Caterina Barbieri ~ Ecstatic Computation

Ecstatic Computation begins with one of the best tracks of the year, and ultimately proves to be a rewarding full-length listening experience.  Festival favorite Caterina Barbieri has been so prolific that one forgets she’s still a relatively new presence, exploding on the scene only five years ago but already releasing an equal number of albums.  Her latest release is her crown jewel.

“Fantas” is simply magnificent, an intricate tapestry of interlocking synths, referencing everything from church organs to 80s electronics to melodic industrial music.  The piece just keeps moving and developing over the course of ten and a half minutes, to the extent that one finds it hard to believe that much time has passed.  The music draws the listener into a trance-like state through which enlightenment may enter.  And now the rub: this is exactly what it is intended to do.  Barbieri’s liner notes state that she seeks to “generate … a sense of ecstasy and contemplation … a state of trance and wonder where the perception of time is distorted and challenged.”  Theory confirmed!  The trance is so deep that the transition to the much shorter “Spine of Desire” is barely noticed, coming across as a coda to the larger work.  “Closest approach to your orbit” extends the suspension, patterns playing like the sonic version of a fabric store.  So much richness, so many hues, such synesthesia!  Only when harsher tones enter mid-piece, like a car crash in a waterfall, is the trance broken.  At this point, one wonders how long it might have been sustained.

The chord pattern of “Closest” bleeds into “Arrows of Time,” obliterating the delineation between tracks.  The wordless vocals of Annie Gårlid and Evelyn Saylor cement the association with prayer. Hildegard of Bingen is referenced in the final minute as their voices pierce the underpinnings of the clouds.  By “Pinnacles of you,” one feels the urge to dance ~ not in a club fashion, but like a whirling dervish.  And then one realizes, there are no drums.  The illusion of drums is created by the rhythms. The wonder of the release is that such a spiritual feeling is created via machines, a modern miracle from a brilliant creator whose every note screams, let there be light.  (Richard Allen)

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