The Early Years of Alio Die (Mike review)


Alio Die - Sit Terra Tibi Levis/Introspective
Alio Die - Under an Holy Ritual
Alio Die - The Flight of Real Image (EP)
Alio Die / Ora - The Door of Possibilities
Alio Die - Suspended Feathers
Alio Die / Yannick Dauby - Descendre Cinq Lacs Au Travers D'Une Voilé
Alio Die - Password for Entheogenic Experience
Alio Die - The Hidden Spring

I've been in a more musical mood of late after a good year or two where it was relegated to a minor interest, mostly to refresh myself and forget the negativities of the music scene, but now that I'm researching and catching up, one of the things you realize is that when it comes to ambient music, a few years off means you've missed about a dozen albums. When it comes to the music of Alio Die I realized I was maybe 16 albums behind dating back to about 2005. So I looked at my Gnosis ratings and reviews and realized that, as with Steve Roach and Robert Rich, my ratings were starting to taper off around this point, which could mean a number of things, that I was tired of reviewing this music (as an Expose writer I found myself becoming "the ambient guy" around this point) or that the music just wasn't as good or that I was just overdosing on the whole thing. So part of my catching up has been to try and get new perspectives on where I was at, by taking each artist and going through them one by one.

So this post covers the early years of Alio Die save a few rarer pieces: a) Only the Alio Die side of the Sit Terra Tibi Levis album is covered per the CD, b) Fragment 5, c) For Krono and d) From the Depth. For all I know these show up as bonus material elsewhere.

For those new to Alio Die, it's the pseudonym of Italian electronic musician Stefano Musso who creates a very unearthly, energetically charged ambient music created via electronics and acoustic instruments of all sorts processed into new sounds. There's an edge to his sound reminscent of the old Ariel Kalma/Richard Tinti set Osmose that's hard to place as if the textures immanentize into something organic, with a life of their own. Like Steve Roach, Vidna Obmana and Robert Rich's early music, Alio Die's own first few cassette and CD releases have an almost Eno-like ambient simplicity to them that contains the influences of earlier musicians yet also like these musicians an originality of their own is developed early on and it's a progression you can see develop over time.

The Sit Terra Tibi Levis/Introspective CD is basically a compilation of the Alio Die half of the former title and the entire second title with a compilation track added. It was out of print until a couple of years ago but as been reprinted as a digipack with a much nicer presentation. Unlike most later Alio Die, both titles have much shorter tracks and are certainly reminiscent of early Vidna Obama in the way they're all soft, impressionist ambient pieces that are still relatively immature and not sure where to go. However even this early, the music sings with a latent energy that makes them fairly attractive works even if it took a third release for Alio Die's signature early style to come to the surface.

Under an Holy Ritual made a rather huge impact early on, not only released on Alio Die's home label Hic Sunt Leones, but getting a reissue on America's Projekt label which had a much wider market. It's been since reissued on LP and further CD releases which likely makes it a fairly brisk selling and in demand ambient title. Like the previous CD the titles are shorter, but the soft Eno-ish and introspective (well-titled) word gives way to a sound buzzing with an almost occult intensity. It's as if what was inverted is now extroverted, almost like reverb started to kick in and the sound is rife with an electricity that occasionally spills over into noises and hallucinations generally not found in ambient music, occasionally shocking in their intensity. But for all its popularity among ambient listeners it still strikes me as fairly nascent in development with both the engineering and imagination improving on later releases.

The Flight of Real Image was an early EP that has wound its way through the Alio Die catalog. At approximately 2o minutes, it's 3 tracks have found their was to albums such as The Hidden Spring and Leaves Net, both unadulterated and revisited and also now has an extended full CD release with a number of additional collaborations filling in between the three original pieces. As such it becomes difficult to remember this EP in its original format, but it falls somewhere between the first CD's insularity and the second's more overt and electric sound. Like all Alio Die's shorter releases there's a power and timelessness about the Flight of Real Image that renders it easier to remember on a subconscious level.

