Italian electro-acoustic savant Giuseppe Ielasi first made a name for himself in the avant-garde community for his work inventive guitar work, but after switching over to American label 12k, he began to phase in a much wider array of instruments and objects, keeping them rooted in the ambience for which he had become known. The resulting release, August, was superficially appealing, but felt sorely lacking in spirit. On Aix, his second 12k release, Ielasi finds the essence that was lacking in August and uses it to animate a truly inspiring new work.
A casual look at the track lengths is just one clue that a new sonic sheriff is in Ielasi's town. Since August, Ielasi has sneakily been lowering his track lengths from seven- to ten-minute miniseries to shorter, more bite-sized snacks. Here it seems that this tendency has reached its logical terminus, with only one track even cracking four minutes (though if this record is any indication of future results, I wouldn't mind if Ielasi becomes the Agoraphobic Nosebleed of electro-acoustic artists).
While I certainly admire all of his earlier work (2003's epic Plans should be absolutely required listening for any electro-acoustic noodler or guitar experimentalist), I can't help but feel like Ielasi has found something he's been after (or should have been after) all along. Aix, named after its birthplace in the south of France, is a stuttering, fidgeting, mercurial, and ultimately coherent treasure. Ielasi's work with sound sources other than guitar has never been more sublime, as he hews meaningful relationships out of the raw, noninteracting racket of clanging metal, zippers, steam discharge, sproinging springs, and twanging wire. Many of these tracks begin with this type of general clatter, sounds floating around in nebulous formation, seemingly barely held together. Eventually, Ielasi's improvisational dexterity really kicks in, and everything seems to snap together into patchwork quilts of misty, soothing tones.
Some of the tracks here are much in the vein of Ielasi's earlier work, retaining the airy yet linearly directed ambience of releases like Plans and 2006's untitled/self-titled release on Häpna. The most interesting tracks, however, are the ones in which Ielasi is operating on the pseudo-theme of the album, hinted at by the fantastic cover artwork: grids. This is by far the most rhythmically concrete release Ielasi has produced, but never do we feel like his penchant for on-the-fly creation has been handicapped in any way by the superimposition of a more discernible structure. It's fascinating to hear how he molds ostensibly unrelated short samples and the aforementioned racket into methodologically elaborate and distinguishable patterns.
The album is intelligent and challenging, but lacks the cold remoteness of August, and sometimes walks a fine line between the two. Occasionally one teeters on the brink of alienation from the shuffling digi-industrial beats, but the album never fails to entice us back in with its balmy undertones and undeniably hypnotizing patterns, as if the basic grids of our DNA are naturally drawn to like kinds. However, the album is not simply an exercise in conceptual diagramming; there are legitimate grooves in spots here, with pulsing bass and loopy sounds converted cleverly into beat makers. It occasionally feels like listening to a recording of a hyper-futuristic counterpart of the guy who plays upturned plastic pails in the subway.
Ielasi has moved successfully from a purveyor of pure ambient drift to a much more diverse electro-acoustic renaissance man, spinning the entire sonic world around him into atypical, beautiful latticework webs. For an album that sounds like what I imagine to be dance music beamed back from millennia in the future, it manages to engage us on simultaneously more profound and more primal levels than almost any club-banging Euro-dance hits or indie electropop tunes can today. Even with that said, it feels like there is more to this album than our minds and bodies can even really comprehend at this point. Hopefully we'll be able to catch up someday, but for now I'm content with watching the pretty patterns.