As Shards of Distant Times is the third album Giulio Aldinucci has recorded for Karlrecords, one might consider the set a triptych. Borders and Ruins was an incredibly timely work, appearing in the early days of Brexit and Trump’s wall, while 2018’s Disappearing in a Mirror examined the more inner borders between “the self and the world.” Shards of Distant Times looks at the porous membrane between past and present while simultaneously tackling the internet as sound.
Before technology, our soundscapes were comprised of natural noises. Now our sounds are beamed into space, and return to us as well, often in abraded or degraded forms. Data recovery has become a big business. The sounds of cellphones, computers and even telephone lines have worked their way into our consciousness, while having an impact on the rest of the natural world as well: to humans, some sounds may be inaudible, but they can produce migratory disruption in other species.
Aldinucci beams shards from the past: distant choirs, organ tones, tokens of a more spiritual world. While such sounds imply human interaction, specifically church services, they may seem foreign or even antiquated to modern audiences. But hearing such decontextualized sounds produces a deeper feeling of something important and abandoned: an Ancient crying from the past, begging to be heard. These sounds have been replaced ~ in many places drowned out ~ by the buzz of electronic chatter: the sound and fury of a billion tweets, texts and dropped calls. Has our increased ability to connect brought us closer together? The early adopters believed that such a result was a given, that by now “We Are the World” would feel like a reality. And yet, in the world’s greatest time of connectivity, it seems that we have never been so far apart. The gap between expectation and result produces the album’s tension. Once again, we’ve created another border instead of knocking one down.
The timbres are mournful, as if resigned to a morass of memory and thwarted hope. The harmonic threads are so interwoven as to seem inextricable. And yet there is harmony; unless, as the liner notes suggest, we are simply projecting patterns on static. The early titles bemoan things left behind: “Every Forgotten Word,” “The Overturned Abacus.” Others combine organic and inorganic: “Fractal Tears,” “Not Enough Memory.” The latter is especially poignant as it once pertained to the human inability to retain knowledge over time, but now implies a technological limit. The symptoms of Alzheimer’s are anthropomorphized to refer to file size and storage capability. As the thickness and volume of the piece increase, one imagines more and more data crammed into an increasingly small space.
Finally it all gives way to an image of “Kids Playing With Iron Slags (Beach Scene),” a gorgeous piece that unfortunately doesn’t make it onto the LP (ironically reinforcing the theme). The title recalls the words of Shelly:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
And yet, here they are: children playing, enjoying their afternoon, devoid of cell phones, televisions, computers and video consoles. Aldinucci’s sonic detritus reflects shards of this beautiful wreckage. Perhaps there is hope after all. (Richard Allen)