Mike Patton The Solitude of Prime Numbers

[Ipecac; 2011]

Styles: soundtracks, film music
Others: Ennio Morricone, Kaada, Fantômas

Sometime in my mid-teenage years, a friend lent me his copy of Mr. Bungle’s self-titled debut album. The album completely rebuilt my musical skyline. From being subservient to a modest compass of marginally left-of-center pop music, the renowned Patton-led avant-rock band unequivocally oiled the works pertaining to all of my subsequent obsessions. Patton’s later ventures in like manner left me memorably invigorated; Fantômas, the Moonchild Trio, General Patton vs. The X-Ecutioners, Lovage, and Maldoror are all still well-established attendants to my rotations. It’s safe to say that I idolize the extensive vocabulary the man possesses.

His latest effort, The Solitude of Prime Numbers, is inspired by the Paolo Giordano novel of the same name. Giordano’s novel tells a story of two individuals “whose lives parallel each other in uncanny ways, like twin primes: both lonely but close to each other, separated by an even number.” The theme is captured well in Patton’s arrangements, with sufficient gaps in frequency content to create a feeling of detachment. What’s more, Patton daringly negotiates the border of pretentiousness by opting to number the tracks sequentially with the first 16 prime numbers, explicitly enforcing the image of solitude.

As a solo work, the album follows 2010’s Mondo Cane — both in terms of chronology and accessibility — offering a relatively easy listen compared to 1996’s Adult Themes for Voice or 97’s Pranzo Oltranzista, which presented fractured, volatile situations. In contrast to the thick orchestral arrangements of Mondo Cane, however, The Solitude of Prime Numbers is sparse, reserved, and mirrors the minimalism of Giordano’s novel. The contours of the album, for example, are underscored by a hauntingly desolate piano, which is laid disturbingly bare in “Contraceptive” and later in “The Snow Angel.” As a whole, The Solitude of Prime Numbers more closely resembles one-time Patton collaborator Kaada than anything he himself has previously produced.

The chief dilemma — illuminated in the album’s longhand title, Music From The Film and Inspired By the Book The Solitude of Prime Numbers (La Solitudine Dei Numeri Primi) — is the dislocation of the music from its associate texts. Susanne K. Langer argues that “what music can actually reflect is only the morphology of feeling.” Royal S. Brown therefore affirms that “it is, then, the merging of the cinematic object-event and the musical score into the surface narrative that transforms the morphological affect of music into specific[s].” Obviously, appreciating the music on its own merits is not maligning, but the recurring themes that steer it so persuasively toward soundtrack music make it difficult to disconnect.

The third track (or second?), “Identity Matrix,” is reminiscent of the start to something from Mr. Bungle’s California album, but like many of the tracks, it resolves frustratingly premature. This all makes sense when situated in context; Tobias Jones notes that Giordano’s “scenes, dialogue, and descriptions are — in sharp contrast to the florid nature of much Italian fiction — brief, almost terse.” He also states that the author remains cold, “offering only misunderstandings and missed opportunities until the bitter end.” This transfers verbatim; Mike Patton’s The Solitude of Prime Numbers stands for the most part as a collection of missed opportunities, which ironically is its triumph. Indeed, whether or not the album has the strength to hold its own, it is impossible to deny Patton’s ability to reflect precisely the qualities that made Giordano’s novel a success.

Links: Mike Patton - Ipecac

Most Read