Review of The Gorilla Variations [12k2013]

Touching Extremes (IT)

Brazilian video artist Éder Santos, a longtime collaborator of Stephen Vitiello, asked him for help in organizing a soundtrack for a filmic portrait of a lonely gorilla named Idi Amin, who lives in Belo Horizonte’s zoo, as a part of an installation called Boxing The Game. The original request was for a short fragment, yet Vitiello and Molly Berg recorded about 40 minutes of material to choose from, which constitute more or less 4/5 of this CD’s content.

The couple utilized an elusive blend of instruments (clarinets, guitar, bass, electric piano), samples and field recordings, also exploiting Berg’s daydreaming vocalizations and distilling the whole into an intoxicatingly scented sonic substance. That Vitiello has returned to playing a real instrument for the first time in circa 6 years is a noteworthy detail, as it is exactly this mixture of studio seaming and semi-improvised candour that gifts this album with an appreciable feeling of wholesomeness, lots of space to roam amidst ethereal loops, assorted melodic ingenuities and improvisations that may appear démodé for the cynical among us, but on the contrary are gifted with deepness to spare. The association between the transparency of the procedures, the mesmerizingly heart-warming simplicity of the pieces, and the fact that the work is dedicated to a solitary animal whose physical aspect is, ideally, quite threatening (as opposed to the tenderness perceived throughout) is a winning combination. There’s not a single occasion in which the initial idea overstays its welcome. All that’s stretched in terms of repetition and duration is never strained, looking near to some sort of bodiless manifestation. Indeed, an easily gaugeable spiritual level characterizes the entire record.

A classic case of creative sincerity determining the birth of something that encourages repeated savouring. Though not really a milestone, surely The Gorilla Variations does good in getting close to that status, in idyllic fashion. Idi Amin would feel flattered by this treatment.

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