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 Review archive:  # a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Harry Bertoia - The Complete Sonambient(boxset) [Important Records - 2016]

The Complete Sonambient is an eleven CD & thick booklet set that brings together some of the most distinctive, unique, and original sonic works you’ll have likely to have ever heard. Harry Bertoia, was an Italian-born American artist, sound art sculptor, and modern furniture designer- during the 1970’s he created a series of eleven vinyl release based around sound works he created via his various steel sculptors- playing them either by hand, or letting the elements move them.

The eleven CD’s come a sturdy flip-side box. Each disc comes in its own card slip, and these recreate the artwork from the original vinyl releases. The 114 page booklet is part glossy art book, taking in nice moody pictures of Bertoia various sculptors. Part historic document, featuring  pictures of the original tape reels the releases where recorded on, the original vinyl, and hand drawn plans/ notes . And  part remembrance/ celebration, taking in various write-ups about the recordings, interviews, and tributes. All in all it’s a really nice looking, arty & well thought-out bit of packaging

Each of the card sleeves take in the original monochrome, simple, yet moodily effective vinyl covers. These feature often close-up pictures of Bertoia various sculptors, which go from groupings of steel rods, though to gongs & large sheets, onto blends on both.

All of the pieces where recorded in a renovated barn on Bertoia’s property, set deep in the Pennsylvania woods. And this really adds to the feeling of other-ness, sonic individuality, and at times a barren alien-ness that pervades all of the pieces here. Each of the twenty two tracks featured here have running times between fifteen & nearing twenty minutes, which of course meant that they fitted on the original side of vinyl. 

More often than not the pieces here feel more like sonic pictures or landscapes, than compositions or songs- as there is little repetitive, harmonic, or sonically structured in what in what’s occurring though-out the tracks. So really Bertoia is expanding his art into sonic form.

Sound wise the tracks are often slow & shifting affairs which I guess are best describe as a blend of ambience, acoustic industrial/ noise-making, ritual like compositions, & sound art. The soundscape’s move from dense clusters of shimmering rods. Onto haunted & expansive scrapes, reverberations, simmers. Through to sonic corridors of sudden bell like strikes. Onto blends of ringing metal hits & slow forking drags. The sound picture moving from fairly dense & layer detailed, though to spaced-out & sparse, onto wavering & slightly out-of-focus.

The pieces have either descriptive titles like  “Space Voyage”, “Ocean Mysteries”, or “Phosphorescence”. Or more practical like “Swinging Bars” , “Gong Gong”, or “Swift Sound”. And though most of the tracks have fairly simlair sound pallets, each takes you on it’s own distinctive journey, or into it’s own sound paint- going from mysterious & ancient, though to moody & at times chilling, onto vivid & detailed, though to ritualistic & ominous.

Though these works where recorded back in the 1970’s there is a really clarity & definition to the sounds on each track, so I’m guess there must have been some form of remastering done.

All told this box set was one of the more original & distinctive releases of 2016, and really is a must for anyone who enjoys ambience, sound-art, or less disciplined ritual sounds. It really is a release to get your self well & truly lost in, and I can see myself returning to it again & again over the years. A really unique treasure of a release!

Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5

Roger Batty
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