One doesn’t have to wander far into the woods of contemporary cultural discourse before encountering the image of the ruin in some form or another. The current Tate Britain group exhibition “Ruin Lust” provides an introduction from within the frame of contemporary art to a trope that appears widely, from critical summations of the current state of modernity to Tumblr blogs of abandoned and decaying architecture. Many commentators, such as The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones, made an immediate connection between the works included in the Tate Britain show and the sort of melancholy nostalgia, so central to 19th Century Romanticism, that for a time made ‘fake’ Greek or Roman ruins a must-have addition to the country estate. I suspect that the show’s curator, Brian Dillon, was attempting to make a somewhat more subtle point, but it is indeed often difficult to separate out this more critically potent notion of “future ruins” from a more general tragic mourning that seems aimed at simultaneously affirming and disarming the modern subject.
A cursory listen to Franz Rosati’s “Ruins” suggests that the Italian musician is more interested in creating ruins than in mourning them: sheer, towering walls of off-white noise and thumping hammer-like bass initially point more to bulldozers and wrecking balls at work than to the silence of buildings abandoned to decay. Yet closer attention to the album’s more speaker-melting drones reveals a stasis and impassivity, a flatness of surface and contour, that seem to perfectly evoke Dillon’s modernist megaliths of frozen collapse. The crushing sound both destroys itself as noise and repeats relentlessly as such; it is through such a dialectic that a moment of monumental crisis is set rigid and timeless in concrete.
The quieter passages, of which there are many, seem to crackle with far more tension and nervous energy than the loud ones. As such, they further emphasise the rigidity of the latter, yet they also take on the character of noise themselves, becoming traces in the same way the loud sections do. As a portrait of ruins, then, the album presents a far more subtle and complex picture than simple melancholia or violent horror. In Rosati’s hands, noise gains the ability to not only represent ruins, but to do the work that modern ruins do in contemporary culture: to return repressed social trauma to the surface. In this sense, his ruins present what theorist Walter Benjamin once named “dialectics at a standstill” — in other words, they are photographic.
The album can be streamed in full from the Nephogram label Bandcamp site.
* Image by Franz Rosati