MonoLogue is just one of the many projects of Rosa Maria Sarri (Marie e le Rose), who works as a sound designer and in music and art therapy in addition to producing lovely music. It seems to me that her professional activities lend a sophistication and a sensitivity to her musical compositions. At its best, her music remains organic and free flowing without being aimless, rooted in the particular concept of each project. We last heard from MonoLogue on Orlando, her collaboration with Con_cetta on a unique soundtrack to Virginia Woolfe’s novel of the same name. This year has also seen the release of The Twilight Tone cassette from her Moon Ra personality, a lunar/feminine counterpoint to the sun god’s cosmic excess, a bedroom synth heavy trip of somnambulant hallucinations. Such electronic excursions are well executed and often deeply engrossing, but Sarri’s work is most affective when she’s working with field-recordings, as on her latest release The Sea from the Trees (Chemical Tapes).
MonoLogue allows her compositions be led by the sounds themselves, rather than impose an abstract system upon them. As she writes in her dedication, the sounds themselves “are the engine, the source for vibration, movement and creation.” This respect for her raw source material, coupled with the her musical intuition accrued over the years as a talented multi-instrumentalist, results in a fascinating hybrid work.
The Sea from the Trees is not exactly minimal, but does feel more stripped down than Orlando or Perfect Imperfection, her record for Laverna. The latter was defined by its bass heavy moments, dominant synth pads, and occasionally busy rhythms and slowly unfolding structures playing on the tension between the precision of her technological tools and the free flowing direction of her compositions. This is only to say that her music is driven by an attention to the sounds she selects, not by some overarching systematization imposed. Unlike traditional through-composed music, which is dictated by systems of melody and harmony and structural movements, MonoLogue’s soundscapes are guided by the sounds themselves, producing a rich listening experience. The work still feels remarkably personal and expressive, filtered through her personality, her aesthetic choices, her cuts and mixes. What may often begin as slowly building, multi-layered concrete sounds may lead towards tonal washes and stuttering slow melodies. Her subtle use of the stereo field, through phasing and careful panning, contributes to the sense of soundscape, of an aural world the listener inhabits.
The A-side is divided into two compositions, simply titled A1 and A2 and totaling 17 minutes. Both begin with an untreated field-recording, a certain admission of transparency with the sound of the device being turned on and laid down. Before long additional sounds emerge as the sonic space opens up into a surreal scene adrift on echoes and repetition. On A2, swelling tones becomes a a gentle monophonic synth melody, almost bouncing but neither joyous nor somber. Quietly, at first, but increasingly prominent, the foreground fades into the back-, becoming a steady rhythm coexisting but not necessarily dependent on it. The repetition of each layer contributes to the placidity of the songs, but the transformations and treatments of each layer, the subtle combinations work well and create memorable, impactful moments and moods.
The B-side is substantially longer at 28 minutes. It too opens with a field-recording, this time instantly recognizable. The sound of birds, casual street noise, the wind blowing into the microphone, a siren. Equally evocative, a fractured narrative unfurls. A timpani strikes out a plodding rhythm while a metallic screeching comes and goes, a quiet cluster of noise, periodic but arrhythmic, as a cloud of low sustained tones swirl about. Towards the middle, where the forest is darkest perhaps, the journey takes a portentous turn, the drum now sounding ominous against the high pitch swellings. The division between B1 and B2 is mostly artificial, something more like a milestone than a division. As the drum beat continues across the divide it morphs imperceptibly as other layers come and go, dub-inflected synths recalling Anima-era Vladislav Delay, a dream-like 21 minutes that might just as easily feel like 6 minutes or 60.
It is the final 7 or so minutes that is the highlight of the release, the coda “Indya (Caesura).” Rosa Maria tells me Indya is one of her middle names (as if she doesn’t already have enough!), further underscoring the personal and hidden significance behind The Sea from the Trees. Despite the drifting quality of the narrative, there is a sense of a coherence to the journey, each aspect standing in relation to what came before and what is to come. The final track, alone graced with a title, both stands apart and ties it all together. A more focused direction, no less surreal, dominated by electronic tones but never cold sounding, it is the culminating act of self-expression, the externalization of an turn inward. Her journey leads back not simply to where it began, but inward, a terminal and temporary break. (Joseph Sannicandro)