I wonder if it would be productive to draw a parallel between music like this and contemporary poetry. ARG’s Animali operates within a well-established avant-garde tradition, if the phrase doesn’t cancel itself out. (Of course, it doesn’t, and the desire for a living avant-garde that demolishes previous avant-gardes strikes me as an undergraduate and valid one.) Listening to Animali without being familiar with Rayuela, the Julio Cortazar text that this collection’s liner notes tell me it pulled its “gestures and voices” from, nor much experience with self-described “acousmatic” music, as I did, you’re apt to feel at a considerable disadvantage when it comes to making sense of the impenetrable snatches of speech, cricket-like feedback, and snippets of a ping-pong game and what sounds like a sloppily sawed log that make up the album’s first two tracks, “Apertura” and “Consolazione.” Composed as it is of little properly musical content, I am tempted to call it musique concrète if it weren’t for Graziano Lella’s apparent insistence on the more esoteric “acousmatic.” The terms are linked historically, so the distinction’s academic, as Lella seems to be. At the same time, it’s useful for a listener trying to get their bearings because it dissociates ARG’s approach to sound from music-qua-music or even audio collage. To judge by this album, Lella’s mostly interested in articulating sounds away from recognizable musical structure and form. Inasmuch as it’s possible, the texture of found sounds is explored here for its own sake.
To follow up on my initial question, ARG’s music does suggest some interesting parallels with contemporary poetry. Like any poet who’s read his Wittgenstein, Lella is using the language of information without employing it in the “language-game of giving information.” While Animali is certainly not through-composed, neither is it a product of improvisation, non-idiomatic or otherwise. The juxtapositions, transitions, and lack thereof remind me of John Ashbery’s poetry: there’s a sense here that Lella’s both letting his guard down when he lets referential sounds slip out, but we’re equally listening to the filters he’s putting on himself. The comparison breaks down in the total snaking feedback abstraction of “Pseudopodi,” but the ping-pong game I mentioned earlier is a clearer example. There’s a real pleasure to be had from this album when you give up the intention of making sense of it all, although Lella’s ear is austere enough to make Steven Stapleton sound like Dr. Demento.
Perhaps the most direct way Animali approaches contemporary poetry is through its rejection of exchange value. The album hums with a certain kind of intelligence, a kind I can’t help but feel I haven’t gotten anywhere near the contour of in my descriptions, and this intelligence goes well beyond, admirably and perhaps a little insanely beyond to-ing and fro-ing of the Internet. Even though the album is packed with modulating, high-pitched feedback, there’s nothing aggressive about it: it’s about as far away from Anglo-American noise as you can get. Though I can feel myself stretching as I write this, there’s something serene about the feedback, as if it were a sound of some post-virtual utopia. And why is it that the most relevant poets now seem to be recuperating exactly the idea of utopia, while the concept in music seems to be restricted, at the moment, to reliving the second summer of love? The more time you spend with Animali, the more the album reveals an unexpected theoretical and affective potency. And you probably already know that’s a rare thing.