Ricardo Donoso: Sarava Exu
Second Moon Of Winter: One for Sorrow, Two for Joy
Sarava Exu, the latest recording by Ricardo Donoso, a composer and electronic musician hailing from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil but currently ensconced in Boston, is described as “a symphonic poem of a Quimbanda ritual and the musical accompaniment of Descent into one's own personal hell.” It's a rather daunting characterization of a project that's not as unlistenable as such a description might suggest; at the same time, Donoso's provocative material is hardly what one would call Top 40.
Thematically, Donoso took inspiration from the archetypal notion of the mythic hero undertaking a solitary journey to the Underworld as a rite of passage and means by which to experience transformation and gain enlightenment. Musically, he drew from movie trailer music in the way it attempts to provoke powerful emotional responses from the viewer in two-minute timeframes. If there's a heavy side to the music, it might stem in some small part from his tenure as a drummer in the avant-death metal unit Ehnahre (Donoso's also one-half of the electronic outfit Perispirit). And though there is a strong percussive dimension in play, drum patterns surface only occasionally on Sarava Exu (“Conticinium” and “Gallicinium,” to cite two examples, derive some of their heft from punchy drum grooves), the emphasis being more on darkly atmospheric soundsculpting as much as anything else.
Donoso, who plays piano, guitar, percussion, and electronics, is joined by Brent Tanrelo, credited with violin and viola, on the recording. The plunge into darkness certainly happens quickly enough, with the opener “Crepusculum” taking little time at all to besiege the listener with a thick swarm of brooding industrial electronica. The settings that follow unspool as restless travelogues of sorts, until the journey ends with “Diliculum,” which grinds and squeals for seven claustrophobic minutes, and, following a brief interval, a lengthy fever dream built up from outdoor field recordings, chanting, keyboards, hazy strings, electronic noise, and hand percussion. Within these mini-soundtracks, multiple directions are pursued, shades of light and dark intermingle, and nightmarish episodes are perpetually close at hand. With Donoso's atmospheric material seething, writhing, and rumbling with threatening portent, one might perhaps think of Sarava Exu as an unsettling intersection of dark gothic ambient and bleak industrial electronica.
Issued concurrently with Donoso's release is the EP-length One for Sorrow, Two for Joy, a six-track set by an experimental trio from Myrtleville, Ireland called Second Moon Of Winter. A few things distinguish the material right away, to begin with the fact that it was recorded live during a number of four-hour sessions in a basement by the sea in the south of Ireland and recorded also in such a way that no computers, overdubbing, and post-performance processing were involved. Put simply, One for Sorrow, Two for Joy documents the sound of three unnamed collaborators performing live. The other major detail that distinguishes the trio's experimental sound is the operatic singing of a soprano, singing that's often accompanied by woodwinds and backed by ambient guitar textures.
The dramatic and wistful moodpiece “Those Days Are Gone” establishes the trio's distinctive sound promisingly in wedding clarinet, electric guitar, electronics, and vocals, even if the latter is more effective in its wordless passages than in those where lyrics are sung. “Come Around” weaves haunting soprano singing and ponderous electroacoustic episodes into a stirring tapestry of mournful character. Second Moon Of Winter ventures into a interzone located somewhere betwixt dark ambient, classical, and free jazz for “Ghandi Missed the Train,” whereas hints of the group's Irish roots emerge during the haunting folk-styled meditation “Where the Blue Meets the Green.” The juxtaposition of soprano singing and heavy metal guitar riffing in “Cigarette” makes for a rather disconcerting effect, but aside from that questionable move, the twenty-eight-minute release holds up well. At the very least, Second Moon Of Winter's marriage of classical vocalizing, acoustic instrumentation, and electronic treatments offers an ear-catching and unusual take on contemporary classical music.