Caterina Barbieri: Born Again In The Voltage (LP, Important Records, September 2018)

Barbieri’s Patterns Of Consciousness was a thing of great wonder and one of my records of 2017. This record was recorded before that, in 2014–15, but released after — I’m not sure whether this was planned, or whether this one only saw the light of day owing to the success of her debut. No matter: it stands by itself. There are four long pieces for Buchla 200, voice, and cello (Antonello Manzo wielding the bow), and showing a range of styles. How To Decode An Illusion is a slow, pulsing number, dominated by the modular synth, contrasting clean-sounding waves with occasional siren-like blurps and organic howls before being lifted by a flurry of bleeps. Rendering Intuitions is fairly straightforward cello/drone territory. Human Developers is mostly a buzzing synth drone. Things take a turn for the allegro non troppo on the much more upbeat We Access Only A Fraction, a trippingly melodic bit of Buchla-work plus chanting. And while it is not quite as accomplished as Patterns Of Consciousness, and it doesn’t hang together so well as an album, it is a highly enjoyable listen.

I bought this from Juno. They call it Experimental / Electronic.

Caterina Barbieri: Patterns Of Consciousness (2LP, Important, April 2017)

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Ooh, this is pretty special. There has, let’s be honest, been slightly too much modular synth music floating around recently, much of it seemingly produced as part of some sort of retro hipster trend thing and not having anything very interesting add to the genre. But this is really good: innovative and intricate and involving, plus it sounds great.

It starts out with a repeating pattern of first four notes, which grows to five, then six, then a little echo is added, and so on — it feels like the music is developing as we listen to it as the result of some kind of evolutionary process of random mutation and natural selection… or possibly some sort of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind call-and-response thing. This sets the tone for the whole album, really, each track a thing of patterns morphing and growing in complexity, the aleatoric feel enhanced by frequent abrupt shifts in register, often several within a line. (The liner notes make all this quite a bit more explicit, with their talk of “generative entities”. I didn’t read them until I’d already formed my own impressions of the record, though, I promise, and I admit I’ve only skimmed them now.) But there’s something else very important to know about Patterns Of Consciousness, which is that it’s really melodic and really catchy. All those little tweaks and jumps… everything somehow sounds just exactly right. For a record with such an obvious theoretical underpinning, it sounds wonderfully natural. Honestly, this is close to perfection.

(Incidentally, there’s something interesting going on with the album structure, at least for the first three sides: each has two tracks, a jaunty up-tempo one followed by a slower and more contemplative one; the A-side is This Causes Consciousness To Fail followed by TCCTF, the B-side is Information Needed To Create An Entire Body followed by INTCAEB, the C-side is Scratches On The Readable Surface followed by SOTRS… I suspect there’s something deeper going on here, but I haven’t quite figured out what yet. The D-side, by the way, is a single long track called Gravity That Binds, and it’s great.)

I bought this from Juno. They call it Experimental / Electronic.

Steve Gunn & Mike Gangloff: Melodies For A Savage Fix (LP, Important, December 2013)

I recently made the case that Steve Gunn is best when he’s acoustic. I’d like to enter into evidence this little gem of a collaboration with Mike Gangloff (of Pelt and the Black Twig Pickers). The two share an interest in both Appalachian and Indian music, and on this record sees them spending a night in a barn in Virginia improvising on 6- and 12-string guitars, gongs, tanpura, singing bowls, shruti box, and “the banjo Gangloff sometimes plays at monthly square dances at a country store just up the road” (as the label helpfully tells us). Now, you’d be forgiven for suspecting that this is all god-awful hipster-bait… but you’d be wrong, ‘cos this is just ace. The music is at once swirlingly hypnotic and catchily melodic, and it somehow manages to balance the comfortingly familiar and the intriguingly strange in a way that seems utterly natural. I’m at a loss to explain exactly why I find the sound they create so pleasing. All I can say is that if you’ve ever heard the questing tone of a slide guitar, and thought that what it really needed in response was the quiet finality of a nice gong, then this is the record for you. I don’t think I had ever thought that until I heard it, but now that I have, I believe it fervently.

I bought this from Juno. They call it Rock, which says more about their genre dropdown than about this record.