Mandolini miscellany

Cancion de madera y agua

A rattle of rachets to start, morphing in and out of various other sounds, without ever losing the rachety quality, until some low frequency thumps anchor things. After a short pause, the same mechanical logic begins to apply to tinkling bell sounds. The intensity builds and just as quickly fades to a simple gritty, little noise, which builds again and again to immense, rich, dark climaxes. As things settle down again, the tinkling bells come back, this time with a couple of single tings added to the mix. One more build-up and the piece is suddenly over, one is tempted to say “in mid-phrase.”

The next two pieces are from the 16th Cultures électroniques set.

La noche en que los peces flotaron

Whisper soft opening; stays very quiet for quite a long time. Stays pretty much the same otherwise, as well. The first addition to the opening sounds doesn’t come until almost two minutes in. Many of the other sounds are of a harshness and abrasiveness and frequency that suggest loudness but without ever getting very loud. It’s disquieting, in a manner of speaking.

There’s one pretty good swell of sound when a chorus of “voices” comes in, but otherwise everything stays pretty soft. It’s a piece of real subtlety and the sounds are rich and gorgeous.

El cuaderno del alquimesta

This piece starts with some little insect-like sounds over dead silence. And even when the chirps become a chorus and are joined by various other sounds, the silence is still complete. So much so, that when some low frequency sounds enter, destroying the silence, they are quite overwhelming.

A not very much altered voice then whispers while a variety of other sounds whirl around it. Very little of the whispering is recognisable words, so I checked the program notes, which say that the voice is reciting “an imaginary text.” That describes things very well. After a couple of loud swells, this piece ends as abruptly as Cancion de madera y agua did.


A very complicated rolling, strumming sort of sound–twice with pauses, the third time with less rolling or strumming. Some chittering, chirping sounds and a voice (Anne Gilbert) variously manipulated–sometimes not at all, sometimes beyond all recognition. It is often layered so that various levels of manipulation occur at the same time. And there are changes to the voice on the horizontal axis as well, so that we hear how it’s being manipulated as it speaks.

None of that gives a very good impression of the variety of sounds and textures in the fantastic piece, nor of the rich, aural journey it creates. You’ll just have to get this for yourself, I guess.

Circulos fosferescentes en fondo negro

Over a chirpy, jittery sound enter several jittery, chirpy motifs, which slowly get louder and more involved and then, oddly enough, simpler, even though it continues to crescendo. And then the background, which by now is a vaguely wind-like sound, gets very soft while the motifs put on a wild little show for a bit, whereupon everything calms down again to a point very like the opening, though more resonant now and not at all chirpy.

And then there’s another build up, and another, as the sounds get increasingly richer and more resonant. Quick fade and this delightful piece is too soon over.

The brief program notes mention a little bit about diffusion. All I can say is that if this piece is this delightful on two modest home speakers, how much more it must be when whipping around several speakers in a large hall.

Well, the recording is itself, and it’s fine–and there are two more CDs and seventeen other composers in this by now classic collection of electroacoustic music. Truly, if you do not yet have Bits and Pieces, your collection has a large hole in it!


Three mighty thuds open Charly–not simple thuds, though, but made up of several elements, some vertical, some horizontal (making them almost motifs). Some very rich, full sounds follow, which gradually turn into gritty, crackly noises over complete silence. One of Mandolini’s interests is in working with sounds over silence (no cantus firmus or drone or anything under or behind the foreground sounds) and in moving from passages where one is aware of the silence to those where the entire spectrum (as it were) is filled with sound. Nowhere is this more evident than in Charly. And nowhere more overwhelming than when the opening thuds recur at the end of the piece–eight enormous clangs over a vast nothingness.

Mandolini is truly a fine composer who is woefully underrepresented on CD. I hope that changes, soon.

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