Nicola Ratti: From the Desert Came Saltwater

From its Constructivist-styled cover artwork to its title, Nicola Ratti's contribution to Anticipate's catalogue promises to be as unique as the imprint's others. From the Desert Came Saltwater turns out to be not only dramatically different from its label siblings but arresting and idiosyncratic when broached on its own terms. The Italian-born multi-instrumentalist is a sonic alchemist at heart who shapes his material into subtly metamorphosizing ambient-drone settings; it's electroacoustic by definition, perhaps, but Ratti's work is distinguished by the rather subliminal incorporation of processing interventions, and consequently the end result sounds organic and natural rather than constructed.

“Cartographic Acrobat” begins the album with a protracted drone of softly scattered tones and rattles that, after two minutes, assumes stronger definition with the strum and pick of electric guitar. The opening sets the mood for the material that follows, with Ratti focused on patiently nurturing various pathways and comminglings of largely acoustic sounds. Guitar and piano figure prominently in his music but his handling of such instrumentation is anything but conventional; hear, for example, how he wrings from the guitar a range of effects, including a blizzard of rapid strums and plucks. Despite the unhurried pace, each piece teems with incident: it sounds, at first, as if layered strums will become the nucleus for the swirl of activity in “Voluta Musica” but the strums abruptly disappear, leaving in their wake soft electronic chatter, drum flourishes, and the dazed murmur of Ratti's voice. Soon after, the guttural moan of a horn instrument appears accompanied by exotic percussion accents. Equally engrossing, “Coconut” flirts with hypnotic psych-folk as whispered vocals intersect with a dense weave of guitar shudder and wheezing tones.

That “Above” and “Beneath,” with their wayward guitar shadings, loose percussive pulses, and hushed vocalizing, sound so reminiscent of Dean Roberts' Autistic Daughters style is noteworthy, as Ratti's music unfolds with a similarly laconic meander that's amenable to sudden shifts in direction. Don't be fooled by the album's deceptive, low-key persona either: its contemplative aura is belied by the ample sonic detail that courses restlessly through its six immersive settings.

July 2008