Jumping on the bandwagon to the mid-century electronic music archeological dig, Die Schachtel has released a rapid fire of early obscure electronic music that hails from the years 1960-1980. Osvaldo Coluccino’s recent Neuma Q fits like a glove into the label’s curatorial paradigm of electroacoustic works emerging from a mid-century golden era of sonic exploration that stubbornly lingers on unwittingly trying to reinvent itself and stay the same, a historical confusion exacerbated by the label and artist’s clinging to Deleuzian ambiguity. In many ways the passing of history itself poses a unique challenge to the acousmatic art of musique concrete: historical references within medium can be extracted from a listening experience that announces its dispensation with reference and identity altogether. That is, when acousmatic compositions begin to sound like themselves their very claims to acousmatics ironically dissipate and verge on the regression into identity that it aims to overcome. Any brave artist working in musique concrete today does so within the constant threat of their own immanent annihilation.
The first piece of Neuma Q undulates somewhat laconically with resonant drones loosely reminiscent of radio static forming a substratum upon which heavily processed high pitched tones flitter by or randomly pulse. Many of these sound representative of musique concrete – sounds sped up and played backwards, analog blips, and towards the end of the piece a vaguely cinematic-70‘s-era-science fiction-computer-malfunction motif is paired with what may be a high pitch ring-modulated voice abstracted beyond all recognition, eventually leading to a singular pop that ends the it all with an appropriately fading fizz. The first piece meanders by with an omnium-gatherum of sounds that is stylistically resonant with musique concrete masters like Andre Almuro or Bernard Parmegiani who instill in the listener a contradictory impression of billowing dynamic forward motion that also somehow tends towards the static and unchanging.
The third piece is somewhat different in its train of punctuated, resonating pulsing that disintegrate from identifiable impulses to ambiguous static and high pitched bouncing of compressed sound objects. Silence is used like clock work between different workings of what may or may not be the same material, and it suggests a serial arrangement where there may or may not be any. The listener can’t really decide much less know for sure. Each permutation is noticeably different in timbre and also in pitch, though the increasing resonance overall applied to different waveforms ranging from reedlike blowing and hissing to microsound clicks and high register punctuations suggests a totality.
Longest in duration, the 4th piece is a drone that seemingly applies more artificial resonance for tone color, while the deftness of production conceals entirely the actual source of the resonance, which may after all be ‘naturally’ occurring. Again, the listener doesn’t know anything in Coluccino’s constrained rendering of an alien sound world; an alien sound world that is threatened with its obsolescence with the continual archiving of every sound known to man. Doubt irritatingly and progressively persists all through the listening experience, even as the somewhat obvious drone is easily identifiable. That is, a doubt that seems scantly achievable anymore in listening reflection. Such is Coluccino’s mastery that he can conjure doubt from oblivion, if only in a measly 42 minute experience. Coluccino’s spectral drone is stripped to nothing but an emaciated resonance, sans the dramatized timbre or melody that has become so cliche of easy drone soundscapes. And the resonance is worked as a material itself, with extreme but hardly noticeable changes of rising and falling pitch as well as loudness dynamics that faithfully render undulations of threadbare thinness and oppressively thick applications of resonance. One wonders why Coluccino didn’t make such dynamic interplay of contradictions more candid and less impressionistic though. Stylistically, the 4th piece is easily comparable to any number of predictable dooming spectral drones with the only and significant difference being an aesthetic stripped to a few compositional elements. Though, it should be noted that this is precisely the impetus of a music like Eleh’s that likewise reduces the melodramatic artificial menace of a band like Sunn0))) to one compositional tool. Both instances are concealed attempts to return to a golden age of electronic music – the resonance of Coluccino a specter of Alvin Lucier’s Music on a Long Thin Wire, the synthesis of Eleh an enfeebled mimicry of LaMonte Young’s Dreamhouse. Each struggle in vain to redeem a physically large music in one degraded home listening experience.
Such is the condition of music’s narrowing to one-dimensional listening modes, threatened with an impending anaesthetics today. Coluccino’s 4th piece cannot be compared to any physics experiment emanating from the 1960’s because of his medium’s inherent and potentially liberating abstraction from the physical world through production processes that mimic it. Yet an archaic aesthetic idiom remains intact even as methodologies have changed, or merely withered. As such, Coluccino, who has seemingly mastered various styles on this album, ranging from Curtis Roads style microsound composition to Lucier-style resonance to Dockstader-esque dynamic washes, displays as aesthetic fact the impasse of acousmatic composition: a mastery of diverse historical styles reveals a lack of recent stylistic invigoration, and struggles to fulfill archaic needs.