Parallel 41 - Self Titled [Baskaru - 2012]Parallel 41 is a collaboration between Canadian-born New York cellist Julia Kent, perhaps most famous for her rich contributions as one of Antony's Johnsons, with the Rome-based singer/sound artist Barbara De Dominici, originally from Naples.
Their live improvisations seek to incorporate the sounds and moods of several specially selected places into their unplanned emanations, to cast what they've described as "a psychic telegraph line that crosses oceans" between the two artists' homes. The results combine song structures with the non-musical matter of field recordings, a rare and unusual combination of disciplines more often explored separately, to create a series of psychogeographic themes.
The 45 minute travelogue opens with 'Illusory Rendez-Vous', the first of three pieces recorded at Forte Marghera, the biggest of the fortresses built to defend the Venetian industrial region that was frequently bombed throughout World War II. Framed by the deliciously recorded creaks of a moored ship and lightly chiming seashells, the presumably natural reverb forms a gentle frost around Dominici's delicate voice - sometimes reminding of Debbie Harry's bitter sweet seductive tones on 'Rapture' - as she delves between talk and song. The elegiac melody is returned on Kent's dark cello, tentative at first like an inquisitive yet shy child, but with growing confidence eventually takes the lead to build an intoxicating rhythm of repeating phrases over which Dominici's voice weaves and wanders.
War and its inevitable legacy, both psychosocial and physical, is referenced again on 'Une Journée d'un Sud Sans Soleil', as it was recorded in an old wool factory that had made uniforms for Italian troops during World War I. Here the duo sound at their most possessed. As the chatter of the outside street market carelessly filters through the factory walls, Kent's cello sounds desperate as its pleading and whining deteriorates into distortion and feedback while Dominici's voice becomes equally twisted and deranged as if channeling the factory workers woeful commission.
New York is physically represented by two pieces recorded in a Brooklyn loft. '2 Jet Legs' combines the foreboding rattle of a metal fence over which evil atonal arcs of a livid cello malevolently stretch to inspire frightened gasps subtly painting an urban paranoia; while, later, 'Herald Street's field recording of a tube train spilling its commuters into the station takes centre stage with just light strokes of questing strings and a semi-sung short monologue for accompaniment. But, building the most explicit bridge between Italy and the States, though, is 'The Naked City', named after Jules Dassin's award-winning film noir portrayal of 1940s New York, and yet recorded in the pastoral surrounds of the Piedmont valleys of North West Italy. Its rural ambience of bristling leaves and birdsong is bathed in a bleak, yet no less beautiful light by the mysterious, echoing plucks of Kent's cello while Dominici whispers her lament to "nameless crowd". As her whispers evolve into tones she subtly forms a heartfelt prayer over Kent's cool shadow-play that is hauntingly unhurried yet hints at a murderous intent.
This bold confusion of field recordings, experimental strings and improvised song can seem disconcerting at first, requiring several listens to learn their language that has little precedents (although occasionally reminds of Einstürzende Neubauten's charming 'industrial chamber song' direction of the mid-nineties). By giving equal space to each of the three sound sources (cello, voice and found sounds) Parallel 41 achieve an unusual set of contrasts to evocatively take us on a sometimes delirious and always sensual journey. The CD comes with a DVD extra in the form of a short film by Davide Lonardi where he threads clips of Kent and Dominici sternly discussing their site-specific philosophy with longer, vibrant shots of the places concerned. While it's interesting to get such well-documented contextual material on this project, the music Kent and Dominici have brewed (particularly the crisp field recordings) are served better without visualisation which risks taking the drama out of the more dream-like presences made so vivid through sound alone.Russell Cuzner