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Nicola Ratti - From the Desert Came Saltwater
There's a vaporous ambiguity to Italian multi-instrumentalist Nicola Ratti's second CD that makes it so much more than the album of experimental guitar music it first seems. Underneath, there's an intriguing, half-hidden layer of uncertain sonic events - distant hand claps, rattling percussion, chimes, clanks, creaks, chants and enigmatic found sounds - that draw the listener in and occupy the smaller crevices of the brain.
The extra attention being paid make Ratti's simple actions so powerful. An elliptical guitar figure, a resounding piano chord, a hushed vocal - all these otherwise unremarkable gestures become imbued with a glorious significance. The different layers create a sense of depth and perspective, with sounds rushing to fill the front of perception, like an ever unfolding horizon seen through the windscreen on a long car ride through a flat heat-hazed landscape. The desert imagery that provides the album's title also manifests itself on tracks like "Beneath," with vocals and guitar lost and wandering in an inhospitable land, recalling Six Organs of Admittance's parched melancholy.
Even so, Ratti takes things much further out than the usual psych-folk ramble, at times approaching a more abstract, Ambient sound, as on "Voluta Musica," with its phased acoustic strumming giving way to droning tones, multitracked mumbling vocals and fragmented percussion. But even at these further reaches, you retain the sense that this album is all about song. It has a warmth that speaks of human industriousness rather than mechanical processes, making the experience all the more welcoming and rewarding. - The Wire
From its Constructivist-styled cover artwork to its title, Nicola Ratti's contribution to Anticipate's catalogue promises to be as unique as the imprint's others. From the Desert Came Saltwater turns out to be not only dramatically different from its label siblings but arresting and idiosyncratic when broached on its own terms. The Italian-born multi-instrumentalist is a sonic alchemist at heart who shapes his material into subtly metamorphosizing ambient-drone settings; it's electro-acoustic by definition, perhaps, but Ratti's work is distinguished by the rather subliminal incorporation of processing interventions, and consequently the end result sounds organic and natural rather than constructed.
"Cartographic Acrobat" begins the album with a protracted drone of softly scattered tones and rattles that, after two minutes, assumes stronger definition with the strum and pick of electric guitar. The opening sets the mood for the material that follows, with Ratti focused on patiently nurturing various pathways and comminglings of largely acoustic sounds. Guitar and piano figure prominently in his music but his handling of such instrumentation is anything but conventional; hear, for example, how he wrings from the guitar a range of effects, including a blizzard of rapid strums and plucks. Despite the unhurried pace, each piece teems with incident: it sounds, at first, as if layered strums will become the nucleus for the swirl of activity in "Voluta Musica" but the strums abruptly disappear, leaving in their wake soft electronic chatter, drum flourishes, and the dazed murmur of Ratti's voice. Soon after, the guttural moan of a horn instrument appears accompanied by exotic percussion accents. Equally engrossing, "Coconut" flirts with hypnotic psych-folk as whispered vocals intersect with a dense weave of guitar shudder and wheezing tones.
