All The Light We Cannot See

Exceptionally beautiful piece of modernist composition from Sandro Mussida. His Ventuno Costellazioni Invisibili (METRICA MTR01) is a triumph of simplicity and purity, both in its conception and the clarity of its execution. Seven players performed it, using woodwinds, violins, piano, electric guitar, percussion, and keyboards; but there are also “live looping” effects, indicating a certain amount of digital processing interventions were also permitted. Quite short; the whole LP completes in less than 25 minutes; but that’s the composer’s concision for you, conveying a lot of information with brevity. In that 25 minutes you will have experienced a glimpse of metaphysical possibilities, the slowing down of time, and a very calming and spiritual influence will have been transmitted unto ye.

Mussida’s intentions were something to do with depth, space, and the “transfiguration of perceptual time” – themes which, I sense, may seem familiar to any of you who have studied the history 20th century modernist composition. The problems of “time” have occupied the minds of many composers. Mussida does it by playing pitches at varied speeds, which I assume does something to subtly affect the way the listener experiences the passage of time. There’s also a more opaque compositional approach, involving “musical cells generated by the rotation of triangular figures distributed in time and space”. This is a bit too abstract for me; my over-worked brain starts seeing geometric shapes floating in the air, some of them transported from Renaissance Florence. But even so, it’s possible to somehow discern the “mathematics” of Mussida’s music; it’s reflected in the very clean surface of the music, and the way that all the points seem to line up nicely in a row. In doing this, Mussida directly aligns his music with that of an earlier generation, those of the Italian “minimalist” school of the 1970s such as Franco Battiato, Roberto Cacciapaglia, Giusto Pio and others 1, whose beautiful work is characterised by a certain directness and simplicity which can make even Steve Reich and Philip Glass seem too elaborate and baroque. The connection between these and Mussida is not my observation; rather it was made by the fellow who runs Soundohm from Italy, and he ought to know.

A lot of the success is also down to the players. Among them, Enrico Gabrielli, Yoko Morimyo, Suzanne Satz, Giulio Patara…at first I thought the record was a solo work, so closely aligned are the players and their notes, moving almost as one entity. What empathy…none of your post-serialism dissonance here, yet none of your conventional harmonic structures either. Hard to ascertain what makes this tick, but your ears and your heart will thank you for the experience, and confirm this is the right place to be. Even the positioning of the players for performance was important to Mussida; he has the audience sitting in the middle, with the performers facing the centre of “an ideal six-point star” shape (there’s your geometry again…). He managed to replicate this “spatial experience” in the recorded version to some extent, using careful microphone placement to get a 5.1 realisation. To get the full effect of this at home, you’d need to purchase the surround-sound BluRay release (published as METRICA MTR03) instead of the LP (and all I have is a CD promo). Sandro Mussida expects there to be certain differences between the BluRay and the vinyl, but he welcomes them; “I’m curious to hear what will come,” he muses. From 19th February 2018.

  1. For more on this area, please see this excellent post by Bradford Bailey.

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