Really tired this evening after a tough old week and a long day at work today. A decent pizza and a chilled bottle of Henney’s Dry Cider later I am somewhere between dozing off and pleasantly relaxed, so I hope I manage to finish writing this review before falling asleep for the night. I have been listening to a CD though, a release by Giuseepe Ielasi and Nicola Ratti under the name Bellows. The disc is titled Handcut and is released on Ielasi’s own Senufo Editions imprint. The limited liner notes tell us that the duo work with contact microphone on vinyl records, Revox a77, memory man and sine waves. While I am familiar with the first and last items there it took a little googling to reveal that a Revox a77 is some kin dog old reel to reel tape deck and a memory man is some kind of old reverb delay device. So what we hear has a sensation of looping sounds, but also a rough, decaying feel that reminds me of old cine film catching fire as it runs through a projector.
There are thirteen tracks here. The liners tell us that the first eight were recorded in 2009 and previously appeared on an older release and the last four were recorded in 2010. Alert readers will note then that we don’t know anything about the the ninth track here. The duo effectively take old vinyl records, of varying genres, and cut into them, scratch them, attach miss to them, so making new grooves in them, developing new loops when they are played. These loops were captured on the tape deck and then passed through the analogue delay effects. The sine waves were then added to the mix, though they are generally speaking used quite sparingly here. I’m not sure if the recorded results were later compiled and/or edited using a computer, but it does seem that the primary material here was generated manually and recorded using older technologies that predate the ease and surface finish of digital editing.
The tracks then do retain some of the sensation of looping vinyl, but oddly this doesn’t get in the way of the music developing into something more than a few revolving grooves. There is a strangely cinematic feel, perhaps even a nostalgic one as the vague traces of the original music recorded onto the vinyl occasionally seems familiar, but never quite identifies itself. This music feels like it has been left lying in a dusty attic for decades, only to be pulled out and played again here. The truth though, obviously, is that this sense of nostalgia and decay is created by Ielasi and Ratti via the tools they have chosen to use. They seem to be playing with a form of technology that allows them to interact with it manually and directly, so cutting into the path of a groove so as to misdirect a needle or microphone, or directly affecting the path or speed of tape through a player- so much more satisfying directly for the musician, and potentially for the listener than moving coloured blocks of virtual sound about on a computer screen. So the music here feels alive, as if we hear the contact miss bouncing across the mutilated vinyl, the physicality of the process as clear as the signal passed through the speakers.
Each of the tracks is quite short, and naturally given the nature of how the music was created one idea, or area of discovery seems to flow through each track, so the album feels more like a collection of little experiments rather than one consistent work, but its rather nice, and relatively unusual work that feels as much like a series of processes as anything, a kind of aural capture of the affect of time on naturally decaying objects maybe, a portrait of burnt out older works originally intended for a quite different audience. Very pleasing work then, a nice one to sit and try and pull apart with your ears in an attempt to identify the original constituent parts, though in truth you never quite get anywhere close.