WE LOCKED the door; we waited. We waited, we combed the airwaves; we counted the days some more. The experience is nigh on universal, save those of you lucky enough to be reading in Taiwan, Christchurch, Auckland and elsewhere.
Italy was caught by the pandemic earlier than many, and as it swept across the country, Neapolitan composer Bruno Bavota did just the same: he locked down. He waited, through a horrible year for his country. Experiencing dread, fear, anxiety, eventually he reached a stage of fatigue and then nervous energy, a whole reservoir of latent activity that needed to be channelled somewhere, somehow.
He began to compose solo pieces that soon came to present as two quite distinct forms: one set, atmospheric and minimal pieces for solo piano, captured in the ambience of his home; yet others, more electronic, calling on the founding fathers of minimalism, lo-fi electronicists, all ripe with wow and flutter and oscillation, warm with sweeping melody. These he called, respectively, Apartment Songs and Apartment Loops.
Though in theory the two sets should sound disconnected and unrelated – given their disparate creative approaches and instrumentation – it’s Bruno’s sense of melody and space that unites them: obverse and reverse, recto and verso.
It made sense to present the two sets of work as a set that corresponds with and speaks to its opposite; to which end his label, Brooklyn’s Temporary Residence, is set to release For Apartments: Songs & Loops at the end of this week.
To break down the set track by track may be foolish, but here’s an overview of two sonically quite discrete but emotionally and conceptually bound collections; both are intensely impressionistic and fluvial, whose overall effect is of gestalt – the whole taken together being more than the sum of their parts.
The Apartment Loops sing high with thrum and clarion call resonance, appetisingly modular, cycling high in the upper atmosphere, speaking of a better retro-future. “#1” soars and lofts; “#2” and “#3” present as more contemplative, more Selected Ambient Works Volume II: low-key, lo-fi, high-evocation, the low cloud in both eventually parts to let sparkling analogue rays through to bathe every shadowy corner; to loft you. You’ll swear at one fleeting, early moment in the former that you can hear the post-industrial, soul-in-distress cry of a distant ambulance en route to tend another virally afflicted soul – a reminder of somewhere we were all at, wrapped up in our own porous enactments of safety, now almost in the rear-view mirror. “#3” crackles and fizzes with bass frequency overload before opening out to let music box chimes through; it swells and induces a kind of arms-outstretched soothed surrender.
Where “#4” has an awry clockwork quality and a 3am, self-interrogative, spectral atmosphere, an almost Forbidden Planet or Pierre Bastien mechanoid quality that later finds some dawn leaking through, some real warmth, with a slow canter and a harp-like quality, “#5” sounds like you’ve been transported through the looking glass to the edge of a surreal waterfall, slow verdant weaves of harmony punctuated by glistening melodic drops, glistening, gleaming space. What a place to take cover from the pandemic. I’m grateful to have been shown a route there.
“Apartment Loop #6” came to us at the end of May by way of announcing the album release, and Bruno shared a short film to accompany it that you can watch down at the end there. It fair purrs along on a low chitter-chatter of retro electronica rhythm before being caught in the swell of rising chords, and an accompanying tone sweep that brings an almost acid edge.
The video was created by Marina Pacifico and Andrea Gallo of the art and design studio Landstract. They say of the accompanying visuals: “Generally we create images or short animations, so this video was a really big challenge for us. The video for ‘Apartment Loop #6’ was a big opportunity to show our workflow in an artistic way. From alcohol ink, the painting starts to come alive and the music transforms it into an abstract landscape.
“Landstract is an artistic project composed of two indivisible parts: the abstract physical painting, and the 3D digital art. Our visuals come from the contrast between organic material and digital structure. A simple process becomes complex when the classic painting crosses the digital aspect. Colour ink is a solid platform where the abstraction finds a sense of stability.”
And so concludes the more retrotronic half of the record, to give way to the Apartment Songs, a baker’s dozen of piano miniatures, each about the quarter of the length of the unfolding electronic dynamism that’s preceded. Only a few of the thirteen makes for the three-minute mark, and many are less than two; never mind the width, feel the quality. To say they were more solemn works wouldn’t quite be true; they all seem to capture a fleeting moment in life so beautifully in a delicate melody, none stretched or overdeveloped or pushed to the front of the stage to grandstand; each intimate with the click and the creak of string and wood and hammers, the craft of a piano. They feel like diary entries in melody, an expression and a fusion of mood, the weather, the day’s news, the hopes, the fears and the complexities of those days, weeks, months.
“#2” has an especially autumnal longing, a sweet pain, maybe; and the clack of the real, the human interaction. The sound of the actual moment of creation captured, warts and all, as it were. The totality of those minutes in time. Vignettes such as “#3” and “#6” and “#8” are wistful, dusk serenades, a gathering of the self in musical protection against the viral shadow cast; “#4” is a circling pastoral, a ride in a landscape, all trill and glissando and left-hand hum. Distant dogs poignantly punctuate the conclusion of the sombre beauty of “#5”.
“Apartment Song #7” has such woodiness as to resemble the crackle of a fire, but softened with sadness, as has “#9”, as much the sound of the interaction between composer and his instrument as it is a simple, resonating melody of rainy loveliness, gone all too soon.
The final quartet of pieces all clock in with change from two minutes, sketch out the beat of a heart and the breath of a composer in purdah, seeking solace; acts of self-comfort they have the miniaturist fascination of a Felt instrumental. Special mention must be made of the ethereal, echoing beauty of “#11” and the deeply Satiesque “#13”, which suddenly vanishes on a crest of melody, leaving you poised in parentheses … where next, when next, Bruno?
One day we’ll have gained enough distance from those (these) times to – well, not ever to look back and laugh, but at least to have gained some experiential separation, some distance. Maybe at some point, one of those great theme-curating labels such as Ace or Soul Jazz will lovingly collate a Songs For A Lockdown Year or suchlike, cut through the fog of too-proximate subjectivity and sum it up with the music of the hour; and I’d hope to see at least a brace of tracks from this record on such a putative set, one from each part at the very least.
It’s a very human reaching out in song, the sound of one person offering aural catharsis and writing amulets of protection against a nightmarish world and offering those moments out for universal connection. Which is, of course, the beauty of the arts; the communication above and beyond words; a transformation and a sharing. We’re still here and there’s still much beauty to be had. Use such threads as this to pull you through.
Bruno Bavota’s For Apartments: Songs & Loops will be released by Temporary Residence digitally, on CD, on trad black 2xLP and limited terracotta red and chartreuse vinyl on August 27th; you can order your copy now over at Bandcamp, or directly from the label.