Ennio Mazzon‘s magnificent Xuan requires multiple spins in order to reveal its secrets. Even then, the album remains dense and oblique, like a mysterious woman in black, her face obscured by a wide-brimmed hat, leaning against a wall with a cool filtered cigarette in her white-gloved hand. Every ounce of the observer screams “danger!”, but her allure is too powerful to resist.
As half of Zbeen and the owner of the Ripples label, Mazzon has released many electronic explorations over the past few years, ranging from the slightly sedate to the extremely agitated. As a 42-minute track, Xuan is a risk that pays off. In direct opposition to Stasis (recorded for Entr’acte), Xuan is active from the start and demonstrates incredible internal motion. The artist’s familiar pulses and beeps are joined by warning tones as early as 1:10, and as the piece progresses, Mazzon produces an impressive variety of tones and alarms. At times, one can almost imagine a bass track emerging, but then such guidelines evaporate in an ether of drone and industrial clang. Xuan sounds like computers and factories flirting before going to war. For the cinematically minded, imagine R2-D2 dropping in on the climax of Terminator 2.
Mazzon has always been experimental-minded, and math and physics are frequently mentioned in his compositional bios. His choices seem calculated, tabulated, examined for efficacy. The laboratory is once again implied; in certain segments, beginning with 3:57-5:39, Mazzon incorporates sounds that are similar to those of washing or burning. Nothing remains static in Xuan; it’s as if he is determined to push the boundaries of how many things can happen at once, like a juggler insisting on one more ball. At 6:11, avian cooing is followed by footsteps, distant bells, and nearby chimes; Mazzon is not content to produce a work that is strictly electronic. Such tiny additions help Xuan to operate as the aural equivalent of a “find the hidden object” puzzle. Even if one were to be given a list of featured elements, one would be hard-pressed to spot them all. Instead, the imagination starts to run wild: that sounds like a truck, but is that a volcano?
Best of all, the track keeps developing. No one-trick pony, Xuan is an investigation of sound and sonic properties that invites listeners to contemplate the hearing sense. Drip, meow, kettle, block, glass, a cornucopia of sources settling gradually into a mattress of drone. In the 27th minute, one drone recedes while another rises, a soldier taking up the flag of a fallen comrade. By the end, the listener has experienced multiple red zone infractions. As the piece fades into its final silence, one becomes aware of a new element: restraint. After multiple plays, one realizes that the restraint has been there all along, a sign that the scientist knows what he is doing. (Richard Allen)