Enrico Malatesta - Aliossi

Enrico Malatesta – Aliossi

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One from the newest batch released on Senufo Editions this autumn is Enrico Malatesta‘s Aliossi – its review here only adding evidence to the suspicion that I listen exclusively to Italian electroacoustic music (occasionally true). In some ways, Aliossi typifies the label’s content, hovering around that bizarre counterpoint of drone and pointillism. The vibrating snare or plate of the first section is a recognizable aesthetic thrust in that direction. This is shifted abruptly in Aliossi’s second movement, where sounds with similar dynamic envelopes appear instead in a field recording, included in the clip below. In fact, the album borrows as much from other Senufo titles as it does from practices rather divorced from Malatesta’s traditional extended percussion practice (in situ recording like Revenant comes to mind).

Aliossi only builds strength from here, and the ensuing piece is incredible. The negative sound image announces itself first, as the swiftly wheezing air which seems to be left in the wake of the otherwise more dynamic (and simply louder) percussion takes seniority. Both percussive elements and airflows move through the listening (recording?) space seemingly discretely, imparting another layer of rhythm as the two timbres conflict and sympathize in turn. That said, because of both the dynamic differences in the two sources (the former with a sharp attack, brief sustain and no decay; the latter with similar attack but longer sustain and decay) as well as their contrasting timbres, it is difficult to perceive whether the one precedes the other or vice versa. On repeated listens I spent most of the section attempting to find a chain of causation between the two, something strongly suggested but never quite proven – a pretty delightful and engaging game that one doesn’t often get to play, even on a label as concerned with such matters as Senufo.

Aliossi ‘s softer and lengthier middle section is a welcome respite from its, ’til now, increasingly frenzied pace. It again moves into the field with a very spacious, almost luxurious, tract of rattling metallics at a middling distance lightly soaked in reverberation (comprising the clip below). The backing of crickets would be a bit crass if the whole affair didn’t come off as rather nicely situated. The sound also helps disguise some underlying rotary whirs that only just appear audible in the mix, both somewhat contradicting the distance implied by the main elements and adding some subtle pacing to the otherwise more abstract piece. This transition from studio to field and back between each of the album’s clearly delineated sections characterizes one of three devices that account largely for the structure of the work. Though not every movement is necessarily rhythmic, they are also largely defined by their percussive, or at least sharply and repetitively modulated, sound sources. Lastly, these elements are increasingly manipulated or otherwise made unrecognizable over the span of Aliossi: from purely recorded acoustics to the seemingly heavily comb-filtered expanse which closes the work.

While that first denouement from the third to fourth movement is welcomed, the second one is less so. I had hoped for Aliossi to cover more ground in its impressive opening salvos. There are some fantastic elements at play in the first 15 minutes, and though I would hesitate to suggest that they be extrapolated on (part of their success is their occasionally crystalline form), the energy that drove them is certainly lost in the last 10 minutes of the work.

Given these touchstones, it is surprising that Aliossi as a whole suffers somewhat from a lack of intent. Despite the variety of structures and plot devices present in the reproduction – the binary alternation between studio and field pieces, the increasing degree of sound processing across the album, the rhythmic rise and fall in the amplitude of each section – there is a particular deficit that I have trouble defining. After several listens I could not help but feel that for all its fascinating rendering of dynamic audio spaces, I was never able to grasp why these particular pieces comprise the whole. It’s as though Malatesta were attempting to map out a geographic or acoustic or compositional space, and in dealing with all of the intricacies of studying it, forgot to tell his audience just where or what it is. Something along the lines of ‘lost the forest for the trees’.

Malatesta’s attention to detail and intuitive understanding of his sound sources should be applauded, and while I expect that he has a keen understanding of the manifold which draws its constituent elements together beyond its rather formulaic structural progression, it is difficult to hear it born out in the work itself. Particularly problematic for me is its publication as a single piece with multiple abrupt starts and stops to its movements – the purposeful placement as such leads one to look much more explicitly for a strong narrative. While the dualities of the first half succeed, the last section falls rather flat in its mid-frequency drone. Good to hear something outside the norm for both Malatesta and Senufo, indeed something to contrast rather directly with the standard aesthetics of both, but it seems an obtuse and almost unrelated addition to an otherwise strong album. Instead of cutting it out, I would in fact prefer that the work was longer, in part to help contextualize this last section.

It is worth considering that the title Aliossi itself is possibly a reference to the tossing game, known in contemporary English as knucklebones or jacks, dating back to antiquity. Unfortunately for these purposes, the game has as many variations, practices, permutations and arbitrary rules as any millennia-old game would be expected to. Of course, this may be precisely how the aforementioned devices were used to derive the sections of its span.

The weaknesses of Aliossi are in part victims of its successes. While demonstrating his already refined instrumental praxis, it is certainly a more ambitious work in form and scope than most of his duos (such as Rudimenti with Giuseppe Ielasi, and Talladura with Luciano Maggiore, reviewed here on Cut And Run), and thus more demanding. The demonstrative and exploratory (even idiosyncratic) nature of Talladura never works to its deficit because it is assembled in a rather coy and playful fashion to begin with, whereas the aesthetic gravity and formal purity of Aliossi by nature ask for more engaged listening, so it is disappointing that the emotionally charged first two thirds of the short album fizzle in its last third.

Aliossi is certainly a worthwhile listen, as in addition to its technical proficiency there is a good deal of interesting interplay between sound sources and the movements themselves. Whatever its deficiencies, they arise largely out of my rising expectations of this talented artist.

Recommended, and available directly from Senufo Editions.