Luton ~ Black Box Animals

The vantage points may change, but the views are the same: the inside looking out.  The cover portrays the mouth of a cave; the video, a train and tunnel.  As one gazes at the great expanse, one thinks of a child staring out a window, wondering at the outside world, wishing for the freedom to play and explore.  The feeling is one of being protected, yet confined.  The music of Luton (Roberto P. Siguera and Attilio Novellino) follows suit: dark yet imaginative, like the survival mechanism of prisoners.  The body may be trapped, but the mind is still free to wander.

And wander these minds do, down corridors lined with strings and sudden drums: an ephemeral mansion, an aural construction between genres, part score and part narrative, part ambient and part modern composition, part improvised and part composed.  The mood is melancholic, yet defiant; the subject has not (yet) admitted defeat.  This defiance is first heard in the late, slow beats of “Mount Kenya Imperial” and resurfaces throughout the recording.  Resolve is present, but no resolution.

Forward movement is evident in “Södermalm Phantom Cab,” which begins with the sound of a cab engine and the slamming of a door.  The passenger disembarks in a mysterious, fog-shrouded locale.  The strings of the Luton Sinfonietta add nuance; the passing traffic (portrayed by drum rolls) a sense of danger.  As the electronics seep further into the mix, they move the ground beneath the feet; brass provides direction in the fog, while the sound of distant voices in “Eternal Now” offers reassurance that rescue is possible, if not plausible.

Given the album title, artwork and field recordings, one might impose a storyline: the protagonist is attempting to rescue imprisoned research animals.  The phrase black box is often used to describe the secrecy surrounding animal experimentation; in response, the BlackBox mobile app is used to report animal abuse.  The album’s centerpiece, “Archipelago,” begins with sad strums on an acoustic guitar, then introduces a heroic theme.  Mid-piece, the guitar returns, now accompanied by struck bells and other light percussion.  But the end returns to the beginning; has the rescue attempt failed?  Or is the protagonist now in a prison of his own?

This is but one of the many narratives that one may conjure while listening.  All of them involve a form of claustrophobia.  There’s no escaping the feeling of drowning in the dark, yearning for light that may never come.  If there’s any brightness to be found, it’s in the thought that we have created many of our own black boxes; we may blame unseen antagonists, but we are the prisoners as well as the wardens.  (Richard Allen)

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