A compact yet effective recording, OlivElegy is both a tribute to the olive oil industry and a romantic gesture. Recorded in an olive mill near the holy town of Assisi, the work is dedicated to Coniglio’s wife Rachele; one imagines it may have been accompanied by a bottle of olive oil!
The aural document is a relatively new way to approach a subject. One could read about olives (recommended: Julie Angus’ 2014 tome Olive Odyssey: Searching for the Secrets of the Fruit that Seduced the World) or enroll in a cooking class, but the quickest crash course is likely this sonic love letter. Beginning outside the mill, Coniglio collected the sounds of the first scraps, collected in a large metal tank; what sounds like rain is instead the sound of the pump at work. Proceeding inside, he then captured the sound of the machines, and more importantly, the sound of local people at work. Their joyful laughter sets the tone for the entire piece, while the ringing of phones suggests the busyness of the day. When the mill’s main machine is turned on, all conversation ceases; the sound increases in pitch and density, like a plane about to lift off. Eventually the sound evens out, suggesting normalcy, albeit a normalcy that might require the daily use of sound-dampening gear.
OlivElegy is an overview that serves as a snapshot of the mill. The olives are cured and rinsed, pitted and eventually canned, although the piece doesn’t take us all the way through the process. When the machines are turned off, gentle conversation seeps in, along with additional laughter; while it may not make the listener hungry for olives, it produces a wave of good will toward the industry, which comes across as pleasant and personal. It’s always heartwarming to imagine that the food one eats has been prepared by happy hands.
The abrupt beginning and end suggest a larger set of captured sounds; a longer recording would be welcome, perhaps a full-length soundscape. On the other hand, a love letter is often best brief; one need not write a novel in order to express affection, and Coniglio has clearly expressed his own, both for his wife and for the mill. Who knew field recordings could be so romantic? (Richard Allen)