Music

Apparat's 'Soundtrack: Capri-Revolution' Stands Alone As a Great Ambient Experience

Photo: Philipp Thimm / Courtesy of Mute Records

Apparat's (aka Sascha Ring) re-imagined score from Mario Martone's 2018 Capri-Revolution works as a fine accompaniment to a meditational flight of fancy.

Soundtracks: Capri-Revolution
Apparat

Mute

1 May 2020

The latest offering from Sascha Ring's Apparat is a soundtrack from the 2018 film Capri-Revolution by Italian director Mario Martone. It's the first in a series of soundtrack albums for theater and film that Ring will release in 2020. This particular release has been re-edited and remixed by Ring and Philipp Thimm from the original 2018 score. It's not the first time that Ring has worked with Martone (or indeed the first time he has worked on a soundtrack), having also soundtracked the 2008 film Il giovane favoloso, about the 19th century Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi. Ring also makes an appearance in the latest film, playing what the press release calls a "proto-hippie in an early drop-out commune set in 1914". Martone describes the creation of the soundtrack as an organic process, whereby Ring would create the music to accompany the images "while rolling, in an unforgettable osmosis".

The album itself contains 13 tracks over about 40 minutes and may appear at first blush to be a somewhat minor contribution to Ring's oeuvre. You might reflexively assume that as a soundtrack, this would merely be a commissioned piece of music, a series of exercises written to order. But Martone's description of the writing process undercuts that assumption immediately, and the album has an internal logic all of its own. What's more, if you spend a little time with it, this work might get under your skin in some quite unexpected ways, taking on a life beyond its existence as a mere soundtrack. It also puts Ring's other material both with Apparat and Moderat into some interesting relief, both building on and departing from it. Capri-Revolution stands alone as a sophisticated album of meditative ambient music in its own right, allowing us to detach it from its original context and assimilate it into Ring's larger body of work as a worthy companion to anything else in the Apparat/Moderat catalog to date.

The music on Capri-Revolution is strangely both typical and atypical of Ring's previous work. It is typical in that it continues Ring's practice of fusing acoustic and electronic sounds beautifully and seamlessly, so that we get, for example, cello and piano co-existing comfortably alongside synthesizers and various blips and passages of static. It is atypical in the sense that it is almost entirely devoid of vocals or anything resembling what you might call a rhythm section. In this respect it differs quite starkly from, for example, Apparat's Grammy-nominated album from 2019, LP5, which was quite feverish and frenetic in comparison.

If the basic facts of this album's production are relatively straightforward, Martone's description of the creative process involved in making this music -- with Ring and his fellow musicians attaching sound to the film's images as they were being made in that "unforgettable osmosis" -- opens up a world of imaginative possibilities for the listener as well. That's especially true if one assumes that most people will not have seen and probably will not see the film that is nominally connected to the music. So while the listener, in this case, will most likely not have the objective correlative of the film to accompany their aural experience, this rather miraculously frees us up and allows us to imagine our own visual accompaniment to the music in the form of synesthesia where images suggest themselves as we listen.

In this way, the music detaches itself from its source material and serves as a prompt for any number of movies that may be playing in our heads as we listen to it. The original ekphrasis that created a musical accompaniment to a visual object is rolled over into an ekphrastic act by the listener, who now conjures their own imagery from the music that is being presented to them. It is a rather delightful sleight of hand by Ring and his collaborators, whether contingent or intentional and gives us much more than a soundtrack to enjoy.

There is another sleight of hand in the way that the album happens to us, as 40 minutes of music elapse almost imperceptibly, in the manner of successful meditation. You might be forgiven for thinking that the entire thing was a single extended track that moves very gently through a thought process as it evolves, and as one thought catalyzes the next, one observation giving rise to another in a musical enactment of mindfulness. There are times when you think you might have noticed the continuum of the same single chord throughout the album, which cleverly mimics a long tracking shot you might see while watching a film. You may also notice the almost complete absence of a rhythm section, but the persistence of a varying human pulse, or at the very least a form of life source that sustains the whole and permeates the entire album.