That "Above" and "Beneath," with their wayward guitar shadings, loose percussive pulses, and hushed vocalizing, sound so reminiscent of Dean Roberts' Autistic Daughters style is noteworthy, as Ratti's music unfolds with a similarly laconic meander that's amenable to sudden shifts in direction. Don't be fooled by the album's deceptive, low-key persona either: its contemplative aura is belied by the ample sonic detail that courses restlessly through its six immersive settings. - Textura
Bringing a fresh sound to the Anticipate label, Italian multi-instrumentalist and sound sculptor Nicola Ratti sets out to transform the instantly familiar timbres of guitar and piano into something slightly more concealed and - as the label would have it - subtractive, meaning that certain elements of this language are removed, leaving a more vague, impressionistic approach to instrumentation. Add to this the understatement of Ratti's electroacoustic treatments and the end result is an absorbing and beautiful listen. This music is atmospheric in the most ambiguous sense, even on the comparatively upbeat, strummed processing of 'Coconut' there's a sense of emptiness lurking at the heart of it all, and the major key setting is more by implication than practice. Ratti is at his best when he embraces this emotional vacuity, as on 'Dew & Curfew', largely characterised by ghostly guitar phrases, often bookended by slow string bends into nothingness. The loudest thing on the whole piece is probably the fret buzz that intermittently catches your ear. When Ratti sings, his music is no less distant, still very much divorced from the conventions of songwriting. His whispered intonation sounds almost apologetic on the closing 'Beneath', which characterises itself with an combination of vacancy and intensity, resulting in a resonant phantasmagorical impact. Another lovely release from this exceptional label - buy with confidence. - Boomkat
Nicola Ratti's second effort seems lodged in an unusual void. Without fail, Ratti exercises uncanny restraint to avoid making full statements. Rather, he skirts the edges of form, creating liquid silhouettes that morph and contract i waves, as they nurse and nudge awake deep buried banks of sound and memory.
It's none too surprising that Ratti is also an architect. Although the works contain traces of the mercurial and imaginative qualities of improvisation, as well as hints of the satisfying structure that normally accompanies composition, they are first and foremost of a sculptural bent, clean, refreshing, and entirely without superfluous gesture.
Sometimes the music barely changes at all, though often just underneath it consists of microscopic fluctuations in sound - earthy guitar rumination, bass throbs, hovering samples of pitched and allusive sounds, vivid electronic clicks that accentuate the sonorities, all of which are only very occasionally briefly and dimly illuminated by auroral bursts of tone. "Cartographic Acrobat" is conjured from rippling layered guitar phrases, sparingly bowed and stroked cymbal, now and again augmented by an arco bass drone, until near the end a brief piano coda brings the proceedings to a close. The piece is colored by a disjointed melodicism, and a clipped impertinent glide, but it exists as a whole and, accordingly, the weight of the collective movement renders it densely expressive.
The murmur of Ratti's deep yet soft voice returns time and again as a linking theme that restores order in an album that harbors as much tension as it does balance. It curls like smoke through "Volouta Musica", a piece whose coin-spitting percussion and faint oscillating sound produces a gentle sense of chaos. The end result is a quietly masterful concoction. In under thirty-minutes, the album canvasses an impressive array of ideas and moods, without ever losing sight of its overarching architectural design. - Cyclic Defrost
This album begins with a series of crystalline guitar drones that evolve into a shimmering clatter like the sound of locust's wings which are then layered with strumming guitars and harmonic laden chords that seem to suspend themselves in the air for an eternity; a good start indeed. Slowly an echoing piano line emerges and locust's wings turn to a light desert rain, and this is all just the beginning. Nicola Ratti's latest effort is fantastic.
With his softly crooned Italian vocals and sparse sense of meandering harmony interspersed with some tastefully added electronic flourishes and drones, Ratti weaves a spell not easily broken. This album's main strength comes from its abundance of space, never forcing an idea upon you, just letting them occur and be absorbed in their own time. His palette is filled with a number of organic sounds, crunching leaves, the breeze, and sticks closely to this aesthetic, but there is also a touch of the modern there, somewhat reminiscent of a little Riley or Rzewski. Deftly treading the line between esoteric and accessible, and well worth the time spent.
- Foxy Digitalis
What most people know about Nicola Ratti could be written on the back of a postcard. The former guitarist of the now defunct Pin Pin Sugar is not exactly a household name, although work with Giuseppe Ielasi on 2007's well-regarded Bellows will have gone some way to establishing him with a wider audience. He has also collaborated with Andrea Belfi, and is today a guitarist with underground Italian instrumentalists Ronin. But obscurity is probably not something that would worry someone like Ratti. After all, his sound virtually invites it. Hushed guitars played at half-pace on studied, earnest compositions are not easily going to grab the attention of the average listener. But this is the point, it seems, with his music, and with From The Desert Came Saltwater in particular. It is the sound of music stripped of verbosity and excess, a sound that in doing very little very slowly manages to lure its way insidiously into perception.
