Parallel 41 is the ideal name for this collaborative CD-DVD project involving Barbara De Dominicis (voice, field recordings, electronics) and Julia Kent (cello, looping, effects), given that the forty-first parallel draws an imaginary line from Naples to New York—the home bases of De Dominicis and the Canadian-born Kent, respectively. But the cross-continent concept extends further than just a group name in this case as their self-titled project would seem to be fundamentally rooted in the notion of geographical span. Consider: recorded in 2009-2010, the CD's nine improvised settings (one a bonus) were birthed in multiple settings, including a Brooklyn loft, an ex-wool factory in Napoli, a war fortress in Venice, and an abandoned tunnel in the mountains surrounding Bolzano. In addition, field recordings from the locales have been integrated into their creations, and consequently the resultant CD acts as a physical embodiment of the settings within which the material came into being.
As an indication of the duo's sound, the opening “Illusory rendez-vous” alternates between De Dominicis singing a haunting lullaby and Kent emotively responding to it before the two sounds merge, with the cello providing a backing for the singer's spoken-sung musings (in Italian and English). A ponderous blues-noir feel pervades “The Naked City,” which finds De Dominicis' spoken text (at times so dramatically expressed it recalls beat poetry) embedded within an enveloping field of looped cello textures and outdoors field recordings. The piece most directly evocative of New York's urban environment is “Herald Street,” due to the field recordings of subway trains and station announcements that appear alongside its vocal and cello elements.
De Dominicis' approach to vocalizing is eclectic and often theatrical, and her delivery enriches the recording by keeping the listener on edge in never knowing what form the next vocal element will take. Kent likewise draws upon the full range of sounds afforded by her instrument, with her playing presented as a series of strums, plucks, and bowings and the sounds often elaborated upon using loops and electronic manipulations. Kent's beautiful, full-bodied tone is displayed repeatedly, never more affectingly than during the bonus track “Voiceless Laughter,” where her bowed playing appears amidst echo-drenched voices. It's the uninhibited power of the duo's expression that gives the recording so much of its impact. “Une journeè d'un sud sans soleil” captures the extremes of which they're capable, with the possessed creators offering up a nightmarish series of moans and groans for eight provocative minutes.
Faraway Close, Davide Lonardi's thirty-five minute video, is no add-on or afterthought but a fully realized and high-quality work in its own right. Featuring footage captured in Naples and New York (archival and contemporary) and spanning a ten-month period, the film effectively documents the project's development and scope. As a portrait of the artists, it's comprehensive, too, in showing them in conversation, traveling within and absorbing the cities' settings (the centuries-old buildings of Naples a stark contrast to the commercialism of Times Square), and, of course, creating the music. They're shown performing in concert settings and also outdoors, the latter more directly representative of the recording itself, given that much of it was captured outdoors, too. We see them performing in an abandoned highway tunnel, the Alto Adige valleys stretching out around them, in the Venice-based war fortress Forte Marghera, in a one-time wool factory in Napoli, and, finally, in New York, where we see De Dominicis using a hand-held recorder to capture the industrial noise of the subway and escalator. Finally, special mention must be made of the Baskaru label for sparing no expense in presenting the project so superbly, with the CD and DVD housed within a sturdy, large format sleeve design and covered by a protective box. Parallel 41 impresses on multiple levels as both a thoroughly engrossing travelogue and document of an inspired creative undertaking.