The radio is out of fashion. Yet not so long ago, the static and hum of shortwave broadcasts were at the heart of many people’s everyday life, forming the main method by which news was sent and received on an international scale. Before television and the internet, gathering around a radio was an act of communion with the outside world, the most immediate and widespread means by which average people could connect across boundaries and borders.
The Fall of Europe is an attempt to recapture the radio’s semi-mythical past by surfing the amateur radio waves of contemporary Europe, a dense web of wavelengths and languages in which simply making contact is an achievement in itself. Created by music editor Roberta D’Angelo and film composer Valerio Camporini F., the character of Il Radioamatore (“the amateur radio operator”) serves as a stand-in for the European every-man, a persona formed from a mashup of his creator’s familial histories and the grand historical traumas of Europe’s recent past. From the fall of the Iron Curtain to the chaos of Brexit, Il Radioamatore has seen it all, yet he retains a certain faith in the power of the simple international “hello”, attempting to “chronicle and manifest the resistance of interpersonal communication on public channels during a time when the concept of a common ‘house’ as Europe was (is?) falling apart.” Whether or not this myth of a united Europe continues to hold water, Il Radioamatore will listen and bear witness.
The familiar sounds of radio broadcasts — static, beeps, buzzes, and muffled voices — form the core of The Death of Europe’s sonic language, yet Il Radioamatore’s layering and processing helps to give musical shape to the chaos of the airwaves. Perhaps the most compelling track of the bunch, the opener “Above the seas”, sets the scene by pairing rhythmic snippets of language with skipping sin tones and rushing white noise. While many tracks integrate the voices of amateur operators into more explicitly musical textures, some tracks tracks like “Nice to catch you up” or “Bye bye crystals” are pure conversation, offering a window into the regional cultures and communities that amateur radio can foster. Other tracks like “Broadcasting into an empty space” or “A lighthouse through the frequencies” offer the opposite extreme: an intangible soundscape of broadcasting detritus, the rounded tones and buzzing static of the wavelengths over our heads. Yet The Fall of Europe most clearly fulfills its stated goals when, on tracks like “Cronaca di un incontro”, the difficulty of communicating across language and distance is made musically palpable in an overlapping chatter of voices. Among fluttering electronics, crackling static, and snippets of music from across the continent, entire languages and cultures cross paths without ever truly making contact, providing a potent metaphor for the reality behind the ideal of a unified Europe.
Ultimately, the grand eulogizing which surrounds The Fall of Europe is out of step with its true sonic scope: this is a relatively short and relatively sweet album, a compelling concept implemented with both success and failure. Like the historical ideal of “a free Europe”, The Fall of Europe highlights the difficulty of keeping pace with our grand narratives. Yet it also succeeds in capturing a world in which decentralized communication can at least start a conversation, and in which the everyday outreach of hobbyists and amateurs can make the myth of an international community into a momentary reality. In this sense, amateur radio can provide a micro-community of its own, a floating landscape that has many more sonic nooks and crannies to explore. (Peter Tracy)