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CD Feature/ Hall of Mirrors: "Reflections on Black"; NIMH: "The Missing Tapes" & "The Unkept Secrets"

img  Tobias

The 90s somehow always appear closer than they really are. 1994, the year that Giuseppe Verticchio set out on his musical adventures, seems right around the bend of my memory and yet the Rome-based multi-instrumentalist is already quickly approaching the 15th anniversary of his career. His steps are getting faster and his footprints are growing in size: Since 1998, Verticchio hasn’t consistently released a new album every twelve months, but delivered massively in 2005 (a total of five new albums, including four CD box “Together’s Symphony”) and 2007 (three new records). Collaborators, meanwhile, have included fellow Italians Mauizio Bianchi and Amir Baghiri as well as Japanese Ambient master Aube, branding him as a sought-after creative, whose oeuvre is increasingly growing through the interaction with other musicians.

One of Verticchio’s long-time friends and colleagues is Andrea Marutti, head of the Afe imprint and a prolific force in his own right. Even though contact was established as far back as 2002, when “Frozen”, originally a privately distributed work, was absorbed into the Afe-catalogue, it took the duo until last year’s “Sator” to finally collude musically. That album, however, extended well beyond a friendly exchange of handshakes characteristic of most multi-member projects.and demanded a follow-up.

It came in the form of “Reflections on Black” released under the alias of “Hall of Mirrors”, for which Verticchio and Marutti were joined by Giulio Biaggi and Daniela Gherardi on Synthesizers, Guitar and Voice, turning this into an Italian Sound Art Supergroup. In many respects, the album picks up on similar themes as “Sator”: The encounter between opaque drones and a clear harmonic language, between recognisable melodic patterns and haunting industrial depth as well as between moments of quiet beauty and stark noise is still recognisable and pieces still take a lot of time to develop: “Entrance”, “Transmutation” and “Descent” are all entwined around the fifteen-minute mark, allowing for full immersion.

On the other hand, “Reflections on Black” walks even more dauntingly on the verge of a clear-cut cross-over experiment. On “Descent”, glassy chords are mirrored by frosty clouds of convoluted tones, misleading the listener into a sensation of false safety, while “Transmutation” allows its romantic progressions to gradually merge with the fields of grey surrounding them. On final track “Recovery”, Verticchio plays plaintive broken chords on his mournful Guitar, closing the album with a wordless ballad. Again and again, he seems to falter, gaping holes opening up in the song’s texture, but he keeps returning, turning the composition into a fatalistic mantra of stumbling on without sense of direction or reason. Only finely rustling noises remain at the end – the journey over, the heart bleeding.

Even though these band efforts are gaining in importance in Vericchio’s discography, his main musical project to this day remains Nimh. Two recent albums demonstrate how far he has come from his earliest outings. “The Missing Tapes”, released last year on Silentes, may well come to be regarded as the most important of these. A minor-scale sensation, the album collects four tapes, originally recorded 1994 in Thailand, and merges them with additional elements from 2000 and 2005. Verticchio plays a plethora of traditional Asian instruments, including 3-stringed Jackee, the Banjo-like Tzerbu, the “Khlui” (a Flute) and Falu (Mouth-Organ) – among others in long, apparently improvised meditations.

The sound of “The Missing Tapes” is wilfully and consciously raw, edgey and dynamic, no post-compression healing the razorsharp edges of Nimh’s performances. Long instrumental solo passages take turns with aggressive dronescapes, carrying deformed vocal samples in their belligerent belly. On “Tape 2”, his meditative semblances are gradually superimposed by radio crackle and frequential debris, leading the listener into hypnagogic hypnosis, while “Tape 3” resonates deeply with spacey echoes and industrial harshness – the only piece which alludes to Dark Ambient and an apocalyptic brand of Industrial. Here, the album reaches its acme, before coming to a peaceful conclusion in a closing collage of collected field recordings.

Needless to say, that mysterious monolithic musical memory was a one-off. And yet, “The Unkept Secrets”, with its threatening gestures, dark spirituality and stylistic eclecticism did not stray all too far from its predecessors formula. What clearly distinguishes it from “The Missing Tapes” is the prominent use of bittersweet guitars against a backdrop of sonic terror. “Visions in Black”’s first few minutes are of almost unbearable intensity, a lonely motive fighting against a disintegrating wall of boulders, while “The Call” echoes this theme with a middle section composed of acoustic Guitar strings being plucked as an accompaniment to desolately howling winds.

Even though the album is anything but a joyful affair, it never surrenders to mere misanthropic shoe-gazing or destructive defeatism. Verticchio’s cosmos is much wider than the term “Ambient” could ever encompass, his influences much more far-ranging than his biography will reveal. The instrumentation of “The Unkept Secrets” alone, offering Didjeridoo, Metal Objects, Organ pulses, Timpani, Chants, Guitars, Synthesizers and Field Recordings, displays the demand for a broad pallette of sounds, timbres and metaphors. Thirteen-minute “Linga”, a thirteen-minute epic, encompasses everything from tribal and ritual to psychedelic erruptions.

With these two recent albums, Giuseppe Verticchio presents himself as a man on the brink of leaving genre definitions behind and of touching upon a unique new style, both atmospherically coherent and dramatically divergent. They represemt the culmination of 15 years of work and of a career which has almost imperceivably sped up to arrive at a state which allows him complete artistic freedom and almost unlimited possibilities. It would be advisable to check out his vision now – before another decade has disappeared behind the bend of memory and you’ve lost out on something special.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: NIMH

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