recorded. This simple fact adds to the respect and admiration this album deserves. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of a peradam, a word that Daumal supposedly created, the object that is revealed only to those who seek it. This is just what this album is.
Release for review:
RAUL LOVISONI / FRANCESCO MESSINA – PRATI BAGNATI DEL MONTE ANALOGO – SUPERIOR VIADUCT – SV130