Boomkat Product Review:
Dutch-Italian composer/sound-designer Aimée Portioli pulls melancholic solo piano and sculpted noise into brooding, barbed works on her 2nd LP for Editions Mego, after debuting on Donato Dozzy’s Spazio Disponibile
“Dedicated to Editions Mego founder Peter Rehberg, who died suddenly last year, “All Above” demands engagement and refuses to evaporate into the background. It’s a statement of intent from Portioli, who has been entangled in the experimental ambient world for years at this stage, running the One Instrument imprint and releasing on labels like Australia’s Longform Editions and Italy’s Spazio Disponibile. The album asks listeners to not just absorb the album as a whole, but notice the cracks in the structure and discern the tension they cause. That’s never more evident than on closing track ‘Cost What It May’, a piece of music that’s almost jarring when Portioli chops into noisy waves of electric guitar. In the wrong hands, this might sound like a power move – some kind of rock posturing to act as a finale. But Portioli’s expression is different, she’s forcing a level of engagement that perceives the negative space as just as important as the saturated positive, and what could be more haunting and emotionally resonant than that?
She’s keen to assure listeners that while that instrument isn’t always heard, it’s constantly at the forefront of the album, shepherding its emotions and anchoring its mood. It makes sense then that on opening track ‘Quasicristallo’, the acoustic piano is the first element we hear, recorded closely so its characteristic rattle and creak can speak as loudly as the familiar tones themselves. When the music blooms into abstraction and processed electronics, it’s almost imperceptible at first: reverb mutates into ghostly vapor trails, and distortion forms the keys into another instrument entirely.
Portioli’s more electronic inclinations transpire on ‘Human’, as the piano punctuates a rhythmic synthesized bassline and smudged choirs that can’t help but trace out the silver screen. But she’s careful to state that “All Above” isn’t an imaginary film score; in fact, she doesn’t think of her music (or sound in general) in visual terms. Portioli studied as a linguist and uses her art to develop an emotional language that’s not bound by expected cultural constraints. When she adds a different instrument or process it’s not to reference a visual cue, but to mark a journey through different states of being. Each element embodies a different emotion or mood: the electric guitar represents strength or even violence, synthesizers shuttle us into the dream world, and the acoustic instruments are there to highlight intimacy and warmth – even heart. Read like this, the tracks are like meditative poems rather than cinematic vignettes: ‘The World At Number XX’ is seemingly centered around a chugging synthesized arpeggio, but the cosmic, Klaus Schulze-esque pads, strangled guitar and evocative organ tones hint at the open-hearted, literate psychedelia of the 1970s; ‘In The Present As The Future’ meanwhile is breathy and windswept, juxtaposing urgent rhythmic phrases with light, flute-like gusts of harmony.”