Pietro Riparbelli - Three Days Of Silence [Gruenrekorder - 2012]
Pietro Riparbelli spent three days recording in the remote Sanctuary of La Verna, a monastery on a mountaintop in Tuscany. With a simple mic and field recorder set-up, he documented the sounds of the Sanctuary, inside and out; as well as the life that goes on within its boundaries. He took these sounds and constructed the six tracks found on this album - whilst also making the original recordings available from the label website.
These original recordings are often beautiful, which does lead to the obvious question: why not leave them to stand as they are? But Riparbelli has used them on “Three Days Of Silence” to construct a sense of “place”, and the sense of listening to that place; so its really along these lines that his project has to be viewed. The album’s six tracks are neatly divided into “First Day”, “Second Day” and “Third Day”; three long pieces which are each followed by a shorter construction. Whilst some level of processing is sometimes heard in the longer tracks, these shorter pieces are more overt examples of electroacoustic practice. (Though, if I was to be told that actually the “Day” tracks were in fact only EQ-ed, it wouldn’t surprise me…) The first of these “interludes”, “Stillness” is built on a swirling drone, like filtered wind; over this there are electronic whizzs and squeals, which reverberate and spiral. “Duration” starts with the sound of a squeaky door, accompanied by glitching noises and tones - its a nicely agitated section, which somewhat stands in contrast to the remainder of the album. This agitation is pared back to reveal waves of ambient washes, which are battered by thudding percussive clicks before slowly fading out. The third “interlude”, and last track on the album, is “Aletheia” - a word meaning “unconcealedness”; this pits a grainy, open drone against echoing choir-song and the scuffing and banging sounds of someone performing a physical task.
The longer “Day” tracks range from eleven minutes to fifteen minutes long; and are constructed out of very recognisable sounds for the whole. Thus “First Day” begins with quiet footsteps, a door closing, bird song, the rustle of clothing and the sound of bees; before a thick low drone rises up. In the crassest terms, this is how all three “Day” tracks are essentially constructed: layered field recordings, accompanied by drones - presumably made by EQ-ing some of the other recordings. Here, the reverbs of the Sanctuary, as well as obvious sources like recordings of the organ, are tailor made for their construction. These drones dominate the pieces, often commanding incredible bass tones; indeed on “First Day” and “Third Day”, tones and frequencies are pushed to the point of distortion - with the latter track even displaying HNW-esque crackle. Elsewhere, the drones are more gentle; though often discordant (the end of “Second Day”, for example) or even tremoloing (the second half of “Third Day”, which builds to a noisy crescendo). The most noticeable element, beyond the drones and the recognition of the sounds recorded by Riparbelli, is the exploration of reverb to be heard. A closing door, a cough, the crackling of a fire - these are all affected sonically by the environment they are heard in. For those of us who spend our times tweaking reverb effects, a visit to a church (for example) is an ear-opening experience - and this is documented supremely by Riparbelli.
“Three Days Of Silence” is a good album, but I must admit that the predominance of drones left me a little cold. Whilst they perfectly represent the oppressive/beautiful (delete as applicable) stillness of a monastery and the sense of continuity and stasis, I would have liked to have heard, on a less conceptual level, the other sounds interacting with each other. Interestingly, although the drones suggest a notion of “purity” and concentration, Riparbelli’s use of his source material is sometimes anything but - there are a few clicks, bangs and rustles to be heard, which sound like unintentional “noises” that have escaped editing. Though this is much less a concern, than the fact that the slow fade-out of “duration” is crudely cut off; as well as the appearance of clumsy mixing at the very close of “Third Day”. (Since I’m being rude, I’ll also mention that the bulk of the inlay spiel on La Verna seems to have been lifted wholesale from Wikipedia.) Having said all that, its a release of great charm and invocation. Riparbelli has avoided, for the most part, obvious “gothic” or mystical tones in presenting his material; though parts of “Second Day” - with a call and response between ambient organ tones and echoing choir voices - steer dangerously close to these, whilst also providing the most overtly “musical” sections of “Three Days Of Silence”. He has certainly used drones and natural reverb to convincingly evoke time and place, but whether he has also evoked “Aletheia” is up to the individual listener…Martin P