Long time no post! Here’s some beautiful music for even more horrible than usual times. A refreshing and playful album that effortlessly combines electronic and acoustic sounds in a way that is neither arduous nor cliche. This is a compilation of music by experimental composer (and architect) Riccardo Sinigaglia for early cgi animations by multimedia artist Mario Canali. These pieces were credited to their interdisciplinary art collective Correnti Magnetiche (Magnetic Currents) which was active from 1985-1995 and featured numerous other players from the Italian experimental scene of the time.
The music here is tough to pin down. It’s ambient, minimalist, at times reminiscent of classical music, and occasionally improvisational. The way Sinigaglia combines FM synthesis with acoustic instrumentation is really novel, the synthesized parts never sound immediately recognizable and seamlessly blend with actual percussion, violins, and vocals. It’s an album that opens up more and more upon consecutive listens. If this piques your fancy, Sinigaglia’s similarly excellent Rifelssi (1985) is also highly recommended.
Also of note is how purely weird and wonderful some of the other cg videos by Canali and Correnti Magnetiche are. They look like avant-garde versions of those cgi movie theater policy animations that were ubiquitous in the 1990s. I can’t get enough of them. This one sounds like an experimental interpretation of “I Want My MTV” by Dire Straits at the 0:44 mark.
And now for an obligatory Ryuichi Sakamoto/Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO) post. This a worthwhile Sakamoto solo-album from 1986 that’s often overlooked – forgivable given his massive discography. Despite having a unifying conceptual focus on the avant-garde/facist Italian Futurist movement of the early 20th century [which once tried to abolish pasta] this album somehow manages to be all over the place. But this is why I like this record, and why I love Sakamoto.
Who else on earth would throw together musique concrete, needless 80s guitar solos, operatic arias, R&B stylings, and techno-pop? More importantly, who would then have the audacity to just drop a speech synthesis program reading an encyclopaedia entry on Futurism into the middle of a song? Sakamoto that’s who.
I sometimes see myself as a bigger fan of Haruomi Hosono’s solo works of this period because he never does wrong, even when he tends to be more predictable. But what I like about Sakamoto’s solo work is its sheer ecclectism, iconoclasm, and musical risk-taking. Whether he’s literally so ahead of the curve that he incidentally invents electro as a genre on B-2 Unit (1980), makes medieval synth-pop with Danceries in 1983, or creates a beautiful album of sampler-heavy “4th World Music” on Esperanto (1985), Sakamoto was always trying something new and pushing himself outside his comfort-zone.
There are a lot of memorable moments on the record. “Daikoukai” is a smooth diet-coke take on Naughty boys-era YMO, “Variety Show” is a dramatic and metallic sampler frenzy, and “G.T. II” is a 1980s funk romp that will be stuck in your head for a while. But the song that both puzzles and entices me the most is “Ballet Mécanique.” It starts off with a beautiful sound-collage of camera noises, but then suddenly breaks into a R&B vocalist Sakamoto hired to sing lyrics so corny they’re literally non-sensical:
“When I look out of my window, all I ever see is cloudy grey-skies, when you look into your mirror, how d’you think you’re ever going to see me. Look into my eyes”
It must have been a bad translation or something. But then Sakamoto comes on singing the exact same cheese in Japanese (a language I can’t understand) and the song immediately becomes consumable again. I guess this points to something problematic with my/our collective fascination with Japanese music from the 1980s that would sound hollow to those who can understand the language? And also with the frequent appropriation of R&B singers by Japanese pop musicians of the period?
Telectu’s Camerata Elettronica sounds like Mark Mothersburg and Henry Cow were asked to collaborate on a soundtrack for the film The Man With the Golden Arm.
This is a noir-y album of experimental jazz composed using plastic-sounding synth approximations of standard jazz instruments, samples of live instruments on a Roland-s10, and live instrumentation. The results are spectacular, bizarre, and still avant-garde by today’s standards.
Some musical relatives can be found on the weirder tracks off Frank Zappa’s Jazz From Hell(1986), but Camerata Elettronica is far more raw and unhinged. The album’s post-modern logic is both jarring and endearing – there is a quota of artifice per every song. On some of the earlier tracks on the album you will hear live guitars and bass juxtaposed by thudding drum machines and synthetic saxophones, and on some of the later songs you will find the opposite.
Telectu was a duo formed in 1982 by guitarist Vítor Rua of the Portuguese rock band GNR [no, not Guns ‘n Roses] and keyboardist Jorge Lima Barreto. Both Barreto and Rua are accomplished musicians who who have released a lot of experimental music that can be described as minimalist and improvisational. Most of it is not quite my bag, but this album really hits the spot.