Francesco Covarino – “Luce / Mantello” [wabi-sabi tapes, 2021]

Francesco Covarino
Luce / Mantello
[wabi-sabi tapes, 2021]

Field recordings capture a specific time and a place. The sounds of a recording define an entire field of symbols and markers that delineate a precise event within our world. The sound of a particular birdsong native to a region or the city streets in different continents define the specific markers of that location for the listener; we hear the mockingbird, the Citroen, not arbitrary sounds and timbres. And more, we hear the mockingbird flying overhead specifically, the Citroen slowing and passing down the road; we hear each sound as an object and action with causes, effects, contingencies, histories; as a part of the entire complex network of activity within our world.

In Luce / Mantello, Francesco Covarino presents a percussion and field-recording based work on wabi-sabi tapes that is both sparse and complex, engaging the listener in navigating between conceptual layers with minimal tools and playing with our fundamental perception of object, action, and the external world. There is a rawness and immediacy here that bears close and repeated listening.

In the opening track, Luce I, the sound of birdsong and the organic buzz of a rural location outside the artist’s home permeates the stereo field alongside the quiet rustling of metal objects against a hard surface, establishing a disciplined palette within which action takes place. And in these first moments, on a close listen, I found that I was guided into reorienting my mode of engaging with these raw sounds. At first I formed a contrast (even opposition) between the ‘natural’ and organic activity of birdsong and the ‘unnatural’ and artist-imposed percussive elements. I initially was split by this difference between the flow of the natural world and man’s imposition upon it. But as my ear settled into hearing the subtle timbral changes in both, a sort of synthesis between the two sound worlds occurred; a kind of leveling between the two layers, each reduced to their shared and fundamental frequencies, noise, rhythms, and timbres. Between the two disparate sound fields of the natural world and the artist’s percussive hand, a correspondence and counterpoint begins to take shape.

The series of Mantello I and II begins with the close sound of something like footsteps through rough material set against the far-off sound of dogs and the faint call of the mourning dove. The metallic sounds of the first track are contrasted here by a dry snare and floor drum; a deeper, more earthy sound that develops the role of percussive objects while continuing to find subtle correspondences in the field recordings. The scattered, responsive rhythms of the drum mirror the topographies of the field recordings, presenting an accompaniment that draws out and develops detail through patterns of abstracted call and response, and reflexive kinesthetic movements across the drumhead. In the closing piece, Luce II, Covarino returns to the active external world of birdsong; but here, the initial metallic layers are complemented by the floor tom, stick work, and disengaged snare that flowed through the middle pieces, creating an interplay between formal and sonic elements that stimulates imaginative listening into difference, repetition, and variation.

There are no electro-acoustic tricks or special effects here; the percussion is simply and phenomenally recorded with actions taking place across the stereo field such that one can imagine being ‘behind the kit’. But the percussion is situated perfectly against the backdrop of environmental recordings such that it sounds both ‘inside’ the recorded environment and ‘outside’ and in contrast to it. I found that projecting oneself into the sound world of Luce/Mantello is a complicated affair; the dry-recorded percussion does not have added reverberation or the obvious sound profile of a room associated with it, no clues for the listener to situate themselves. The field recordings, on the other hand, situate the listener in a very specific time and place. And this difference between the two roles of sound, to my ear, stimulates a phasing between conceptual layers in the mode of listening. The listener projects themselves simultaneously–and incongruously–into the specific embodied world of the field recording and the spatially alienated world of the percussion. There is a tension between the two; a friction that forces the listener to resolve this incongruence in the activity of listening to the work.

And at its core, for me, this release mediates a fundamental tension between human action and the natural world. By capturing and re-contextualizing the layers of action–in the cosmic scale of the natural environment (birdsong; dogs barking); in the manifestation of humanity’s relation to the world (a car passing; footsteps through gravel or snow; the distant sound of children playing); and in the close, focused, interpretive action of the artist striking a surface, Covarino opens up a moment where we can renegotiate our relationship to the world. The sounds of the everyday enmesh with the sounds of the artist’s movement. Our own footsteps sound like percussion playing patterns on the world.

Luce / Mantello was released on wabi-sabi tapes on January 22, 2021 in an edition of 50. Artwork by Yann Rambaud.

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