Pietro Riparbelli: Three Days of Silence

Issued as part of Gruenrekorder's Soundscape Series, Pietro Riparbelli's Three Days of Silence - The Mountain of the Stigmata revisits the approach used on the 4 Churches recording the Livorno, Tuscany-based sound artist released in 2011 as part of Touch's Spire series. In both cases, Riparbelli attempts to capture the reverberant space within church and cathedral settings by coupling the expected sounds of organ playing and choir singing with the less typically documented sounds that arise naturally within the spaces themselves—the mundane and the transcendent rubbing shoulders, so to speak. Though both recordings center on the “phenomenological experience of listening,” an approach that finds the sound artist absorbing the history of a site and its spatial, architectural, and aesthetic characteristics in order to reconfigure it as a sonic landscape, the new one differs from the earlier in documenting three days Riparbelli spent in May 2011 at the Sanctuary of La Verna on the top of Mount Penna situated in the centre of the Tuscan Apennines. During the stay, he lived with the monks, attended their ceremonies, and explored the space in an attempt to enter into a state of pure contemplation.

Structurally, the recording intersperses three long-form soundscapes, one for each day, with three interludes that feature electronic treatments largely absent in the longer settings. “First Day” begins with movements and sounds—footsteps, the chirp of birds and buzzing of flies—littering the audio space before organ chords emerge. But rather than have the organ supplant the environmental sounds, the instrument becomes only an occasional presence, with the larger concentration on other sounds—at one point the chanting of a distant choir competes with industrial hum of some unidentifiable kind. One might expect that the other day settings wouldn't differ radically from the first, given the repetitive nature of daily activity within the sanctuary, and, true enough, while there are contrasts of detail that differentiate the three, they're very much related. In “Second Day,” shimmering organ chords and chanting are heard alongside thunderstorms and human activity (movements, rustlings, footsteps), while “Third Day” allows static noise to seep in alongside echoing droplets until, in a bold departure from the established template, the material grows increasingly abstract and more ambient drone-like in design.

In terms of the interludes, “Stillness” is an overtly electronic-styled exploration that excludes field recording content, in contrast to “Duration,” which merges electronics with sounds of winds blowing and organ chords intoning. Interestingly, the album's closing piece, “Aletheia,” uses as its title a Greek word that means unconcealedness or disclosure and is also one that received renewed attention through Heidegger's philosophy, which in Being and Time (Sein und Zeit) deals heavily with notions of concealedness and uncovering. In a sense, Riparbelli's goal is much the same as Heidegger's, even if the sound artist's focus is more site-specific. In truth, Three Days of Silence - The Mountain of the Stigmata isn't so different from 4 Churches that the owner of the Touch recording necessarily needs the newer one; regarding it as an entity unto itself, on the other hand, enhances its value.

May 2012