Sylva Sylvarum: a spellbinding work of otherworldly soundscapes describing fantastical locations and utopian societies

Ora Clementi, Sylva Sylvarum, Australia, Black Truffle Records, BT077 vinyl 2 x LP (2021)

Hands up who stopped by Black Truffle’s Bandcamp page to gawp at the gorgeous front-cover artwork by Sabrina Ratt√© for Ora Clementi’s “Sylva Sylvarum” album and ended up staying for the music? Ora Clementi is the collaborative project of Berlin-based Canadian sound artist crys cole and Australian composer James Rushford and “Sylva Sylvarum” is the project’s second album that was apparently several years in the making. Inspired by literary descriptions and works about utopian worlds and societies, “Sylva Sylvarum” is a sprawling work of mostly short and often dream-like and otherworldly soundscape pieces performed with various synthesisers, sparingly used drum machines, wind and brass instruments (the latter courtesy of guest musicians Callum G’Froerer and Joe O’Connor) and field recordings of animal sounds.

If opening track “Peach of Immortality” doesn’t make you fall in love with its lush exotic alien beauty, all creepy synth wash, chiming bells and ghostly whisper, I swear you’ve got more than one foot in the grave already. From then on, subsequent tracks, often with whimsical titles like “Lathe of Heaven”, “Magic Mountain”, “Milk Street”, “Sirin” and “Dialogue between a Grandmaster of the Knights Hospitaller and a Genoese Sea Captain” that allude to fantastical locations and beasts or refer to centuries-old texts describing imaginary places and utopian societies (the album’s title itself is derived from 17th-century English philosopher / scientist / diplomat / writer Francis Bacon’s work on natural history published in 1626, and “Dialogue …” is taken from Italian philosopher Tommaso Campanella’s utopian work “City of the Sun”, depicting a communal theocracy), briskly build up an almost paradisiacal sound universe with more field recordings of harsh bird calls, fragments of melody and more synth drone and noise. On various tracks cole and Rushford appear to converse with each other in a secret, otherworldly way as if passing esoteric messages though “Magic Mountain” approaches something close to experimental ambient pop with actual singing over a warm drone shimmer.

There are long tracks which are a mixed bag: “Nowhere Much Narrower” is a beguiling if dazed strummy number of vocal fragments delivered in cole’s crisp tones while the following “Charioteers” and the closing track “Forest of Materials” are, to be quite frank, two of the few less interesting tracks with blaring trumpet and trombone threatening at times on “Forest …” to overpower cole and Rushford’s soft recitations.

Taking in gorgeous synth wash dronescapes, the most minimalist crackling noise, dreamy pop landscapes, eclectic combinations of instruments such as theremin and pedal steel, and moments of wistful melancholy in sombre settings, this album casts a very dazzling and spellbinding charm.