It was about twenty years ago that I sent for a copy of the Recommended Records catalogue for the first time. For obvious reasons: first, though albums by artists such as Art Bears, Faust and News From Babel were not that hard to find nationwide, I suspected there was more interesting music that was not getting proper distribution in the shops; then, I felt that as a listener I had somehow fallen into a rut - and what better remedy than listening to some unfamiliar-sounding, challenging records to make one regain one's enthusiasm for music? Definitely the way to go. So as soon as I got my copy of the catalogue - the one dated September 1984 - I decided to order some titles by relatively familiar names, plus some unknown quantities; among them, a soon-to-appear re-release of an album called Horde by a visual/musical collective called Mnemonists. The description sounded mysterious - and promising.

It took me a while to come to terms with a decidedly unfamiliar aesthetic, where the music was obviously "organized" (and quite meticulously) while at the same time retaining a degree of "openness" ("indeterminacy" didn't seem the right word); most of the time, sounds had a mysterious quality - acoustic instruments, according to the cover, being treated, overdubbed and then manipulated some more. Results could be filed under the "almost-but-not-quite classical, almost-but-not-quite electronic" category (?). Then there were the prints, which only added to the air of mystery. And one couldn't help but notice the enormous amount of work that had gone into that album.

As soon as I was reasonably familiar with Horde, I immediately ordered Rackabones, a new double LP by Biota, an offshoot of the Mnemonists collective. But when I decided to get Gyromancy - the album that had originally been released in 1983, two years after the first release of Horde - I found out that it had already gone out of print. From then on, I got all Biota's albums, starting with their next opus, Bellowing Room. (Following that, the only other Biota-Mnemonists project that I know of was their live appearance at the Montréal Musiques Actuelles - New Music America Festival in November 1990. Strangely, Musique Actuelle 1990, the CD presenting music from that occasion, came out only fourteen years later, in 2004.) And while Horde was released on CD in 1998 (and what an excellent-sounding digital transfer it was!), I never had the chance to listen to Gyromancy.

Meanwhile, Biota's (and Mnemonists') reputation doesn't loom large. Which is quite strange to me, since the group has always possessed a very personal stylistic signature, and has operated in a field - dunno how to call it: electro-acoustic? post-concréte? you name it - that does get quite a lot of press these days, both marginal and mainstream. Call me naive, but I have to admit I was really surprised when not too long ago I happened to hear that Biota's CDs - which I had always assumed to be if not a cash-cow, definitely a commercial asset for ReR - were in fact in the "poor seller" category. Strange.

Obviously an indispensable purchase for those who already like the group, Gyromancy is the perfect introduction for those who have never heard their music. Masterfully remastered to digital - you won't believe the amount of detail that's just in front of you - Gyromancy is darker, more mysterious, and definitely subtler than its predecessor (wonder how fine the old LP sounded). An instrumentation that goes from the familiar-sounding (on paper!) - piano, cello, viola, clarinet... - to the definitely more unusual (shawm, crumhorn, curtal, bodhran). A rich "narrative" that unfolds on two (very) different "sides", with former side one sometimes rudely interrupted by a sound that works as a (very effective) dramatic device. While the long, hushed close of former side two is one of the most beautiful (and engaging) moments I've encountered in a long while.

As a bonus, we get Nailed and Tic, the two (former) sides of a (very limited-edition) 7" single. I have to admit I haven't listened to the single in a while, but this new edition sounds definitely brilliant - and Tic is a real joy.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2005 | March 1, 2005