Caterina Barbieri: Ecstatic Computation (LP, Editions Mego, May 2019)

I was pretty excited to get my ears around this one. Barbieri’s Patterns Of Consciousness was one of my records of 2017, and Born Again In The Voltage was almost as good. So, how does this new album stack up?

The thing that made me adore Patterns so much was its awesome precision. It had a scattergun approach to melody, sometimes lurching between registers in the middle of a phrase several times in quick succession, but it always felt like every aspect was perfectly engineered on the basis of some guiding principle — and, judging by the liner notes, it probably was. It was like the most brilliantly controlled chaos. By contrast, Born Again (which was released a year after Patterns but recorded a couple of years earlier) was a bit fuzzier around the edges, something which at the time I attributed to a less finely honed skill. Well, Ecstatic Computation is in some ways more like Born Again. It shares a slightly looser feel, possibly connected to a wider range of instruments, and even a rather smashing wordless vocal line by Annie Gärlid and Evelyn Saylor on Arrows Of Time. The sort of swishy hitting-a-wire-fence noise that starts Closest Approach To Your Orbit is positively messy. And yet it does feel controlled in the same way that Patterns did. I suppose that it may be a greater accomplishment, broadening your scope and letting things be a bit more free while retaining that precision. And this is a very fine record and one I’m glad to give cabinet space to. But I’ve got to admit that I do still miss the purity of Patterns.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.

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, 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)


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.