Where to begin… Alessandro Bosetti‘s music for the last decade has documented the de- and re-contextualization of the human voice through a variety of means. Il Fiore Della Bocca achieved this through the natural alterations of ‘normal’ speech exhibited by the voices of individuals with speech impediments, such as stuttering and phonetic disorders. Africanfeedback did so through vocal mimicry of contemporary music and through a simple ignorance of the languages his subjects were speaking (often Dogon). Throughout his body of works, we find the spoken word being imitated in the tonality, rhyme and meter of Alessandro’s synthetic and instrumental compositions – often playing simultaneously, or with a brief pause as if to accentuate the aping. Stand Up Comedy, then, seems a natural extension of this praxis. Here we find language being broken into the sentence fragments, muted reactions, bursts of laughter and confused exclamations that result from Alessandro’s use of the Mask/Mirror machine.
This machine is (in an act of generosity to the listener) introduced and briefly explained early on in Side A, where it is described as an ‘interrupting machine’. It sounds as if Alessandro has at least partial control over the device, which variously plays tones or sound samples, sometimes speaks appropriately and often out of turn. Much of the first side features conversations in a variety of contexts all with essentially two Alessandros – himself and his pre-recorded sentences, words and idioms being pronounced from his machine. The fourth wall is virtually non-existent here, as phrases and phonemes are repeated sometimes alongside the field recordings, sometimes instead of them. The question of where post-production, or even composition, begins and ends seems rhetorical (which is perhaps partly the point). Large sections consist simply of Alessandro grappling with his own creation as it fills in gaps in his sentences, speaks over him and plays back slightly inappropriate comments on cue.
A few instances of Mask/Mirror at work:
I laughed out loud – frequently. From incredibly awkward pauses in phone conversations to Alessandro’s personal confessionals and tangents (“‘Cause everybody have guns, and I thought it’s kind of cheap…”), good portions of the album are a riot. This is both contrasted and complimented by moments of absolute beauty as well. There are countless self-conscious ‘um’s and ‘uh’s over-top sine waves and toy-piano tones that lend the album its overarching intimacy, to say nothing of the lilting clarinet, violin and electronics of ‘Life Expectation’.
This latter piece again features Mask/Mirror, here reciting various iterations of segments of another conversation over-top of Alessandro’s trademark instrumental mimicry; this time occasionally leading the spoken word, instead of tailing it. It plays out like a game of spoken charades, where the words are describing both the scene in which the conversation takes place, and make critiques of the presentation itself.
Stand Up Comedy is as much theatre as social commentary as music, and Alessandro’s use of humour helps prevent the work from collapsing under its own rhetorical weight into mere solipsism. Given that we tend to think in some shorthand version of a spoken language, Mask/Mirror presents us with the innumerable iterations of speech that flash through the mind before one is chosen for externalization. The listener hears each potential response played in sequence until one is settled on, momentarily living out the following seconds in each particular reality.
If ever you find yourself worrying about the future of contemporary music practices (after skimming through album after album of laptop drone music), listen to this album – I assure you that it will renew your optimism and probably get a laugh or two as well.
Available on cassette, LP and a variety of digital formats from the relatively new (and sure to be intriguing) imprint Weird Ear.