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Martino Traversa - Critical Path

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Artist: Martino Traversa

Album: Critical Path

Label: Die Schachtel

Review date: Aug. 6, 2012

There is more than one way to lose oneself in music. Martino Traversa’s “Variazioni sopra un labirinto” is based on a recording of poet Edoardo Sanguineti’s “Laborintus,” the same text that inspired Lucianoo Berio’s Laborintus II. In Traversa’s version, the poem is taken apart and reassembled across the stereo field. Traversa describes the desired effect as the immersion of the listener’s auditory system in “a sort of labyrinth,” an auditory maze of sounds, words and phrases. For any listener unable to understand Italian, navigation of the 23-minute piece is even more difficult, though the struggle to comprehend and keep up is significantly lessened, given the impossibility of the task.

“Variazoni...” is a conceptual composition that is more interesting to read about than it is to hear. The spatial play of the piece isn’t as starkly realized as it could have been, and the end result, especially when Traversa goes minimalist and lets Sanguineti’s poetry speak for itself, isn’t as striking as one might hope. The playful quality that’s often attributed to Sanguineti’s writing doesn’t shine through; there’s plenty of play in terms of movement and manipulation, but there’s little about the piece that I’d call fun.

Transformation remains a theme over the course of Critical Path’s remaining three works. Traversa works in extreme makeovers, the sort that leaves the original sound source or inspiration largely invisible in the end product. “Critical_Path” samples and resynthesizes musical instruments and natural phenomenon to create a soundscape with little remnants of its ingredients. “NGC 253” builds nine minutes of squeaks and squiggles out of a 253-millisecond recording of surface noise from an old record.

What sounds like randomness to the listener is often very specifically structured, or at least the product of well-defined parameters. You’d never know that without checking out the album’s liner notes, though, and even then it’s not something that does much to transform the listening experience. Critical Path simply isn’t often very compelling, and that’s not something you need a cheat sheet to know.

By Adam Strohm

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