Olivier Alary & Johannes Malfatti – U,I

In what is most probably the first album to be recorded over VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) apps such as Skype, Olivier Alary and Johannes Malfatti continue to push the boundaries ever wider while tightening and closing the seismic geographic gap that separates the two artists. Thanks to the internet, musical collaborations can now touch upon and stretch further than ever before. The international musical community becomes a smaller, closely-knit family as signals and broadcasts zoom over unseen digital highways, passing from one continent to another in the blink of an eye.

Along with traditional instrumentation (cello, flute, violin, clarinet, organ), voices were extracted from personal video feeds, which were then sent to their respective studios in Berlin and Montreal via VoIP. The musicians also deliberately used bandwidth reduction and its accompanying lo-fi, bitty sound to ‘colour and accentuate its inherent flaws and distortions’, using the tech to their advantage to highlight its specific tonal character. Olivier and Johannes have been collaborating for twenty years, so a natural chemistry is already there. In addition to this, the two musicians share a fascination with the way in which technology can materialise memory – whatever the outlet and whatever the format. Be it a cassette deck or vinyl, technology plays an active (essential, even) role in shaping and colouring music, the resulting memory, and the listener’s association with it.

Opener ‘Somewhere’ introduces the listener to their internet-flecked recordings. Modern music, for the most part, sounds pristine, dabbing on its makeup to look and sound the part. On u,i, that full and impressive 21st Century sound has been stripped and substituted for the raw and the real, but it leaves behind an irresistible charm and a rarefied sound. Cosy and coherent in spite of its distance travelled and the lengths it has gone to, one could make the claim that this is music for and of the 21st Century: born and raised in its tech, consuming its familiar and known digital world and speaking the dialect of its digital language as easily as a first language, passing through an ethernet cable and making it a product of its time.

Anonymous voice clips are inserted throughout the album, while the instruments help in lessening the amount of broadband-grit, stabilising the music while a distorted voice sings, stutters, and wanders, but grace and elegance exists even in occasional disruptions. The lagging female voice leads the music into an ambient clearing, slowly moving away from the earlier experimentalism and into clearer, bejewelled harmonies, although they’re still branded with birthmarks that indicate tightened bandwidths. Shrunken stereo sounds are squeezed into claustrophobic cables, and technological limitations work in u,i’s favour, where supposed fractures, slowdowns, and abrasive sounds are actually beneficial to the album as a whole, as well as their shared vision: this is exactly what the duo wanted to achieve. The classical gives way to a leaner ambient sound in ‘Allo Adad’, and the music stretches on and on from this point forward, expanding as it emerges upon a new continent.

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