L’Unico Continuum Sonoro

Italian composer Albert Mayr is one of those loosely described as “Italian Minimalists”, a bit of 20th-century musical history I am currently trying to excavate…it might include such as Franco Battiato and Roberto Cacciapaglia, plus a compelling oddity by Roberto Musci called Debris of a Loa. It is true that Mayr was a student of Pietro Grossi, and worked under him in the 1960s in the Studio di Fonologia Musicale di Firenze (often abbreviated to 2 SF M Studio) in Florence. We heard some outputs from that association on the record Proposte Sonore in 2004, electronic doodlings which unfortunately did not impress us greatly: “very little more than pure structure and sound, combinations of frequency tones arranged in strict mathematical patterns, and is consequently extremely dull” was my harsh assessment at the time. His conceptual piece Hora Harmonica, heard in 2002, was likewise all structure and no beauty, a pointless exercise where the grid system and its stern rules took over the reins from its creator.

Today’s record, Brdo (ANTS RECORDS ANT12CDA), is quite a different affair – field recordings captured from a small village community, and presented before us in two heavily-annotated suites. Mayr appears to have realised the work in 1978. The label website calls it “an aesthetic-anthropological approach,” and tells us that “Mayr’s survey describes the rhythms of small community not only in social function, but … highlights its aesthetic traits.” It’s fair to say he’s captured some truth about this peaceful rural life – we hear sounds of dogs barking, church bells ringing, conversations, a church service, a walk around the village, all of which have an undeniable veracity as audio documents. But if there’s any aesthetic contemplation going on, I must be missing it; none of these recordings transcend their origins for me, and I found Brdo uneventful, slow, and sonically impoverished. The work feels diffuse and unfocused to me; it’s never clear what Mayr is interested in or why he cares about it, be it places, people, or nature, and the recordings have a certain detachment and distance from their subjects. The booklet of annotations is entirely written in Italian, so there is undoubtedly a lot I am missing in terms of contextual explanations and nuances of meaning. From 23rd June 2017.

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