Alio Die's first full-length collaboration, The Door of Possibilities, was almost a split album in a way, with tracks taken solo by each musician and only one 22 minute piece as an actual collaboration. The Door of Possibilities was an improvement on all accounts, even while the earlier recording technology hadn't quite opened up the sound yet. At this point what is largely a textural music is getting more detailed and the development to a sound where electronics, acoustic intruments and vocals all become part of one sound swirl is manifesting even more intently. Parts of this even rise above the usual ambient volume, adding edge and upsetting the equilibrium, with screams in the later moments of the album rising above the waves to really arrest the attention. However it's perhaps this album where the true strength of Alio Die music really starts to come to the fore, the way the music tends to be almost simultaneous with the environment, almost involuntarily bringing the listener into a meditative state, although this happens only in snatches. It's perhaps a tribute to the collaboration itself that it becomes difficult at times to tell the two collaboratives apart as this is essentially one vision.

Suspended Feathers may be the first "true" Alio Die album in that all of the pieces manifesting themselves in developmental time truly come to the fore. Like in Door of Possibilities what were largely short songs now share time with longer form pieces, in fact if it weren't for the length this could almost be a 70s albums with its four shorter tracks and one longer piece. There is some Vidna Obmana collaboration on this one, fitting given the two players' early styles are so close at first while diverging in unusual ways, however, the overall agenda is Alio Die's. The title is perfectly evocative with a softly falling ambient sound that rarely cuts above the sound pool and the meditative focus is so strong that one's activities and consciousness flow in and out of the musical environment. I liken it to the affect of maintaining one's activity while listening, only to realize that for the last 10 minutes you'd been pulled in to a timeless state where only one static Om-like mantra has been droning. While this hadn't quite been perfected yet here, by this point it was largely developed and the effects are quite amazing. It's fortunate this album has had a reissue, given the original Amplexus/Aqua label release sold out long ago.

Musso's short one-piece collaboration with Yannick Dauby, also part of the Amplexus umbrella of labels, seems to follow Suspended Feathers as if it should have been there, it's a near masterpiece of meditative breathing, spiralling up from silence with an astounding spiritual grace. I've always had a hard time even describing this album given its 21 minutes seems to go in a shot, it's definitely not really music for conscious listening, oozing its way through the cracks in one's attention and often causing me to for the start button. Like all great ambient music it has a medicinal quality that's stress relieving and gentle, but also like floating over a gigantic, unknowable abyss.

But it's really on Password for Entheogenic Experience that Musso puts all the development together into one 65 minute masterpiece of total perfection. Like all good floating ambient music this is basically the rise and fall of am Om drone, a piece that is basically one meditative tone but manages to exist over slow time as a slowly shifting wave of timbres that fluidly shows the man's prowess in manipulating sound and electronics into one vision. At times it's like one meditative voice while at others it sounds like a collection of tones and sounds trying to create unity. Vocal choirs float in and out of electronics and the sounds of acoustic instruments are so totally sublimated to the mantra that it's difficult to talk about the pieces when the whole is so perfect. It more than anything reminds me of the vision of the early Carlos Castaneda novels where huge shifts in entheogenic-influenced perspective causes major shifts in one's perspective. It's a perfect swell and fall and well suited for the repeat button. The word shamanic is horribly abused where electronic music is concerned, but this is a vision that corresponds as close as possible to such a mind altering milieu.

The Hidden Spring seems almost like an afterthought, an album that consists largely of a mosaic that ties together pieces from anthology albums and other Alio Die mini excursions into a whole that less reflects a music in development than the experience of the guiding hand at this point and demonstrates rather perfectly a musician coming into an assured maturity, if not at his peak than certainly at his first peak. It almost seems like a best of album and even pieces I know from other albums (such as the track from Promises of Silence) seem different in this new light. So it almost seems like a perfect place to stop, even though this seems like the end of the beginning, where further collaborations would less show further development than a divergence of means to an end.

Overall there's really no poor effort in this group, even the early albums, nascent as they are, show great promise perhaps more so for Alio Die than they did for his many contemporaries at the same point in their development. To create that yin/yang where the conscious elements seem so simple while the unconscious and subconscious elements seem rife with movement takes a talented hand, one that perhaps sees a unity in a world dispersed into a number of elements. Because no matter what is used, once it's been through the studio of Stefano Musso it becomes a world of creation with all the infinite subtleties, textures, grain and whorl, the microsopic as part of the macroverse. In fact over many of his albums, you're likely to be treated to a dizzying array of true organic plants, seeds and husks, arranged within the physical clear jewel boxes, all of which in this context seem like mosaic works, not only a greater art form as a whole, but one made of lesser art forms reflecting the guiding hand of universal evolution or particularly the question over what hand is on that tiller moving it forward.

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