Etymologically, Geography comes from the ancient Greek geographia; literally to describe or write about the Earth. In Andrea Valle’s usage he is conjuring up his own worlds as much as describing our own. Acta GeoGraphica, released on the Ripples label, is therefore a record of world-creation, so this writing takes on a prescriptive force as much as descriptive. Valle himself is an academic researcher and computer-music composer, and this series of works were produced by a tool of his own design.
In his own words:
GeoGraphy, an environment for algorithmic composition I worked with for almost a decade, is at the base of all the series of Acta GeoGraphica (2001-2007). Each series is generated starting from a unique imaginary landscape, a sort of map of pulviscolar sound objects. The numbers of each series define different trajectories that literally explore the same space. At the end, the latter emerges as a virtual, “compossible” soundscape, unifying the different perspectives. Composing is like film-shooting: it is like using a [voyage].
True to his word, this Italian electro-acoustic artist presents us here with dozens of micro-compositions that quickly establish a sense of place and narrative, and then move onto the next location, like a less melodic version of Max Richter’s 24 Postcards in Full Color. These experiments from 2001-2007 are all electronic, as far as I can tell produced solely by the aforementioned algorithms. Still, they often have the textures of digitally-processed electro-acoustics, and are far from one-dimensional. Some journeys are more successful than others, but with any project like this certainly some pieces will resonate with some listeners more than others. As an academic with a publication list as long as my arm, and a programmer to boot, it’s perhaps no surprise that Valle’s approach to music is a bit cerebral. If you find Computer Music, as it’s known in its academic manifestations, to be cold and soulless it is unlikely that much here will change your view. But if you can get passed the digital veneer and enter into his soundworlds with no preconceptions, these little vignettes can be quite interesting and at times moving.
The album itself consists of 37 tracks, mostly clocking in just at just over a minute in length. These are divided into 5 sections with one stand-alone track to send us off. The first 15 tracks make up “Il gran paese” (the great country), itself subdivided into five Discrettione (descriptions), seven Directions (aside the cardinal directions are spiral, Bustrofedico, and oscillating circle), and the final movements of stones, plants, and beasts. These titles alone convey just how interesting and varied the sites Valle conjures can be. What would a boustrophedon sound like? Who even wonders that? I can’t help but be intrigued. Though you could easily just hit shuffle and be entertained, there is a clear sense of coherence within each larger suite of songs.
The second ‘movement’ is called “Sopra l’archibugiar in valle,” and I’m not sure what the title means. Above the arquebus in the valley? Perhaps it’s also a play on his name, but in any case this suite seemingly escribes a subjective trajectory through this territory. There’s a more narrative arc compared to the panned shots of the first movement, more action and a sense of being on a journey. “Alone and at night,” “lost in the marsh,” and so on. These tracks are a bit longer, and are almost more ambient, as swells peak and recede against digital chirping. Valle’s generative software is at its most cinematic here.
The six sections of “Escursioni sulla frangia” (excursion to the fringe) continue this more ambient direction, and sounds the most digital of the batch. The Triptych “Bordi del fumo” (edges of smoke) is as ephemeral as it sounds, though rather than airy tones onemight expect we’re greeted with sustained high-pitches. The five parts of “Paesaggi su pergamena” (landscapes of parchment) are each 2:47, and have a sort of futuristic mechanical quality to them. The closing track, “Foresta Rossa,” sounds the most ‘composed,’ for what it’s worth. It’s also the longest track on the album at 3:37.
Each imaginary landscape, and the album as a whole, is driven by rhythm and texture more than melody or overarching structure. The compositional method leaves the results somewhat detached from human emotion, yet there remain moments that are very evocative nonetheless. Though its been 5 years since these experiments came to a close, and you should continue to check out the work Valle’s done since, these 37 imaginative tracks are a worth the exploration.