If you were take a survey within my immediate circle of friends, inquiring after the labels issuing avant-garde and experimental musics closest to their hearts, the Milan based Die Schachtel would almost universally find itself at the top of the list. Since emerging in 2003, a passion project of Bruno Stucchi and Fabio Carboni, the imprint has consistently raised the bar, releasing remarkable artifacts of Italian avant-garde and experimental musics from the shadowy past.
I often touch on the important, but grossly under-recognized work which has grown out of the culture of record collecting over the last two decades. Die Schachtel is a perfect illumination of this. Avant-garde music has always been vulnerable to loss. Despite early ambitions to sculpt a landscape of sound which would activate broad access – to draw new audiences into its midst, it has remained one of the most marginalized and neglected musical contexts. Very few have ever passed its threshold. These sounds and their creators often fall from view as rapidly as they appear, making it particularly difficult to construct an accurate and fair history of what has occurred, or to simply find and appreciate what there is. The artifacts of this archeology are most often vinyl LPs, pulled from dusty bins by enthusiasts, driven by an unquenchable passion for sound, pushing them ever further into the depths.
Perhaps the least mentioned aspect of the culture of record collecting is a continuous desire to share. It has gifted us the DJ as it currently understood, countless magazine and blogs, and wonderful labels breathing new life into lost contexts of sound. Among the later of those dedicated to avant-garde and experimental musics, Die Schachtel is unquestionably among the best, offering a special dedication to those sounds birthed by Italy’s singular scene.
While few contexts of avant-garde and experimental music are particularity well know, what transpired within Italy’s borders has remained almost completely hidden from view. It is unquestionably among the most neglected of all, made all that much more tragic by the towering and singular achievements of its artists and their work. Die Schachtel was among the first to begin to right these wrongs, and has, in no small part due to the astounding level of love and care that they dedicate to their work, has had more effect to that end than anyone else.
Following closely on the heals of their overwhelmingly ambitious five LP Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza box set, Die Schachtel now returns with two shimmering works from Italy’s incredible movement of musical Minimalism – a reissue of Claudio Rocchi’s seminal Suoni Di Frontiera, and Echi Armonici da Antico, a stunning LP of archival recordings from Lino Capra Vaccina,
Claudio Rocchi – Suoni Di Frontiera (1976 / 2017)
An unavoidable and formative element of Italy’s long history of avant-garde music, is its resistance to category and definition. Even in the face of this, Claudio Rocchi’s Suoni Di Frontiera, originally released in 1976, is an anomaly – a body of introspective synthesizer works, stretching out to the world beyond. Italian experimental and avant-garde music from this period is distinct, in part, unlike other contexts in Europe and America, because many artists begin within the realms of popular music, slowly pushing toward more ambitious creative territories as time wore on. Rocchi is no exception. He entered the public eye during the late 1960’s and early 70’s, working within the idioms of psychedelic rock, folk, and prog. While some of Suoni Di Frontiera’s elements are present in his earlier and later works, nothing reaches the crystalline totality of its being. It is the lone, explicitly avant-garde effort in Rocchi’s long and noted career.
The ambition and breadth of Suoni Di Frontiera is overwhelming. It achieves what few have – realizing the dream set forth by the pioneers of early electronic music, creating a new democratic architecture of sound, as creatively ambitious, as it is accessible. It is a realization of the avant-garde, which could have only emerged from the realms of pop – sixteen discrete works of acoustics instrumentation, electronics, processing, and synthesis – freestanding, while intertwined as a towering whole. An album which, despite the relentless pace of its challenges, is so seductive and inviting, that it offers an open door to an entire world beyond.
Like so much of the Italian avant-garde’s output, Suoni Di Frontiera is nearly impossible to locate – to constrain with simple definition. A restless constellation, delving from one possibly to the next – pulsing, rhythmic tones, sheets of pure abstraction, fragments of voice and environmental sound, each captured and spun wild by tape loops, beautiful ambiences and space age sounds. The scope of what it approaches is so great, attempts to describe can only fall short.
Before us is one of the great unsung works of 20th Century electronics. An album of astounding beauty and ambition – its reemergence holding the potential to reform the standing perception of electronic music as a whole. You can check it out below and pick it up via SoundOhm, or from a record shop near you.
Claudio Rocchi – Suoni Di Frontiera (1976)
Lino Capra Vaccina – Echi Armonici da Antico (2017)
For fans of the Italian avant-garde, few names inspire the loyalty and devotion offered to the percussionist and composer Lino Capra Vaccina – a perfect emblem of the country’s extraordinary movement of musical Minimalism. He first gained note as a member of Aktuala, a project which laid the groundwork for a entire generation of practitioners following in their wake – creating a hybrid of rock, avant-garde, and ancient musics, while incorporating a diverse number of sonic traditions from across the globe – African, Middle Eastern, Indian, etc, before venturing out on his own.
Vaccina’s career as composer has been marked by two distinct features, an incredibly high bar of quality and ambition, and a tragically slim amount of recorded output. Following his departure from Aktuala, he worked extensively with others – Juri Camisasca, Franco Battiato, etc, and within the short lived super group Telaio Magnetico, but his astounding solo efforts have been slow to emerge. In 1978 he released the legendary LP Antico Adagio, and wouldn’t be heard from again until 1992’s equally extraordinary L’Attesa. Fortunately, over the last few years, Die Schachtel has embarked on a multifaceted project – reissuing Vaccina’s hard to find LPs for a new generation, as well as offering a range of stunning archival recording which had never before seen the light of day. Their latest release – Echi Armonici da Antico Adagio, falls into the later category. It’s nothing short of a momentous event.
Echi Armonici da Antico Adagio draws on the same body of recordings which gifted us Vaccina’s masterpiece Antico Adagio. Like their predecessors, these works rise as lost, towering artifacts of the Italian avant-garde. It’s confounding how they could have remained unheard for so long.
The LP features two sidelong works of pulsing, hypnotic, ritualistic drone – Vaccina’s percussion – gongs, bells, and cymbals, threaded by sustained tones, generated by the voices of Juri Camisasca and Dana Matus. Flirting with the outer-reaches charted by Buddhist and African music, it is a trance-inducing, meditative, cosmic world of sonic interplay – the world beyond, joined with that which lays within. At once Minimalism, and so much more – sheets of resonance, stunning harmonic interplay, and intricate rhythms, rising as one.
Effortless and challenging, Echi Armonici da Antico Adagio demarcates the territory where art meets a higher plane – the body and mind becoming one with sound. Both performances, deeply moving, rewarding, and intellectually rigorous, reveal themselves slowly at every return. Nearly forty years after its rhythms, tones, and ambiences imprinted themselves onto tape, we are encountering one great lost works of musical Minimalism, and unquestionably one of the most important albums to appear this year. Not to be missed on any count, these are the heights of the Italian avant-garde, at their very best. You can check it out below and pick it up via SoundOhm, or from a record shop near you.