The first three tracks, "Silia," "Plidoh", and "Neruvola" seem to bleed into one another and are of a piece with each other, beatless slow burns, occasionally almost liturgical, generally ethereal, sometimes supernatural. Songs like this opening suite seem to build, but not necessarily to a crescendo. Rather, they accumulate layers like an aural Napoleon, alternating slices of acoustic and electronic sound in a way that feels entirely natural until you have a tower of layered music, both synthetic and organic, fused seamlessly just as the tracks themselves flow together.

The arrival of "Licidana" sees the album catching fire with a simmering pulse that was previously absent. The return of the opening track with "Silia Reprise" represents a retreat and regrouping of sorts, before the purple patch of "La Gravidanza", "Harper Caprira", "Electricity", "EC Blip", and "Paestrum Neruvola". This central passage of the album is quite remarkable in its depth of feeling and variety of texture. "La Gravidanza" is perhaps the most filmic piece on the album, which rarely feels that way, even though it almost always feels visual, like a series of shifting lights behind your eyes, an aural Rorschach. "La Gravidanza" reaches after the panoramic, the widescreen, the epic, in ways that many other pieces here do not.

Meanwhile, "Harper Caprira" is oddly reminiscent of Clogs' String Music, insistent and repetitive bowed and plucked strings atop a persistent drone. It is at once reassuring and unnerving, like much of the album as a whole. "Harper Caprira" sits at the epicenter of the album, the seventh of 13 tracks, and is perhaps the standout piece, even while it barely reaches three minutes in length. It's followed by the brief crackle and hum of "Electricity" and the beautiful organic swells of "EC Blip". It is perhaps at this point that you notice how very well sequenced this album is, as befits a soundtrack album, but which also makes for a deeply satisfying listening experience.

It is also perhaps around this point that you really start to notice the absence of the human voice. That lack is particularly and peculiarly apparent on "Paestrum Neruvola", where you almost expect a vocal as if this were a stem from a lost Notwist album. The absence of any human voice reinforces what might have started to feel like loneliness or even desperation. It's a feeling that's confirmed with the outright rupture that happens on the penultimate track "Goldkind", a sumptuous cello and piano piece that is abruptly truncated with a snapping sound, perhaps of the cello being smashed, followed by what might reasonably be described as a primal scream. Finally, the human has made an appearance, but not in the form of welcoming or comforting relief. Rather, the first human voice we hear is angry, inchoate, and raw.

Almost inexplicably and yet somehow also entirely naturally, this rupture and scream form the bridge to the final track "Aracneae", comfortably the longest on the album at over eight minutes. It opens with expansive synth sounds and what might be the gusting of the wind or the lapping of waves on the shore as the prelude to the album's only sung vocal, a plaintive folk sound after so much other non-human sounds that have preceded it. That is both a surprising and consummately satisfying end to what has gone before.

That the only two noticeable human presences on the album appear at the end, and that they comprise screaming and crooning seems of vital importance, as Ring imposes both a disruptive, even traumatic, reassuring, even redemptive humanity upon the album as a whole with this concluding flourish. And by the way, the sung vocal on "Aracneae" isn't unequivocally comforting. There's something potentially sinister about it, even while it feels at first like a relief to find another sentient being in this wasteland of loss as if what we think might be our saving grace could just as well be our doom. The human functions here then as what you might at the very least call the grit in the oyster. The reassurance that the human still exists, complicated, conflicted, angry, loving, lonely, importunate, compassionate, and lost, all at once is both comforting as well as it is somehow more than a little unnerving.

Capri-Revolution reminds us of our current disconnection from humanity, and then screams its frustration about that condition, only to re-establish the connection in the simplest of ways, with the plaintive cry of the human voice, returning us to each other in all our vulnerability and resilience. And so, what might at first appear to be a mere bagatelle relative to the rest of Sascha Ring's musical catalog turns out to be something of a cornucopia, reminding us simultaneously of our separation and our connectedness. The film we make in our imaginations from the soundtrack that Ring gives us will be the substance of our meditation as we hear it, taking us away from worldly concerns, and then returning us to consciousness with a reminder that we are part of a sentient and interlocking community, to whatever extent we might want or need to be.

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