Not content with bringing us one of my favourite records of the year, Ennio Mazzon’s “Xuan”, Italian label Nephogram have followed up with another outstanding release. Routine, a duo pairing Filippo Mazzei with Fabio Ricci, mix melodic riffs and fragments with diverse musiques concrètes to create a compelling yet accessible take on contemporary electroacoustic music. On first casual listen I found the guitar playing that features on most of the tracks a little too simple and repetitive, but when I paid more attention to the album’s dazzlingly complex firecracker percussion and environmental noises, I realised that the melodic elements (which also include trumpet, piano, and bass clarinet) were pitched just right: their ringing simplicity carved out space and time for the more concrete elements to fill, overriding traditional oppositions of foreground/background or melody/accompaniment.
While the duo display a knack for creating immersive sound spaces without depending on the old clichés of reverb and broadband synth, their début album “Sì” is punctuated with moments of deft humour, such as when the dull boom of boxes bring lumped around slides into a loping beat. Indeed, like much of the best Italian music at the moment, this record is rhythmically adventurous and bold, from the frenetic splattering of cymbals to the placid yet insistent chink and whirr of unidentified mechanical objects. While the white heat of labelmate Mazzon’s relentless algorhythmic torrents fuses machine logic with organic consciousness, Routine’s embrace of acoustic instrumentation leads to a more open and even-measured sound, where each note and click is given room to breathe.
If I was introducing someone to experimental electroacoustic music for the first time, I would play him or her something like “Sì”: the simple tonal melodies and harmonies lure the listener in, but the composition of the concrete elements and their interweaving with the more traditional instruments is conceptually rigorous and engaging. Why is there so much good music coming out of Italy these days? I’m not sure, but thanks to labels like Nephogram talented artists such as Mazzei and Ricci can find an international audience. This is a very promising début release from the pair, and I hope to hear more from them soon.