As the weather turns cold and the days grow dark, the fire season waits. We split and gather logs, clean the stoves and fireplaces, and perhaps enjoy a few outdoor campfires with hot dogs and s’mores. Sure, it might be said that the summer is more suited for fires, but it’s not the season’s dominant feature. October brings thoughts of witches, deep woods and pagan rituals. Andrea Borghi introduces us to one such ritual, observed on March 19. The Fuochi Rituali di San Giuseppe is a fire recording that celebrates the end of winter in Italy. Old crops are burned, peasants feast and in sympathy with the Burning Man festival, a puppet of an old man or woman is torched. Fire represents purity and rebirth, and the use of flame on such occasions is widespread; in my home church, a similar ceremony takes place at the New Year, as papers containing bad memories are thrown into a burning can. There’s never an inopportune time to start again.
Borghi’s recording is remarkably pristine. Culled from a night of recordings in Tuscany, near the artist’s home, it calls to mind various associations which will vary from listener to listener. The recording fills a long-standing gap in the field recording genre, as many releases have included segments of fire, but have not centered on them. While playing this recording, one wonders at the possible reasons. Rain and waves are soothing, but is fire not equally so? The crackles are hypnotizing. The occasional pops and breaks as logs burst and reshuffle provide dynamic contrast and tension. And then there are the mysterious additions, especially in the closing track, when the sounds of metal and children sneak in.
A fire offers unexpected timbres and when it burns hot, unexpected colors as well. I will never forget the purple flames I once saw in an apple factory blaze. Nor will anyone who attended the Fuochi ritual ever forget the puppet, dancing as it melts, spasming as if still alive, holding on to a semblance of life, fighting for every last gasp of oxygen. While this recording commemorates a spring ritual, its sounds are more suited for fall: the puppets die, the masks fall, the woods are set ablaze. (Richard Allen)