Born Again In The Voltage (Important Records; LP/DL)
Over four tracks and about thirty-seven minutes sound artist Caterina Barbieri takes us on a sweet synthetic spin, a wild card of electro-acoustics. For vinyl lovers this will be a treat as you can get the standard edition or the sexy translucent yellow vinyl (only 25 remain). Mastered by one of my favorite minimalists, Giuseppe Ielasi, this record (recorded between 2014-15) catapults the Berlin-based Italian artist on to the scene with only her second or third full-length solo record over the past few years. With additional cello by Antonello Manzo let’s tune in for a full listen….
Starting with Human Developers, the stretchy synth separates and slowly weaves into itself gently. The Buchla 200 modular synthesizer serves well to help endow her sound with a bold and at times despondent sensibility. The sound wavers and chugs with an ominous feel, like the overture of an over-the-top rock concert that never begins. In other words, it takes its cues from that world without falling victim to the cliches. Though undoubtedly Barbieri has taken in a bit o’ German 70’s fusion prog-rock, this is steeped in that dreamy kaleidoscopic atmosphere. This track alone is dripping in the sweet edgy thrill of losing oneself in the music – a great opener. And while it stays up and bright for a majority of the track, it’s quite effective in the low whispery registers as well.
Next is Rendering Intuitions which begins with a growing circular breathing wind instrument, bloated, and tonally similar to a throat singer’s hum. Once she layers the silky cello the marriage is sumptuous and delicate. The ambiance keeps the pitch and timbre to a minimum. Of the quartet of pieces, this is the most intermediate and floaty. Though then comes the buzzing low-hum of How To Decode An Illusion whorling its way in bent loops and colorful chords. It’s a curious track, in this light it truly picks up that sense of navigating space. In childlike synth scales, reminiscent of those used to identify aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Barbieri shows off her wry side to light fanfare, adding a steamy effect that only adds to the fun. This is the type of work that calls for a video or installation-based treatment of some sort.
The conclusion is the near techno We Access Only A Fraction which is alive with the bounce of poppy synthesizers yet refrains from going full-tilt boogie, a trope all too often used in electronic music. Instead she holds steady with the introductory harmony by adding a distorted, disembodied vocal that is looped and stretched ad nauseam. Though do not dismay, it’s a sweet sweet sound she’s making. There’s something of a meta, off-shoot of pop music going on here, staying the course, with a great understanding of the underpinnings of both Pet Shop Boys and Vangelis in the same breath — and doing so without sounding in the least bit like either. It’s as though she has truly conjured a distillation of the catchy guise, truncating decades of innovation. This is a perfect ending to an otherwise broad and inventive young artist’s take on electronic music.