Review of The Gorilla Variations [12k2013]

The Silent Ballet (.COM)

Recorded in one sitting as a soundtrack to an Éder Santos film, The Gorilla Variations is an exploration of the possibilities of melody, live interactive performance and post production refinement. Stephen Vitiello is a long time collaborator and experimental music innovator and the interaction with Molly Berg, a vibrant multi-instrumentalist and singer, creates a melodic, repetitive, and exploratory album. The various elements of the performance meld to create an interesting if not a little unfocused album.

The variations, while considered separate tracks, are basically one long composition chopped up and reworked in the mixing stage to create unique explorations of the same session. Every piece of “sound” on the album seems to have some sort of processing applied to add a non-acoustic texture to acoustic elements. The guitar often begins clean, then as the experiment progresses, so does the destruction of the natural sound of the guitar. This holds true for the extremely beautiful wandering vocals from Molly Berg. Her solo voice is augmented by layering via samples, multi-tracking, and various processing techniques. Even the clarinet has some added spice from multi-tracking and filters. While on the subject of clarinets, I find their addition to be a personal touch that not only completes the human element to an otherwise experimental and electronically produced album, but it adds a texture that no synth has yet been able to recreate. All of the elements together create the bulk of the album and it is this concise rendition of the instrumentation that is also the album’s shortcoming.

Being recorded in one sitting is a boon and a curse for this album. Having time to work through the various ideas and themes caused an apparent progression in ideas, but here it seems to take a little too much time on the main theme in general. There is enough variation within each segment as is especially evident in “Variation 3” with its extremely processed guitar sounds, but the overall feeling of the album is that it drags on a little much. Songs like “Geese”, which was not a part of the original variations, are a delight of experimentation that take a new approach to the collaboration and it was a very wise decision to add these other songs into the “variations” mix. The addition of numerous found sound elements also help push the album forward when it is feeling a little old.

This is a great album that exhibits both the human and electronic elements that are possible in a collaboration and shows what can be done in a single, live recording session. However, the live recording tends to lack direction at times but the pure textural innovations and explorations more than make up for this slight shortcoming. The Gorilla Variations is worth a listen for those who are interested in all forms of acoustic and electronic exploration as well as those looking for a film soundtrack. -Greg Norte

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