Giovanni Lami is an Italian musician previously heard on the shruti box study “mema verma” and in the duo Lemures with Enrico Coniglio, among many other places. His new work for Consumer Waste, “Bias”, involves material recorded to magnetic tape and then buried for a while, in a few different locations, before being dug up and reused. This approach is similar to that of Justin Wiggan’s “Dead Songs” project, for which numerous commercial vinyl records were buried, dug up several months later, and used as sound sources; Lami’s tapes were probably in the ground at the same time as Wiggan’s records. While the latter produced a cacophony of grubby noise as the needle cut through layers of baked-in dirt and remains of sleeves, the former give more muted witness to their ordeal, though some pathos inevitably still seeps through.
The seven tracks on “Bias” present the faint ghosts of whatever was originally recorded to the buried tapes, plus plenty of hiss, crackle, pop, and distortion. On the opener “KRR5”, a tonal pattern is reduced to a slight gleaming or glimmering; at times a rumble barely louder than it threatens to overwhelm it. The brief “INZZ” gives perhaps the strongest sense of being underground, its dark low-level atmosphere disturbed by intermittent rushes of air. A low wind billows through “PPK4”, dragging a tangle of crackles and pings behind it, while noises resembling radio static fizz and pop with increasing agitation.
It’s rarely clear to what extent the exhumed tapes are simply being played back without any supplementation or editing, and to what extent Lami is manipulating the sounds, perhaps by messing with the playback mechanisms. In any case, obvious intentional effects are avoided; rather, it’s the serendipitous material effects of burial upon the magnetic tape that is the focus of the album. It all ends up sounding like the earth it was buried in — a bit dark and dank — yet moments of beauty filter through despite, or perhaps because of, the intervention of natural processes. For me this most evident in “PPK1”, where a sound like the burning of distant rocket engines fills the room, intermittently highlighted by dull sparks of tone and quietly crescendoing rings. This music comes from the earth, but doesn’t always remain stuck to it.