Giovanni Lami · Bias
Through its focus on process and materiality, Bias opens the practice of sound ecology beyond the acoustic to consider the audibility of the chemical composition of soil. From scraps of muddied media buried across three sites in Austria, Greece and Italy, Lami crafts a series of melancholy studies which seem to question the inevitable legacy of human culture and industry in the geological strata.
This edition of 150 copies is packaged in oversize 7” sleeves with a 16-page risographed booklet, featuring accompanying visual works by Lami and a commissioned text by Francesco Bergamo.
Dopo l’operazione svolta con uno shruti box che ha caratterizzato l’ultimo Mema Verma, Lami torna al maneggiare nastri e al processing. Ne ricava questa serie di registrazioni pubblicate da Consumer Waste, banalmente definibili come “materiche”, frutto di un’incessante opera di ricerca. Il discorso che si cela dietro Bias è cosi descritto dall’autore: alcuni nastri magnetici sono stati sepolti per mesi in diverse condizioni ambientali, facendo sì che il materiale ferromagnetico di supporto e il supporto plastico stesso del nastro venissero degradati in modo totalmente imprevedibile e irreversibile. Quei nastri poi sono stati “riciclati” e utilizzati su diversi registratori a bobina (principalmente un paio di Nagra IV-S/SJ). Questo per quanto riguarda le registrazioni. Al tutto va aggiunta una parte più “concettuale”, anche qui il musicista ravennate dice di essersi ispirato alla memoria e al vuoto. Cosa ne esce fuori? In sostanza si tratta di un’uscita che ha ben poco di musicale comunemente inteso, e molto di studio, nel senso più nobile del termine, semplificando: fate conto di star ad ascoltare una serie di movimenti crepitanti e sordi, come una sinfonia “terrigna”. Note sono poi le collaborazioni con artisti che operano più o meno nello stesso campo (con Enrico Coniglio nei Lemures e Shaun MacAlpine nei Terrapin) o le affinità, penso al lavoro di Valerio Tricoli. Se l’album precedente possedeva a suo modo una certa “musicalità”, un rilascio tensionale che trasportava l’ascoltatore da qualche parte per mezzo di sottili drone, con Bias l’effetto e l’obiettivo paiono piuttosto diversi: ci troviamo al cospetto di una sorta di library-music “concreta”, espressione dell’ambiente naturale, che diventa protagonista grazie alle modificazioni che Lami apporta alla materia trattata. Siccome trovo stimolante ascoltare un qualcosa che non è semplice e immediato da comprendere, devo ammettere che questo Bias centra l’obiettivo. Credo possa accadere altrettanto per l’ascoltatore più curioso.
Here's a new work by Giovanni Lami, a follow up to his LP 'Mema Verma' (see Vital Weekly 946) and split 7" with Nicola Ratti (see Vital Weekly 951) and again he offers music with a strong conceptual edge. On his LP he used sampled from reeds of a shruti box, and this time around he uses sounds that were recorded on magnetic tape, which was then buried in muddy earth (I assume for some time) and then dug up and played. Soils used were to be found in Austria, Greece and Italy — not that there is an indication on the cover which piece of music was buried in which soil, or if perhaps the pieces on this release are a collage of various excavations. This kind of weather influenced music I always find fascinating — well actually, all sorts of art that uses these influences. Something that is also not mentioned on the cover is what Lami recorded on these tapes. If anything at all; maybe he just buried some cassettes from his favourite (dead?) rock heroes and see what kind of transformations that would result in. Maybe he just buried blank cassettes and used these to record his music on? Somehow I would think this has all to do with sound material of his own creation. The seven pieces that are the results of this gardening job sound quite fascinating, I must say. There is, I'd say, obviously, an element of darkness in these pieces, but I guess you expected that already. In each of these there are a few dark rumbles to be noted, which push away any of the original sound that was on the tape. Sometimes this sounds like a recording of music in a restaurant (such as in 'KRR5') or the manipulation of acoustic objects, such as in 'LLR3'. Sometimes the actual playback of a tape causes some irregularities ('BHH1'), shifting back and forth in changing speeds, thus adding another kind of processing. It is of course the concept here that adds to the fun — the idea itself is very important to 'understand' what you are hearing, but I think even without knowing that I would still be very pleased with this. The regeneration of lo-fi sounds, taped on cassettes and played back from them, the low resolution of the noise, it all makes up for some truly fascinating music. This is an excellent dig — pun intended.
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.
