Photo by Amanda Farah
It shouldn’t be news to anyone anymore that modular synthesizers are experiencing a huge renaissance in recent years. The instrument has evolved from the exclusive preserve of a privileged caste of electronic wizards to a viable tool for composition. We’ve seen expressed most often in Terry Riley-esque psychedelic dreamscapes (notably with Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith). With her latest release, Ecstatic Computation, Caterina Barbieri’s approach to the modular synth appears to take as its reference point those 90s rave sounds so beloved of her compatriot Lorenzo Senni.
Stripped of any obvious beats, Barbieri’s music relies heavily on arpeggiation to achieve percussive effects, using generative processes to create these blissed-out emotional landscapes. As if keen to underline the literalness of this phrase, the backdrop to her set is a series of slightly warped nature scenes, at times oversaturated and at others bleakly monochrome.
On arguably her breakthrough record (at any rate the record that I happened to discover first), 2017’s Patterns of Consciousness, we hear a very cerebral, rigorous side to Barbieri. Close to minimalism, but far from its more hippieish vibes, its second side appeared to be pointing into the transposed club music we hear tonight.
The thing that really has to be stressed about the tracks on Ecstatic Computation is that they are all, without a doubt, absolutely ridiculous bangers. The fact that they have no drums is almost an afterthought, but is also key to their emotional pull: there is a yearning, borne out of the functional necessity of the styles Barbieri borrows from to reach a climax. Here the buildup is its own reward.
The five-note riff of “Bow of Perfection” blazes neon across the room and disappears, before bursting out again, and again, speeding up, the richness of its single sawtooth wave justifying the bravado of its title. Its a breathless set that speeds through work, occasionally breaking into thunderous noise and at others, for example the choral vocals on “Arrows of Time”, allowing an almost pastoral sweetness.