Styles: claustrophobic soul, circadian unrest, hurting sounds
Others: Λένα Πλάτωνος, Julia Holter, Felix Kubin
Upon introducing her Guest Mix, “en medio,” Lucrecia Dalt left a number of clues concerning the role of film in her music. Through describing its placement in the mix and the impact certain classics had on her third album, Syzygy, she explained that “these movies became the external shifter elements, the vectors of disorientation, guides to other moods.” As opposed to subjective depictions of scenes or images that the Colombian musician may have found affecting, their association had more to do with subtle characteristics, calculated movements, and the camera’s direction, all of which pointed Dalt toward a modified space, a new way of seeing. Her technique allowed for realigning compositional objectives while investigating the environmental adjustments that effected the sound quality — Syzygy was recorded in Dalt’s Barcelona apartment, which was so close to the metro line that she was forced to work at 04:30 AM to avoid outside interference. The resulting tracks expose a range of textures and emotions, a consequence of interrupted sleep patterns and an intriguing approach to the films that influenced the musical arrangements.
Dalt isn’t alone in reflecting cinematic experiences within her music; a recent example came from Commotus affiliate Julia Holter, who based Loud City Song on an appreciation of Vincente Minelli’s 1958 musical, Gigi. Both musicians are renowned for their home recordings, and they share a great deal stylistically — it just happens to be a coincidence that they are releasing film-influenced material within weeks of each other. Following an announcement that they would also be sharing a stage on the European leg of Holter’s tour, it seemed as though their connection may extend beyond artistic collaboration and taste, perhaps beckoning for the consideration of additional similarities in recorded output. But by emphasizing the differences that exist in their relationship with film, the further apart they begin to appear and the more distinct Dalt’s methods become.
Where Holter loosely interpreted a particular production, she was also influenced by Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette’s novel, on which the film was based. Her interest came grounded in the story’s narrative and the manner in which each character was projected into their surroundings. With Syzygy, Dalt is inspired by the non-linear, in reversing processes, of finding a way into every conversation and investigating the messages within. The technique implicates a balance of control where the musician permits moving imagery to infiltrate her creative spectrum and pursue its own refracted course. This leads to deeply intensified responses, an inter-splicing of language that’s set on a unique trajectory — Dalt melds Spanish, English, and Catalan in a fusion impinged upon by personal anxieties and a deep-seated literary enthusiasm, where numerous pieces of writing by Benjamin, Weber, Calvino, Duchamp, and Peter J. Carroll run through her aesthetic strategy as well as the multilingual lyric sheet.
Syzygy feels more like a meshing of affiliations, a disclosure of how dialogue scraps and seemingly unrelated philosophical observation have stirring significance. Where musician’s such as Holter channel that directly into their music (in a gorgeous rendition, “Maxim’s I” takes a scene straight from Gigi’s plot), Dalt manipulates the setup, either by turning the sound off and watching for hidden expressions, looping clips back and forth, or even displacing the discourse entirely. This leads to avid transformation on a song such as “Vitti,” which she indicated was a dedication to the actress, Monica Vitti, for her role in Deserto Rosso. The track opens with keys that swirl and skip between Dalt’s breathy vocals before the bass strings sink in, dragging the track into an eerie realm that demonstrates a departure from the haunted sheen of Commotus and into an environment that exudes both passion and mystery. During the film, Vitti’s character, Giuliana, comes to terms with drastic alterations in her day-to-day life (director Michelangelo Antonioni mirrored this adjustment in his first color production to explore the possibilities of new equipment, which enabled him to capture the “ultimate moving painting”). As a listener, it’s troublesome trying to pinpoint the root of Dalt’s influence (personal crisis? socio-economic change?), but there is a key moment when Giuliana is narrating a story to her son and describes the following landscape: a deserted beach where nature’s colors were so lovely, where there was no sound and the rocks resembled flesh. A lone, singing voice then pours over Antonioni’s pristine abandon; it’s a marvelous moment of clarity that’s surely responsible for breaking “Vitti” into separate halves.
Instead of pursuing a film’s linear narrative by musical interpretation, then, Dalt allowed messages and sentiments to tap into her sound, where they bled through into reality: sleepless nights, integrated memory recall, and a corrosive disconnect with her instruments of choice. These experiences occurred in a personal space — standing on a noisy balcony and listening to Felix Kubin’s “Der Bleiche Beobachter,” a distant recollection of driving between Colombia and Ecuador, laying down tracks in her apartment as opposed to in a recording studio, coaxing out a tender quality that floods across the album. “My routine changes completely,” Dalt said in discussing her involvement with work and its ramifications in daily life, “dreams and thoughts become louder and more intense, conversations more enjoyable and graspable, ordinary walks become remarkable I’m able to materialize what besets consciousness, self-estrangement rises, as does my affectation.”
That’s why the album’s influences remain so striking. The philosophers and writers referenced throughout the three-page press release are there for a reason, which became apparent in the video for “Inframince”. Like the films she had explored, theoretical snippets and thought experiments leak into Dalt’s method. “Inframince” creeps very slowly into a singular melody as the singer whispers behind a backdrop of crackling condensation and delicate strings before the song builds into some dicey climax — there are traces of a voice left behind, but the uncertainty that drenches it is still perceptible no matter how one wishes to cast their glance. Dalt has taken Duchamp’s idea of the infrathin, of an undefinable difference that occurs in a fractional amount of time, and expressed it via her own intricate compositions, where key sequences fade in and out of each other, where an indescribable static nests beneath the music and refuses to shift.
The album is an incarnation of such notions as they resounded in Dalt’s sleep-deprived state, unfolding across a scene from Sans Soleil with the sound off, or better yet, with an overlay of fractured synths and a metro electric field replacing the dialogue as it all takes on some new, contorted form. These moments come to life while flowing within the music; “Volaverunt,” for instance, is a particularly spirited offering and also the main offender in dealing humidity associations. The reverb clings to Dalt’s hushed vocals as she spills about mirages, fear, and the future — the track then slams into a split-second of fury, cutting into some wild, echoic haze. Mid-whisper, the throbbing bass strings reel the tune back at a quicker pace and force a complete reexamination of everything that vanished away beforehand — it couldn’t be further from the frantic prickle of “Glosolalia” in terms of structure and fragility; however, each piece bears a precise resemblance because of how beautifully the album is assembled.
Syzygy is sewn tightly together with short interludes, fragments of ideas that bridge every track in a fashion that’s not necessarily comfortable, but that suits the stark thrill it induces. Each bares its own mark of intent; “Edgewise” is this reviewer’s favorite, as it carries the swampish funk of the previous track and laces it with simmering vocal vestige — Dalt’s voice is at its calmest before some shrill frequency peaks into “Murmur,” a jagged, flustering miniature that opens out into the album’s final, glorious surge. As an experiment that pulls on so many independent threads, from the secrets kept in Johan’s diary to a recollection of theories about variations in rationality, its context is bound up in the physical space Dalt chose to record in as well as the inspiring practices she brought to her approach. Syzygy is a delightful emergence, a torn and ruptured shard of apprehensions, desires, shadows, and passions, all of which cause an unsettling series of sparks that are as harsh and shrouded as they are warm and enrapturing. Dalt might have stripped her sound down to the bone here, but the remaining components make for a wondrously rich configuration, albeit a rather disturbing one.