Stefano Battaglia/Michele Rabbia: Pastorale (ECM 2120)



Stefano Battaglia piano, prepared piano
Michele Rabbia percussion, electronics
Recorded September 2008 at Artesuono Studio, Udine
Engineer: Stefano Amerio
Produced by Manfred Eicher

An album of piano and percussion duets may seem unusual, but, by the time of this recording, pianist Stefano Battaglia had been playing with the form for well over a decade. With Michele Rabbia he has spun a core thread, but always in the tapestries of his ensemble projects. With the release of Pastorale, that thread blossoms into a quilt of its own making. Most fascinating about the duo, in this context, is a mutual willingness to expand their sound into digitally enhanced territories.

Coincidentally or not, Rabbia’s organic electronics haunt only the religiously titled tracks. “Monasterium” walks a tightrope between light and dark toward a perfect balance of the two in a way demonstrated also by the album as a whole. The mesh of foregrounded piano and metallic overlay in “Oracle” hints at a wealth of introspection in the distance, visible but unreachable. “Spirits of Myths” furthers this marriage of the living dark, burning low, muted preparations of the piano in the sun and sparkle of Rabbia’s circuitry, conferring a shared inner core as Battaglia and Rabbia become distortions of themselves. Over time, they seek reflection in dialogues between light and metallic surfaces: the clasp of an old Bible; a doorknob polished by decades of turning; a ring that, once worn, is never taken off. By contrast, the atmosphere of “Kursk Requiem” is thick and submarine. The piano marks the procession of technological voices in high-pitched feedback whispers, looping even as they fragment. Even the album’s opening “Antifona libera” (dedicated to Enzo Bianchi, Prior of the Monastic Community of Bose in northern Italy) with its resonance hints at a mercy as resolute as it is mysterious.

On that note, the track “Metaphysical Consolations” might just as well have yielded the album’s title, for it best describes the processes of communication it entails. As it stands, the actual title track practices more than it preaches. Its prepared piano nets drums and gongs, rumbling and singing by turns, seeking flesh through abstraction and in that flesh a feeling of divine order. In this instance alone, it seems, Battaglia’s dissonance is more an expression of tactility than of distortion, giving the ears purchase in a crumbling scene, his right hand the insistent traveler whose map grows with each fearless step. In similar exploratory spirit, the duo mines folk veins in the smoother, jazzier “Candtar del alma” and the modally inflected “Sundance in Balkh.” Even the fully improvised “Tanztheater,” named for the style created by its dedicatee, choreographer Pina Bausch (also the subject of a 2011 documentary by Wim Wenders), carves tunnels beneath the driven architectures above, and with them the possibility of caving in at any moment. Such proximity to destruction confers on the music an emblem of honesty that reduces the act of creation to a skeleton and composes its blood anew.

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