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Federico Barabino: Can you Listen to the Silence Between the Notes?

img  Tobias Fischer

The new keyword for musicians 2.0 is „personality“. But with each niche seemingly occupied, each approach tried and tested and the palette of sounds and compositional approaches reaching a point of exhaustion, it's become exceedingly hard to find one's own voice. For the past three years, Argentinian guitarist and electro-acoustic improviser Federico Barabino, too, has gone through various phases, gradually refining his vision of a music nestling somewhere between improvisation and fixed form, microtonal sound art and neoclassical grandeur, experiment and experience. And yet, his particular case has always seemed somewhat unique. After all, when Barabino published „Non-Impulse“, a track off his second full-length Ruido Is Not Noise, everything already seemed to be there: A twenty four-minute space mainly filled with hiss, mysterious humming, singular, emotionally resonating belltones and a handful of all but intangible ghost melodies only once disrupted by a violent explosion of majestic delay, it made use of an aesthetic of emptiness as much as it introduced an element of dramaturgy to the mostly intuitive world of sonic exploration. Ever since, Barabino has seemed on a quest of repeating the intensity of that that first poignant statement of intent, but making use of new means. It has taken him five more albums to find it.

The first thing one notices about Can You Listen to the Silence Between the Notes? is Barabino's maturing as an artist working with the No-Input-Mixing-Board. Quite a few of his previous efforts were still outwardly indebted to the work of David-Sylvian-collaborator Toshimaru Nakamura, today easily the name most closely associated with the technique of playing a mixing board like others would an instrument, using only sounds culled from its internal circuitry. Not only did the title of 2010-release No-Input Mixer openly acknowledge this through its similarity with Nakamura's two No-Input Mixing Board classics from the early 2000's, but it also included an open homage aptly called „Toshi“, which imaginatively picked up on his predecessor's recognisable script. On his latest effort, meanwhile, these references have given way to a far more idiosyncratic style, which replaces the singing frequencies and pointillist plops of his Japanese counterpart with long, almost entirely static sheets of sinewaves. The temptation to plunge deep into the waters of noise has subsided somewhat, kept at bay by the will to let the sounds themselves do all the talking without too much external intervention. It is a philosophy which, too, seems to have a precedent in the work of Nakamura-ally Sachiko M. But while the sensual ultra-minimalism of the latter always had a delicately spiritual colouring, Barabino's brush is filled with earth, clay and wood - the materials of life, applied to a metaphysical canvas.

This incisive development is openly on display here. Between the five- and nineteen-minute mark, Barabino works with two extremely delicate, overtone-rich sinewaves positioned on the left and right channel to make full use of the shifting and phasing effects listeners can experience by changing the position of their ears relative to the speakers. Gradually, the sinewaves' timbre grows from a smooth, ethereal cloud to a more raspy, bronze tone, then subsides to an immobile, concentrated calm. It is only in the final third of the thirty three-minute piece that an aggressive, pulsating oscillation is superimposed on this fine web of tonal stasis, which rises to a forceful climax before beginning a slow but gradual return into the void. In themselves, these operations are of a hypnotic reticence, with none of the elements disappearing off the radar completely or growing into a fully-fledged roar. It is only through the combination with Barabino's guitar, which is shining in its full classical splendour here and appears at four strategic positions throughout the work - at the beginning and end, where it is given three- and four-minutes of solo-improvisation-time respectively, and then, in each section of the long no-input mixer passage making up the main body of the piece - that a notion of storytelling, an implicit narrative, emerges. Rather than establishing an interactive dialogue with these frequencies, the guitar passages seem entirely self-sufficient, almost ignorant of what is going on around them, still continuing to indulge in deeply romantic and sensual vocabulary when the electronics are already washing over them like waves of sulphuric acid.

Barabino, clearly, isn't interested in a fusion of different styles. Rather, he is interested in the idea of contrast in general terms. Against the foil of a very slowly developing backdrop – from silence to subtle sinewaves, hollering noise and back again – his guitar never appears the same way twice. There is a rustling noise towards the beginning and end of the middle section, suggesting the opening and closing of a curtain in a theatre, which adds to the idea of the thematic material being taken through a mirror world, where it seems as disoriented as Alice in Wonderland. It is against this procedure, too, that the album's title suddenly starts making sense. Speaking objectively, after all, there is not all that much absolute silence to be found here at all. In fact, the only instance occurs straight after the conclusion of the first guitar solo, when the audience find themselves alone with their thoughts for two full minutes. Then again, the title of the record doesn't refer to hearing silence, but listening to it. By merely performing the most subtle of operations, Barabino is allowing the listener, on the one hand, to choose his own path through the music and inviting him, on the other, to face his own responsibility and consider the act of completely conscious listening as important as the composer's contribution. To Barabino, the art lies less in providing clear-cut answers than in working through clues, hints and suggestions. For those willing to ponder them, the reward consists in a purifying, surreal and commendably deep experience.

Of course, it helps that the album is not so much a piece of turn-your-back-on the-audience-avantgardism but an almost tender meditation. And yet, there is always a sense of urgency as well: As if following the dream path of a spontaneous impulse, it follows and captures a single moment in time - then rips it to disc.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Federico Barabino
Homepage: Eh? Recordings / Public Eyesore Recordings

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