Dopo l’indagine strumentale condotta in “[mema verma]” (cfr. Blow-Up #200, gennaio 2015), Giovanni Lami torna a cimentarsi con nastri magnetici e materiali assemblati nell’intorno tra analogico e digitale, pubblicando un lavoro di studio sulle dinamiche e sugli effetti di decomposizione fisica del suono. La ricerca dell’artista ravennate si focalizza questa volta su una serie di processi di deterioramento di agenti fisici ed ambientali che lentamente saturano lo spazio dell’ascolto. Attraverso il riciclo ed il riversamento su bobina di nastri “sepolti per mesi in diverse condizioni ambientali, facendo sì che il materiale ferromagnetico di supporto ed il supporto plastico stesso del nastro venissero degradati in modo totalmente imprevedibile ed irreversibile”, Lami congegna sette tracce in cui l’ordito acustico è definito per sottrazione ed accumulo di oggetti sonori in progressivo disfacimento. Nello scalfire la superficie dell’ascolto per addentrarsi nei territori dell’“aesthetics of decay”, questo lavoro porta in emersione un mondo sonicamente affascinante, fato di crepitii, cupe risonanze ed echi profondi, che restituisce efficacemente il senso dell’immersività “fisica” dei processi sui quali l’intero lavoro è fondato. Nella ricerca di “rifiuti sonori”, all’interno delle “zone liminali e grezze dell’ascolto”, nei “processi di decomposizione”, Lami riesce ad individuare ed illinare spazi negletti, che vengono reimmessi nel circolo dell’ascolto come nuova, inattesa linfa. Il risultato è un processo generativo che, per usare le parole e la metafora della stesso autore, è assimilabile all’esperienza di un giardino “dove tutto cresce e la maggior parte del tempo la si passa a contemplare il cambiamento.”
“It’s like a garden, where everything grows by itself and you need to make just a few things, to see what is going to happen most of the time.”—Giovanni Lami
Does a physical medium simply contain (or mediate) a work of art, or can the medium be a work all its own? Since at least the 1960s and the birth of Conceptualism, artists have produced works that go beyond merely formal concerns to explore the relationship between materiality and process. Robert Morris’s Box with the Sound of Its Own Making (1961) consists of a simple wooden box and the audio of the creation of the box. Is the work a documentation of a performance – the making of the box – or does this very question complicate the notion of documentation as an integral part of the final work? Gordon Matta-Clark would take an undeveloped Polaroid covered in gold leaf and fry it (Photo-Fry, 1969), blending consumer instant gratification with a high-status material to produce Christmas cards for friends. Later, Tony Conrad would make films in subversive and often funny ways by evoking relevant processes in ways that pushed the definition of film to its limit. For instance, he sidestepped the use of film altogether for the yellowing over many years of a painted screen in Yellow Movies (1973), making films without film or projectors and on such a timescale that makes Warhol’s Empire seem a reasonable length. Other projects negated the intended use-value of film as a medium, by pickling film and displaying it in a jar (Pickled Film, 1974), or bowing film stretched from floor to head while seated in front of a flickering projector (Bowed Film, 1974). All of these examples foreground the process of transformation in ways that are inseparable from the works themselves, using media in ways other than their intended purpose.
Giovanni Lami raises similar questions with Bias, an audio document of “etudes for buried and exhumed audio tape” subtly manipulated into compositions. Rather than record an environment through use of a conventional apparatus, i.e. a microphone, Lami’s tapes make audible the chemical composition of the soil they were buried in, reacting directly with the medium of magnetic tape, akin to a photographer capturing light on film without a camera. Of course, there are many examples of musicians working with buried or otherwise damaged tapes. Dakim’s 34 Fragments (Senufo) immediately comes to mind, in which the producer subjected recordings made on public transportation to all manner of elemental abuse. A recent release from Ian Hawgood and Tim Martin entitled Ouvala draws its raw material from severely damaged and decayed reel-to-reel tapes. Perhaps most famously William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops consists of the real-time degradation of decades old loops of classical instrumentation. The list could go on indefinitely. Such transformation has become part of the tool kit for adventurous producers and artists working with sound.
The difference in the “sound ecology” being practiced here by Lami is that unlike all those other examples, in which the tape already contains recordings, Lami’s tapes begin blank. Rather than a microphone translating acoustic sound waves and registering them on tape, here Lami makes audible a chemical transformation of a different variety. Lami buried his tapes across three sites in Austria, Greece and Italy, and the results form a series of suites emphasizing accidents, flutters, and stereo-image to gesture towards environmental degradation and speculative histories of the future of our species. Occasionally there are short moments that suggest something vaguely musical – low rumbling, rhythms, short melodic fragments – but overall these results play like a kind of far-off future time capsule of damaged dreams and forgotten forms. The fact that they have been released on a label called Consumer Waste gives some credibility to such a reading. Beyond appreciating the artistic merits of the work, as a concept, a closer listen to the details of the material transformations can be engrossing and rewarding. The track-titles, such as “PPK2” and “KRR5”, likely serve as some kind of index to where a particular spool of tape was buried, but absent any kind of codex the titles remain suitably obscurantist. I recommend a good pair of headphones or a good pair of speakers, or else the detail is lost and the work is easy to misjudge. Not that this necessarily calls for high-fidelity as such, but to appreciate Bias the detail, including the stereo-image, is essential.
