Lush with sacred music overtones and lightly wound with shadow, Alio Die’s new release, Deconsecrated and Pure, establishes a sense of meditative reverence from its first notes to create an extremely intimate ambient space. A hymnal quality takes over from the start in “Layers of Faith.” Woodwind sounds take the lead here as Alio Die (aka Stefano Musso) builds his way toward a wonderful sonic density. Light touches of field recordings help Musso carve out a sacred grove for the listener, a very personal cloister for hushed reflection. The second track, “Obliterated Alcove,” gets a lift from vocal samples. Musso takes recordings of work by 16th century Venetian Renaissance composer Claudio Merulo, performed by Paolo Tognon and the Quoniam Ensemble di Dulciane and De Labyrintho Ensemble Della Rinascenza, and layers them over his droning loops. His arrangement, apparently giving each voice in this choir its own personal phrase, makes each feel like a piece of a quite larger whole, the segments falling apart and coming together in a rich, fragmented prayer. Near the six-minute mark, Musso pulls back the drones and lets the voices take the forefront. This is where the disc elevates to its strongest sense of the sacred, riding on that largely unprocessed presence. Again, as the field recording of a stream (or rain? hard to say) is subtly dovetailed into the mix, the atmosphere of the piece is again heightened. With “Peel Away This Mortal Coil,” Musso introduces a clattering bit of dissonance into the mix, playing with the contrast of metallic collisions, twists of key-searching woodwinds and his base drones. It’s a busy track, but the chaos is obviously controlled. Nothing overwhelms; there’s a tenuous chemistry happening between elements, and the dissonance just skirts the edge of feeling too random. What makes this work even more is that it flows into the softer space of “Cerulean Flow.” This is my favorite stretch of the disc, ten minutes spent wrapped in concentric coils of sound. There is a warmth to the voice here that may be amplified just a bit from its coming on the heels of “…Mortal Coil.”–but it’s a very personal warmth, regardless. Musso closes the disc with “De-Altared,” again giving over to threads that initially compete and jar one another. The woodwinds honk rather than sing; wayward field sounds poke out of the sound; the mass feels like it’s trying to find its identity–but again, within the tangle a calming sense of near-order surfaces. There are so many intricate layers at work, it’s a pleasure to get lost in the interplay. This is the longest track on the disc, and Musso carefully plays with the balance of sound and emotion, wildness and reserve.
Clearly, Deconsecrated and Pure is a deeply engaging piece of work. Musso’s use of processed acoustic instruments–notably the dulciana, a type of oboe–embeds an organic depth in the flow. While they retain an ambient texture, there’s a notable solidity to their tones that rises up in spots. The field recordings and even gentle tapping on metal, very earthy, present sounds, are gingerly placed as concrete elements in the otherwise empyrean atmospheres Musso creates. This is the product of a master at work. Listen to it many times over; there’s a lot to hear, all worth the effort of listening closely.
Available from Projekt.