Working at the SØVN label must be an awful lot of fun. Over the past couple years they’ve hidden their music in foam sheets, cork, Legos, wood, concrete, wire mesh and a map. Now they’ve teamed up with Studio 23.56 and Archivio Tipografico to produce a letterpress book with a cassette in the cutout. The beauty of this tape is its thematic unity; Francesco Ameglio captured these sounds from the letterpress machines at AT and worked them into rhythmic compositions.
The entire project is a love letter to the industry and to all machines. As the label writes, “Machines speak but you need to know their voice to understand what they say. Work instruments emit sounds that speak of their age, the time that has passed since they were new; they warn when they work too hard or rhythmically confirm they are functioning correctly.” While listening, some may regard their own machines with new ears: everything from coffee makers to copiers, housed in homes and garages, factories and offices. “Whistle while you work,” the Seven Dwarves once sang; Sinfonica Meccanica is a natural accompaniment.
Each of the five tracks provides the “score” to a different machine. The Schelter & Giesecke Phoenix IV (pictured right) is an art sculpture in its own right, and Ameglio captures its deep bass rumble alongside higher-pitched resonances that sound almost like rain on a hot tin roof. The overall impression is so inviting that listeners may say (please pardon the pun), “Gimmie Schelter.”
According to AT, the Grafix GX 2 spent 20 years as a work table before it was restored to its former glory; the track sounds like a tiny herd of heavy-booted sprites running across crackling ice. The stereo separation on this track is particularly effective. We’ve found an old video for the Hohner Rapid II that AT posted eight years ago (and had likely forgotten); Ameglio uses these clicks as a starting point, then loops them until they sound like an underwater racetrack. The ears inspire the imagination to create brand new images.
We feel a little sorry for the Heidelberg OHZ, because a lot of second-hand machines are on sale online. (Sample reason: “Machine is really top, but we will reduce ourselves and have unfortunately no more space left.”). In like fashion, the track seems worn down and a bit tired, to the extent that it even takes a nap halfway through. More than any other piece, “Heidelberg OHZ” emphasizes the sacrifices that letterpress machines make on our behalf as they give their all to create lasting art. And finally another eye-catching model, the Nebiolo Ideale 30; but Lord Almighty, don’t stick your hand in this one:
The music of this piece is surprisingly gentle as Ameglio concentrates on hum and crinkle. It’s as if the artist is bestowing a sense of personal reverence on a machine that performs repetitive tasks but is so complex as to be inscrutable to the naked eye. Sure, we may have flatter, sleeker models in the 21st century, but there’s still no substitute for exquisite craftsmanship. In like manner, there’s magic in the letterpress industry: the personal touch that anthropomorphizes the machines and makes them our companions. Sinfonica Meccanica honors the machines, the artisans and the sonic environment they share. Sometimes it’s better to do things the old way, the long way, the hard, loving way. (Richard Allen)