Stimmen aus Himmel und H​ö​lle: an intimate yet confronting recording of voices from other dimensions

Amelia Cuni and Alex Mendizabal, Stimmen aus Himmel und H​ö​lle, Italy, ANTS, AG25 CD (2022)

At about 28 minutes in length, this album should be easily digested in one gulp … instead it requires a fair bit of chewing. Voice artist Amelia Cuni improvises all her vocalisations and utterances which are then recorded by Alex Mendizabal who then works them into compositions. In three of the eleven songs that appear, Cuni sings through a bamboo pipe or a mirliton (defined by the Encyclopaedia Britannica as a musical instrument or device in which sound waves produced by voice or instrument vibrate a membrane which them imparts a buzzing quality to the vocal or instrument). Mendizabal’s minimal renderings of Cuni’s performances result in a recording that seems very intimate and personal, and all the more disturbing and confronting, as Cuni often whispers, moans and whimpers as though she were appealing for help in spite of vast handicaps crippling normal speech. She seems to live in a world of her own, a world that in turns comforts her but also torments her and causes pain, and which she cannot escape.

By necessity perhaps, given that they are constructed completely from Cuni’s singing and treated sparingly, all eleven tracks are very short. The spaces within tracks acquire an ambiguous, even tense atmosphere. Tracks like “Voci in Campana”, “Assai” and “Una” sound so strange and also so lost and desolate that they probably shouldn’t be played late at night when already your eyelids are heavy and you’re nodding off, and your determination to stay awake is getting watery by the minute. The one track where Cuni might appear to make some sense is “Orologio” in which she might be counting or telling the time.

Translating into English from German as “Voices from Heaven and Hell”, this intriguing album bears repeated spins while you ponder the many interpretations, ranging perhaps from madness to spirit possession to religious fervour, that might lie behind the album title. Depending on your mood and the time and conditions of the day when you play the album, Cuni’s utterances, their treatment and the space behind them may suggest that those beset by inner voices that may truly come from both heaven and hell deserve our sympathy and compassion, or at the very least a hearing of the message they may have to deliver.