Published May 06, 2019Somewhere along the way, the spirit of early electronic music shifted from large-scale grandiosity to a more modest laptop DIY aesthetic. This was neither a positive nor negative development; it was an inevitable progression as the technology became more accessible.
Fewer artists produced work informed by the giants of serious music (see Karlheinz Stockhausen, et al.). Their younger colleagues chose not to look back for inspiration. They made electronic music influenced primarily by other electronic music. It was smaller in scale, but still deeply evocative.
Caterina Barbieri, an Italian composer who made her mainstream debut with the well-received double LP Patterns of Consciousness in 2017 (following the release of a cassette in 2014), is back with a new disc that effectively bridges this gap. It is big, bold and absolutely electrifying.
For a woman whose 30th birthday is still ahead, Barbieri's work is unusually advanced. Her notes promise "the creative use of complex sequencing techniques and pattern-based operations," toward the goal of pushing listeners to rethink how they listen to music. Sure enough, the album opens with the breathtaking ten-and-a-half minute "Fantas."
After a low-key ambient introduction — which itself loops a pattern for us even as it grows increasingly distorted — the piece evolves into a series of overlapping Giorgio Moroder-style electronic sequences. "Arrows of Time" stands out for its incorporation of an elegant vocal performance by Annie Gårlid and Evelyn Saylor. Punctuated by what sounds like an amplified harpsichord, hit one note at a time, the piece is the closest thing we get to minimalism on the disc.
It's also indicative of Barbieri's respect for classical music. To place such a medieval-sounding piece at the centre of such a progressive work — and for it to fit seamlessly — is a testament to her vision and, on this album at least, execution.
Computational musicology is about the use of computers to study music. By pairing Ecstatic with Computation in the album's title, Barbieri is signalling a refreshing seriousness. At the same time, assuming the title can be taken literally, she is expressing a desire to produce something more than an intellectual response to her art. In this respect, Ecstatic Computation is a complete success. (Editions Mego)