Ruins connote a number of things: Decay, collapse, fragments, a sense of pastness and history. But to refer to something as ruins also assumes resilience and persistence; that despite the passage of time or an absence, traces of what was still remain. Guitarist and composer Corrado Maria de Santis latest project Ruins, released on limited tape by Midira Records, manages to get at at least some of that complexity conveyed by its title. Each of the album’s four tracks experiment with noise, signal, and decay, building and easing sonic tension through layers of hiss, rumbling drone, and flickering bursts of signal or acoustic instrumentation. Despite the variety of sonic textures and genres Maria de Santis is playing with on the album, there’s a sense of predictability that emerges across the tracks, an expectation that his massive soundscapes will release into stillness, that imbues the album with a sense of endurance. After all endurance is only possible if an end is thinkable.
Maria de Santis is described as a guitarist but on Ruins the instrument, if present, is almost always disguised or submerged. In the first few minutes of “Standing Under Storms,” the album’s second track, a rhythm recognizable as strumming is only faintly audible, obscured behind layers of hiss and reverb. The guitars un-manipulated emergence in an aural space almost entirely its own nearly ten minutes into “Perished and Fallen,” the album’s third track, comes as a surprise. The track has a recognizably acoustic and melodic focus, it also opens with a quieter piano-driven theme, that is lacking across the album’s other, denser soundscapes. Perhaps, as the heuristic of ruins might suggest, and as its sudden nearly unadorned appearance supports, just because the guitar wasn’t recognized earlier, doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.
There is another way in which ruins might be imagined and that is through the cinematic: The aura of mystery and otherworldliness, of the epic, that is attached to encounters with the persistence of the past through the built environment. Think of the atmospheric imagery in Hollywood films such as Apocalypse Now or even Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s a connotation Maria de Santis also invokes on Ruins through the intense dynamics of his soundscapes, the subtle, momentary emergence of melody and its just as rapid dispersion into accreting washes of sound. The album’s last track might evoke this sense most strongly. “One Reign After Another” begins with richly haptic crackling and hissing through which initially only harsh signals and brief snippets of a nascent rhythm erupt. At about the halfway mark, however, magisterial chords begin to surface. The surprising emergence of a faint but beautiful melody from underneath layers of noise most succinctly and affectively encapsulates the album’s theme and its emotional charge. Despite its gentle presence, the richness of the melody and its timbre overtake the track’s noisier elements, managing to imbue the track with a narrative that feels richer than the more often more predictable ebb and flow of noise and silence in the earlier tracks. The track ends where it began, with (mere) crackles and air, its melodic arc complete even as some sonic traces persist. (Jennifer Smart)