Perhaps the main problem with this approach is that it has to be done expertly to carry any weight. The slow, lingering sound of a guitar played very softly somewhere in the distance is a pretty conceit, but few will stick around if it doesn't really hit the mark. Luckily Ratti knows what he is doing, and the light, lazy acoustic plucking meanderingly forms into something substantial. His background as an architect might well be the key here. Both the patience that the profession requires - where completed forms take years and not the hours or days that musicians often work in - and the bigger sense of vision have certainly helped his music. Indeed, he explicitly links the two pursuits, claiming that he aims to do with music what he has done with architecture - turn it into a territory in itself. While the point is certainly abstruse, it makes sense of his music, and gives structure and weight to each soft note of the piano or guitar as they appear.
The album works best as a solid whole, such is the interconnectedness both of the theme and the sound with it. But there are stand-out moments. The delicate Voluta Musica, where an organ sighs quietly beneath vocals that barely register, is almost effortless, while the brooding Coconut sees a subdued, low-key guitar refrain lifted by whispery, meditative vocals. Ratti's delicate approach does at times scream out for something more powerful - a change of pace or a move away from quiet reflection - but this doesn't really seem to suit him. But few could listen to this album and deny that in its own tender, finespun way, there is definitely something about it.
- The Milk Factory
Recently it seems that experimental Italian musicians are enjoying something of a renaissance; Giuseppe Ielasi, Fabio Orsi, and Emanuele Errante have all enjoyed recent successes, with well received, critically at least, albums. Now it's the turn of Nicola Ratti to be added to that list, who follows on from Bellows, his 2007 collaboration with Ielasi, with From the Desert Came Saltwater, an album of 6 compositions that will offer fans of the experimental genre another high quality recording to indulge in. While experimental may be a vague umbrella to place artists under, Ratti's work could cover so many genres that it is almost impossible to be specific. His work here exhibits elements of folk, electronica, minimal, ambient, and modern classical, but none of it is in a conventional form.
From the Desert Came Saltwater begins with some ambient drones, layered over each over to create a rich texture until it is broken by a chiming guitar that shimmers brightly at first, before becoming understated as a light piano melody slowly begins to crackle, becoming the main feature and melody of "Cartographic Acrobat". Following on is the guitar heavy "Above", which is reminiscent of a more understated Do Make Say Think circa Goodbye Enemy Airship the Landlord Is Dead; dark, blues-tinged guitars and random beats of percussion fill the track.
This understated nature runs the length of the album, so much so that even the vocals are hidden deep beneath the multiple layers. On "Voluta Musica" they are practically inaudible, acting as more as a murmuring bassline than a distinct melody, while on "Beneath" they duel with the building guitar riff, flittering back and forth and teasing the listener for attention.
Every track has a knack of finding hidden depths within the music, seemingly exploring spaces that exist behind the initial listen. In the Chuck Palahniuk novel Rant, there is an anecdote about the main characters mother and her food preparation. So sick of everyone just eating the food she's made without actually tasting it, she begins to place objects within each meal that would be painful to eat; nails, bolts, teeth, coins etc. The point being, that to eat the food, each mouthful would have to be chewed carefully, forcing the eater to actually taste and thus appreciate the food, and Nicola Ratti offers up the musical equivalent to this with From the Desert Came Saltwater. The music is so slow and deliberate at times that you find yourself straining to hear every single layer, with each new melody and sound appreciated to a much greater extent.
From the Desert Came Saltwater is not an album that you can love instantly. Like all music of this ilk, it takes time and demands attention, and to appreciate it fully you must obey its wishes, otherwise the music will merely wash over you, becoming nothing more than background noise. Each listen unveils another layer, another timbre, showcasing Ratti's skill at developing sound and, for those equipped with a bit of patience, adding his name to the newest Italian renaissance. - Silent Ballet