“Olivier Alary and Berlin-based composer Johannes Malfatti join forces on their collaborative album ‘u,i ’ which marks Alary´s sophomore album for 130701, following his ‘Fiction / Non-Fiction’ debut of 2017. ‘u,i’ is a brilliant exploration of mediated modern communication. ‘u, i’ was recorded over VOIP (voice over internet protocol), using the technology as both creative tool and conceptual frame. Its lower-case, two-letter title nods toward the ultra-reductive modern slang of SMS and a paring down of subjectivity to basics: you and I; the self and the other – with the comma asserting the gap in a kind of remote intimacy.
As the pair increasingly used VOIP through the years, the musical potential of these recordings and the concept behind ‘u,i’ began to emerge. Spending more time together online than in the same physical space, they noticed their personal experience was widely shared. With contemporary lives increasingly atomised, social interaction is becoming more and more mediated. Meanwhile, an explosion of personal video feeds has given us access to millions of intimate lives online, a raw and fragile glimpse on human existence. This new paradigm gave Olivier and Johannes the idea that it might be possible to build the narrative of a whole life via disconnected fragments posted online.”
Sometimes you read the notes provided by a label and a formulation of what the release might sound like starts building in your mind. And then you hear the album and are taken somewhat aback. The notes, which let’s face it are better than what I could come up with give references to artists like William Basinski, Oval, Fennesz, The Caretaker and others. I can see why some of these names are offered up as comparison, but what I wasn’t expecting something so rich and raw with emotions. The emotions partially is tied to the music, but for the most part it comes from the dialogue sourced from the internet, which at times can be a little harrowing.
Other than Alary and Malfatti the album features contributions from Kristina Koropecki (Cello), John Corban (Violin), Erik Hove (Flute, Clarinet), Daniel Beilschmidt (Organ), Hyunjung Ko (Voice) and Julián Alary García (Voice). Both artists have been collaborating with each other for the past twenty years, some of which has been film projects, which when you look at the album as a whole it makes total sense. Musically the pieces straddle the definitions of Modern Classical, Ambient and Hauntology, but have a real narrative like feel. The Hauntilogical aspect is both seen through the melancholic nature of the pieces as much as the electronic glitchy treatments and the rawness of the dialogue the duo has captured.
At times unsettling, at others like a weird art piece, “u,i” is an album that is constantly surprising the listener. Take “사랑 해 (aka “I Love You”)” which evolves from ominous beginnings of darker synth drones and German robotic sounding dialogue and ends up going into a fully epic place of churning mechanical sounds and clashing layers of sweeping melodies, resulting in a ‘can’t put a finger on this’ moment. In some ways the album is about human connections and how despite being in a situation where we may be in lock down, we can still be in contact with other people rather easily. But in other ways and this is largely because of the dialogue and the feelings that it conveys, there is a strong sense of even though we can communicate with others there is still a a real feeling of isolation which is felt by some of the negative sounding recordings.
An interesting quality of the music is how it interacts with the dialogue which, makes you question what came first and what aspect influenced the other. It is also about the methods of the compositions and the recordings and how they came about being dictated by the VOIP method of working the duo used. According to Alary “The first recordings we made were so unrecognizable from the original sources that they seemed to spontaneously emerge from the void. Even instantly recognizable sounds such as piano, voice or organ had lost all original characteristics”. Not only is this important in preserving some anonymity to the source material, but it has a lasting effect on how the material sounds.
With “u,i” you are constantly on a journey that repeated listening’s will lead you down a path you hadn’t seen before. It is not a straight forward work, but it is not to obtuse for it it to lose any of it’s charms. “u.i” is released Digitally on September 25 and on Vinyl (limited to 300 copies) on November 27. Go on, go exploring.