The performances captured in the videos below add another dimension to the work. The first documents a performance in Venice during the 2015 edition of Helicotrema, a festival dedicated to creating site-specific listening situations. Utilizing three ¼” tape players, a mixer, and some subtle effects, Lami underscores another aspect of the materiality of his chosen medium. While the chemical transformation of magnetic tape is the core concern of Bias, these tapes themselves need to be made audible, and so the playback mechanism itself becomes equally important. As the long loops work their way around the room, creating crisscross patterns as they snake around their paths, the materiality of sound is exposed in yet another dimension. Replacing the clips on the microphone stands with pulleys serves as a compelling metaphor for Lami’s process. These live performances also utilize stereo-separation to communicate the physical spatialization between the various channels. Not in the sense of panning and moving sounds across the stereo-image, but in utilizing the two channels to communicate the distinction between each source. In the other video, filmed on Syros Island in Greece during Lami’s Khora residency, we see Lami manipulating a single loop, with the addition of two small shotgun microphones directed at the cascading tape, amplifying the sound of the tape’s movement itself.
Bias generally refers to a process that improves the fidelity of tape playback, but it also might refer to a prejudice, an inclination toward one thing over another. Though the results here are certainly experimental, in the sense that an experiment has been carried out whose results could not be foreseen or directed by intentionality. Bias is probably best understood as non-musical sound art, situated within the lineage of artistic exploration of media outlined above. Yet despite the different conceptual approach, Bias extends logically from Lami’s past work. Mema Verna, his last solo record, was an exploration of a shruti box, though the instrument itself was very rarely played in a conventional sense. Instead, Lami coaxed sounds from the instrument by manipulating its keys and physically manipulating the instruments in a kind of lo-fi extended technique. That album culminated in the shruti box finally being sounded, producing a glorious drone. Bias makes no pretense of offering such a catharsis, instead foregrounding the sound of the medium in its basest form. Its poetics function on a different register, but one still rooted deep in a practice of listening.
Pubblicata dall’etichetta inglese Consumer Waste, quest’ultima uscita del ravennate Giovanni Lami – artista del suono e musicista a suo agio con paesaggi sonori e concetti di suono-ecologia – subito ci sorprende per l’esplorazione delle potenzialità timbriche dei nastri magnetici. Il tema ci riporta ad un’avanguardia vintage, essendo stati i registratori a nastro il medium d’elezione nella ricerca sonora per diversi decenni. Giovanni Lami inizia proprio da alcuni nastri magnetici, sepolti in tre siti diversi in Austria, Grecia e Italia: su questi scarti, riadattati e utilizzati su diversi registratori a nastro – principalmente un paio di Nagra IV-SJ – ricostruisce una crepitante, silenziosa e spuria narrazione. È stata proprio la terra fangosa che ha degradato in maniera fuzzy il materiale ferromagnetico e il supporto in plastica del nastro, sebbene non sappiamo esattamente – perfino consultando il booklet allegato – se l’autore abbia assemblato molte registrazioni o se abbia manipolato quei reperti in modo rispettosamente “autoctono” (elaborando cioè precisi montaggi da nastri che provengono solo da uno specifico dissotterramento). Nelle sedici pagine del risographed booklet invece – risograph è un sistema di stampa digitale ad alta velocità che fu creato negli anni ottanta principalmente per grandi volumi di fotocopie e stampa – fanno bella mostra gli stilizzati scatti dell’autore, anche fotografo, immagini alle quali sono accompagnati i lapidari ma ieratici testi di Francesco Bergamo. “Queste matasse imprevedibili tessiture polifoniche che si svolgono contro la pace del respiro” dice Bergamo, ed in ognuno dei suoi testi ci sono più parole cancellate ad arte che non siamo riusciti a distinguere. Forse in questo risiede gran parte della poesia dell’intera opera, non solo quello che ci è dato percepire ma quello che non è più riconoscibile, quello che è andato perso, che è consunto e svilito, parte della vera natura di tutte le rappresentazioni: “resti” che “non sono più umani che animali, radici, piante, minerali”, rovine della modernità e del decadimento qui voltate in una dimensione parallela di suoni.