The opening track of Italian duo Zbeen’s album “Eigen” hits with all the chaos and confusion of the inner city, a barrage from all directions of synthesised traffic and sirens and construction noise, a distracting and disorienting clamour. Turn a corner, and the noise subsides, only to return gradually as your path brings you back to the main street. A layering of multiple independent patterns leads to the impression of no pattern at all; not really chaos, then, but more a dense complexity. There is no conspiracy, no concerted attack against the senses; the sounds respond to hearing with indifference rather than malice. The interest would seem to be in what the sounds do, rather than in their manipulation into coherent forms for the entertainment of the listener.
The rest of the album is calmer and more subdued, though occasionally something harsh and brittle threatens to erupt. There are quiet passages reminiscent of a deserted laboratory, the idle chatter of machines as they crunch data or analyse proteins. One imagines an artificial ecosystem of devices, each going about their separate tasks. What if a human performer saw him- or herself as a participant in such an ecosystem, rather than its caretaker? What if he or she stopped viewing the devices as tools to be utilised, as transparent means to an end, and instead started listening in on their conversations, occasionally adding a word or two? Lab technician, or turologist? (‘Turology’ — the study of machine behaviour as apparently autonomous and intentional). Zbeen think hard about when to let the program run, and when, and how, to intervene.
“Eigen” is Gianluca Favaron and Ennio Mazzon’s third collaborative album, following releases on Entr’acte and Ripples Recordings. In combining programming and improvisation, not as polar opposites, but as complimentary approaches with sometimes indistinguishable results, they propose an attitude to computer-based music that looks beyond button-pushing to something more dialogical. There are links here, perhaps, with the work of other Italian musicians and “sonic researchers”, for example with Andrea Valle and Dario Sanfilippo’s investigation of feedback systems (see Gianmarco Delre’s interview with Sanfilippo for these very pages). When the music heard in bars and supermarkets seems so lifeless (would Justin Bieber pass the Turing test?), perhaps listening more closely to the sonic behaviour of machines can lead to something a bit more intelligent, even emotively affective. “Eigen” certainly seems to suggest so.