Thursday, May 29, 2014

Alio Die - Circo Divino

Alio Die & Parallel Worlds
Circo Divino2010

There's a ton of music out there in the world, and back in the day, being a musician meant making a financial investment in needing to rent out space at a studio.  If you were fortunate enough to own all of the highly-specialized gear for your own studio, then perhaps you could meddle freely, but in most cases, meddling and experimentalism among popular artists was not a large component of recordings.  Recent technological and social advancements have brought us to a world that, in terms of creating, recording, and sharing music, we are much more free to do as we please, when we please, and make it available across the whole world for all those that might appreciate it.  This de-homogenization and accessibility of the arts makes us aware of a whole new range of artists, as well as the messages and implications of their work.  Ambient works were seemingly less-produced and harder to come by way back when, but in the pathways of the electronic web, the issues isn't "if" you can find, so much as "what" you can find.  Ambient music may only have a following in certain circles of people thus far, but in assessing it's function and affect on a listener, I can't imagine that not changing -- especially since the start of albums based more on mood than on music in the 60's - 70's, and the booming of the movie soundtrack market in the 80's.

Occasionally, in any given musical style, there are what one might call "moments of sublimation."  These moments are the ones where the feeling of what is happening in sound really transcends words -- whether it's the unanimous swelling of a harmony in fiddles during a folk tune, or the interplay of different rhythms and timbres in an electronic dance composition.  The sad thing is, that moment is often short-lived.  Alio Die's (Stefano Musso) work continues to be impressive in ways that is hard to articulate, but you might say that he uses sounds of anything in any way he chooses in order to create a sustained moment of sublimation.  As a listener, whether you're focusing on the execution of a Bach prelude, the progression of a chain of melodies in a Greek syrto, or the words of a pop artist, you're being told a story.  Most of these forms of music are indicating a path of feeling through a progression of notes, or their musical forms, and (even more directly in singer/songwriters) their lyricism.  The work of Alio Die and other great ambient artists doesn't really follow that schema.  The best of ambient artists seem to concern themselves with the feeling that the sound itself creates, independent of its notational value -- its affect.  Consider the difference that a recording of water in a tidal pool is from that of the firing of a rocket.  In both of these examples, the "note value" of the sounds are largely irrelevant, yet the difference in psychological impact is remarkable.  This difference in focus might be considered analogous to this modified image of a Persian rug:



The notationalist's focus is largely the congruency of patterns and their definition, and the ambient artist's focus is the individual & combined affect of the colors, textures, and the mood they create.  Although the texture and ambiance of the sound itself seems to play the dominant role, Alio Die uses a bit of both worlds by incorporating modified recordings of organic instrumentation and manipulating it electronically.

The first track, "Lost Fractales," is a soundscape reminiscent of some of the environments that edgier electronic musicians, such as Future Sound of London, have alluded to, but only momentarily.  The slicing and manipulation of vocal samples atop chiming tones and a faint airy rhythmic element provides quite a wonderful domain:


"Sorinel," features some vocal lyricism, although it largely enveloped by the environmentals: 


"Electrostatic Forest" could be one of my favorite Alio Die tracks, and is exemplary of one of the traits that I found most enjoyable: a sense of mixed time.  The samples used (dulcimer work, water, some digital synth, perhaps a flute or whistle, perhaps some vocals) all seem to be played at different speeds and/or have a damper on set frequencies:


In "Slide of Grace" comes another great model of his work: electronically-coordinated drips of varying emphasis provide the rhythm in the foreground, and the background is held together by a deep and vaporous under-layment of slowed-down sustained notes by a solo vocalist -- very reminiscent of the Aura Seminalis album:


Alio Die's style seems to be in an amalgamation of *all* things: field recording of nature, his own organic instrumentation, electronic manipulation, and one of his albums (Tripudium Naturae) utilizes recordings of someone playing a Norwegian hardingfele (or Hardanger fiddle).  It's worth mentioning, that although some of the sound is not created by the musician, it's in no way "unskilled."  Although I'm not sure of his specific set-up, many of computer applications that electronic or ambient artists often use has the appearance and complex functionality equal to that of a space shuttle, and, to fully utilize, can require an understanding of sound and engineering similar to that of an audiologist and/or recording engineer.  Additionally, since the ambient artist is often *not* working with audio of the same rhythms, natures, series of notes, or otherwise predictable patterns, one has to know well their samples in order to steer the experience in the desired direction -- and Alio Die's works are always splendidly blended.

After careful and attentive listening sessions, one comes to the question of, "What is it that is trying to be communicated in this music?  Is it sadness; wonderment; oblivion; transcendence?"  It could be any of those.  It could be a largely projective experience.  Also, it could just make you sleepy.  But maybe some modest audio during an era where things tend to be pushed to extremes is a good thing.  There's been a small but perhaps warranted backlash in modern societies which perceive appreciation for things like "fast food," frantic film editing styles in cinema, and the micromanagement of most of the time in one's life -- in the form of the cultural shift advocated by the Slow Movement, for example.  At any rate, Alio Die's work makes me appreciate the speed of "slow" with an emphasis on "feel", and I always leave an experience of listening far better than I arrived.

--Seth Premo

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