io ~ Flamenco Abstractions

io flamencoIo is the work of ethnomusicologist David Font, who, along with flamenco guitarist José Luis Rodríguez, has delved deep into the essence of flamenco guitar with Flamenco Abstractions. The album revolves around three experiments upon types: one for “mineras”, one for “martinetes”, and one for “bulerías”, a three-way meditation built by improvisation. While Rodríguez played these three kinds of flamenco, Font cut them up in the manner of EAI, reflecting folk virtuosity into the production of perfectly sculpted sounds, a precise extraction of what makes the style – analysis actively turning into synthesis. Yet, essence, of course, must sound, and these abstractions field the power of three steps of interpretation, one by Rodríguez, one by Font, and one by us; the product is eerily reminiscent of the source, an ethereal presence of arid mountains, of people working in the fields of Andalucía, singing themselves away under the sun as the silhouette of cities and the humming of a million machines engulf their toils. No longer here, only an ages-old resonance remains… a thought of living music, a historian’s spectacular dream.

“Sobre mineras” (“On mineras”, more or less, miners’ songs) retains the quiet, melancholy aspect of the original style, which grows like a piece of discourse, constantly changing in tone. Io turns it into a series of echoes, a single line divided into a reverb-like system of call and response. The harmonies flow and yet seem intermittent, like the miners’ picks hitting the rock, strangely, naturally attuned to each other in the dark bowels of the earth. A string pull branches into dozens of sounds appearing out of nowhere only to disappear again, showing how a melodic phrase can be broken into sheer harmonics, how the most heartfelt of musics beats, deep into its core, at the slowly mechanical pace of tectonic plates, of deserts, of urban decay.

“Sobre martinete” (“On martinete”, or hammer) moves on an altogether different plane: the original style is generally only sung, but Io has mechanized the form through the guitar and electronics. This ‘lonely accompaniment’ evokes the bodily movement of workers in the same way the “mineras” do, sound as extension of self and self as extension of one’s instrument, be it a blacksmith’s hammer, a guitar, or a laptop. A subtle voice sample is fired upon the broken chords, distorted and put through layers of reverb, surrounding Rodríguez’s playing with an aura of isolation, a great equalizing that means, perhaps, that tool and user share one and the same essence, the burden of the rhythm of days, a time fused by every movement during labor. The guitar is let a lot more space in this piece, often reaching complete melodies, while the electronics mostly work their way into it through small variations in the droning voice sample, cracking ever-so-softly into the ‘fullness’ of Rodríguez’s sound.

Finally, “Sobre bulerías” (“On bulerías”, on hubbub, more or less), the most hectic (and, arguably, most easily identifiable form of flamenco) of the styles, quickly forms into an exercise in burst sound, thundering quietly at a speed that contrasts with the more ambient pacing of the other two pieces. It emphasizes rhythm, leaving the guitar in a second plane where it remains distant, abstracted, driven into a sort of minimalist haze where we can suddenly hear it wander and pass us by, almost unnoticeable. The essence here is the most evident, powering through time like a low-volume drone, fast and seemingly interminable, a fiery celebration condensed into a few minutes of intense crackling. If you let go, the rhythm ceases to exist, and it all becomes a constant – if soft – barrage of noise.

Flamenco Abstractions is a very interesting album, to say the least, and it constantly provokes thought in the usual EAI (though it rarely sounds similar to any of it, which is usually much more noise-oriented) lines concerning the nature of the instrument, a modernist tale based on the question of industrial life, a musical matter seen through the visor of production. In this case, it is also related to the exploration of folk traditions (flamenco is at least a couple centuries old by now) and what they could mean to an audience used to the rejection of old values as much as to their rescue within the terms of archival memory. I wouldn’t venture to say this is the kind of stuff you’ll just sit down and play all the time, but it’s certainly worth some long evenings thinking about all kinds of cool academic adventures. I’m sure you will enjoy all of it! (David Murrieta)


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