While it is now known as the era of “silent film,” the early decades of cinema were actually almost always accompanied by live music. Nonetheless, the art form was forever changed by the introduction of synchronized sound and dialogue. Fritz Lang’s M (1931) is widely considered the first masterpiece of sound film, with the whistling of Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” serving as an off-screen cue for the murderer. Sound allowed cinema to cultivate a new poetic language, as different from silent film as silent film was from theatre.
Yet unlike theatre, silent film did not persist, and we can speak of a temporally bounded period, roughly from 1910-1929, as the “silent era” of cinema. Most of these films are considered lost, as their prints were highly flammable and often not considered worth preserving in the days before home media. As a result, there are a great many misconceptions about silent film, but also an opportunity for a kind a romantic mythologization. Women dominated film in those early years, both behind and in front of the camera. Italy was the most important national cinema in popularizing feature length films, with famous actresses including Francesca Bertini, Pina Menichelli, the mononymous Hesperia, and, above all, Lyda Borelli, the first cinematic Diva. For Luca Sigurtà such actresses were goddesses, which is of course the literal meaning of “diva.”
Sigurtà’s most recent solo LP Goddess is an homage to these stars of early cinema. Besides this abstract titular reference, what does Goddess have to do with silent film? We are by now accustomed to artists producing new scores for silent films , but that’s not at all the case here. Confusingly, each track title refers to a sound film from the Golden Age of Hollywood, not to silent films at all. The film Empty Saddles, while still not a silent film, did feature Louise Brooks, a minor star from the late silent period, but that seems like a tenuous connection at best. The music is nonetheless appropriately “cinematic” and evocative, full of textured loops and effervescent melodies.
Utilizing the homemade tape loops and analog electronics that have been a part of his sonic signature since his days in the junk electronica, musica povera duo Harshcore, Goddess also bears his characteristic off-kilter rhythms. Across six tracks in the mostly 5-7 minute range, this is Sigurtà at his most serene, patiently unfolding lush synth swells against a background of subtle tape loops and field-recordings. 2012’s Bliss had a “slight sense of foreboding” (as I wrote at the time) despite the title, but this is largely absent from Goddess, except perhaps on the clanking and pitched down “Till the Clouds Roll By.”
Goddess is a worthy successor to his most recent LP, Warm Glow (2016), his work steadily becoming increasingly delicate and melodic. [Listen to Luca Sigurtà’s Motel Music Mixtape exploring the ambient and trip-hop artists who inspired Warm Glow.] This is Sigurtà’s first album for Jason Lescalleet‘s Glistening Examples, a label which has also recently released excellent records from Kate Carr and Michael Duane Ferrell among many others. Hopefully this will raise Sigurtà’s profile a bit in North America and expose his excellent body of work to a broader audience.
Sigurtà is also a member of Junkie Flamingos, a new dark-ambient/industrial group whose debut has just been released by the Helen Scarsdale Agency. In addition to Sigurtà, the group is comprised of Alice Kundalini (She Spread Sorrow) and Daniele Delogu (Barbarian Pipe Band). Where Goddess draws inspiration from silent film divas, Lemegeton Party takes as its point of departure the German Romantic poet Freidrich Hölderlin’s epistolary novel Hyperion. That novel is a tale of overcoming tragedy and embracing nature, which registers in the album’s lyrics perhaps more so than its formal qualities. While it’s a far cry from a pop record, it’s certainly much more accessible than Luigi Nono’s homage to Hyperion in Fragmente-Stille, an Diotima. The music is far from the serene reflection of Goddess, instead leaning into an unsettling and bleak atmosphere. Kundalini’s whispered lines add to the overarching tone, resisting melody and rhyme.
Lemegeton Party begins with the “Evening of our Days,” a sparse, nearly 8 minute-long dark ambient track that serves fairly well as a statement of purpose. The mood is grim, with slow burning arrangements and desolate soundscapes. This isn’t music you put on to dance to, it should go without saying, but perhaps would be suitable soundtrack to an insomnia spell after a late night of clubbing. The effect isn’t so much as narcotic as narcotic hangover. Stripped down drum machine patterns contribute to the lethargic feeling of the album, an insistent minimalism that creates a hypnotic, occasionally psychedelic effect. “Restless youth” is no less plodding but comes closest to a pop song, if exceptionally misbehaved.
Each of the trio brings their separate skills to Junkie Flamingos, with the result being a unique meeting point, but it is Kundalini’s vocals that really elevate Lemegeton Party. The backing tracks are mostly cold repeated loops and sparse rhythmic patterns, which are brought to live by Kundalini’s breathy delivery with a mixture of sorrow and contempt. Where the instrumental Goddess pays homage to the film divas who we know only as silent characters of yesteryear, Lemegeton Party calls attention to the uncanny disembodied voice of sound recording.