Ruins | Madea/Tide: Sound And Image Research Volume One
Music From Memory (LP/DL)
Italian new wave/avant synth duo Ruins (not to be confused with Japanese avant prog duo Ruins) 1984 album Marea / Tide: Sound And Image Research Volume 1 is one of those albums that has lingered on the shelves of certain elitist audiophiles, sound nerds and discog vinyl completists/collectors. The album has garnered that mystique of being mythologized, revered in its singularity and abstract strangeness. One of those records with a history of being both rare and incredibly interesting that has made curious listeners in the know scramble towards this document of strange avant synth pop, making it sort of a holy grail for adventurous sound collectors. Taking a quick glance at collector heaven site discogs, the original pressing is STARTING at 217 dollars. The history of the record certainly has something to do with the mystique.
Piergiuseppe Ciranna and Alessandro Pizzin conceived of the Sound And Image Research series while being involved in several multimedia projects and exhibits in art galleries in the early 80’s. Eventually they crossed paths with artist Luigi Viola, an internationally acclaimed painter whose works hung in galleries worldwide. Eventually the three started collaborating, both artist and musician being inspired by the other and resulting in the symbiotic Marea/Tide album. This was proposed to be an ongoing series of collaborations but it only yielded this one album. The album was released in Autumn 1984 and eventually the trio exhibited at the prestigious Villa Sagredo in Venice with the musicians performing alongside Viola’s artworks. Other successful gallery exhibitions happened across Italy with the albums being sold at these exhibitions.
Marea/Tide was released in a run of 600, of which 200 of those included original screen prints of works by Luigi Viola. Eventually disagreements with the label saw 300 of the albums sit in a warehouse for years and eventually destroyed, furthering the mystique and scarcity of the album. And now after 34 years Amsterdam electronic music label Music From Memory is making amends for the absence of this record from the general population by re-releasing it properly on vinyl with a bonus 7 inch of 4 bonus tracks.
That’s a lot of background but what exactly is this album sonically? It is well……a little of everything. Seemingly from song to song, moods shift and genres morph. It is constantly flowing, the short duration of the songs seem to benefit the changing of mood and style. At times it is hard to believe this is the work of 2 musicians as so many different moods and auras appear and disappear throughout the course of the album. Disc opener Heavenly Tide starts things off with beautiful, ethereal ambience. The title is indicative of the brief 91 seconds of music with waves of beautiful synth work that trick you into thinking this might be a document of slow building ambience, when in reality it is just a gentle interlude to entice the listener to take a journey that swiftly turns into a roller coaster of genre shifting. This segues into Tides which proves to be a counterpoint to the previous track with a meditative ambient mood off set by eerie synths and explosions of noise. Things start to get progressively weirder as Petit Portrait sounds like one of those synth driven horror movie scores favored by fellow Italians working out of the Cinecitta complex. Traces of Riz Ortolani’s Cannibal Holocaust score immediately springs to mind. Dedicated To You keeps the weird mood in vogue, this time with a slightly more melancholy feel.
The tracks often feel like glimpses into moods sometimes tricked by the song’s title. The Love We Shared doesn’t feel wistful or romantic in any way with deep choral organ tones and strange baritone vocals permeating the length of the track. Night Tide is a creepy gallop, sounding at home in the midst of a sci fi soundtrack. Ground is the first clue that there might be some type of new wave/synth pop influence contained in the group’s repertoire.
Side B gets even more bold with auditory eccentricities as the album seems to go into stranger directions the further in you explore. Ancient Tide plods along with clumsy, booming percussion and ends in processed voices speaking unknown digital languages. Crown Of Thorns glides along on the strength of a slow beat and haunting church organs. I Love You once again takes a trip to the Cinecitta sound studio as its light funk and jazz tropes call to mind soundtrack work to the exploitative and light porn, cheese filled soundtracks that flavored Italian cinema in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Handmade Paradise which may be the strangest song on the album is built on a foundation of longing theremin and organ work with strange chanting, demonic or alien vocals interspersed throughout as a stark and eerie counterpoint.
Gloomy Points is really the only song on the album that just does not work for me at all. The feminine vocals that are the centerpiece of this track are at once the most normal sounding of any vocal work on the album as they sound like an actual human but these wails in this strange world, sound out of place and end up grating after a very short while. Tomorrow is at first glance a gentle synth pop song but the processed sounds and samples of animals again give it a weirdness factor that permeates most of the album. The gentle bells of album closer Standing Still make this, aside from album opener Heavenly Tide the most authentic and beautiful track on the album. Included in this reissue is a 7 inch of 4 bonus unreleased tracks. These sound as if they were recorded for some other session but the first of these tracks Suspension seemingly begins where Heavenly Tide left off with gentle waves of beautiful ambience.
So what is Marea/Tide? Is it avant-flavored synth pop? Cinematic art rock? Excursions into other/outsider music? Fractured ambience? I guess it could be all of these but in the end it doesn’t really matter how you categorize it. It’s drenched in synth sounds of the early part of the 1980’s but it never sounds cheesy or dated. It’s smart but it doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously given the prestigious art galleries this music was performed in. Reading descriptions of the album, I never would have thought this music would be fun to listen to but that’s exactly what it is. So a big thank you to Music From Memory for reissuing and rescuing from obscurity this weird, thought provoking and yes, fun album. With this being brought into the light some of the mystique will vanish but this music will be heard by a whole new generation of audio lovers.