Along with the likes of Franco Battiato, Opus Avantra and Piccho dal Pozzo, Pierrot Lunaire were one of the artists that contributed to the small, but artistically significant, avant progressive scene of Italy in the mid-70s. Taking their name from an Arnold Schoenberg opera, the band certainly shared the composer's affinity for new and innovative approaches to music. Still, over the course of their two albums, Pierrot Lunaire draw from a broad set of influences as diverse as Faust, PFM and Debussy for their eclectic, unpredictable sound.
The band is centered around the compositional talents of classically trained pianist Arturo Stalteri. Pierrot Lunaire seems to be his first major project upon his graduation from the Conservatory of L'Aquila, and in retrospect his mid-70s venture into progressive rock seems to be only the first step in a career fascination with post-modernism and 20th century musical ideas. After 1976's experimental progressive rock masterpiece, Gudrun, he embarked on a solo career which extends to the present day. Of interest to the progressive rock listener is his first solo work, the excellent Andre Sulla Luna, which is somewhat a continuation of the Pierrot Lunaire sound, as well as perhaps the reworkings he has done over the years of work by artists such as Phillip Glass and Brian Eno. In any case, Pierrot Lunaire's two albums still stand as ingenious testaments to what the spirit of progressive rock could really have been about, and are a must for adventurous listeners. - Greg Northrup [January 2002]
Damn. Well, where the hell do I begin? It's hard enough to even describe the album, much less illustrate what I find so intriguing and downright resonant about it. Sure, those of you familiar with other so-called "avant-Italian" artists like Franco Battiato and Picchio dal Pozzo will have a good head start, but comparisons ultimately fall way short. To put it simply, this is one of coolest, most original, exciting and eclectic albums I've ever heard. Mixing everything from symphonic progressive, avant-garde, jazz, minimalism, baroque classical, embryonic electronica and even opera into a fully cohesive, impeccably structured work might seem like a daunting task, but Arturo Stalteri and Pierrot Lunaire have done it with apparent ease. They've made something work which is nearly impossible to describe in words, and that means something.
The band jumps from style to style with an impossible grace, segueing, contrasting and even colliding segments, themes and genres. The effect is like that of a dream, a journey through some vast sound collage with endless depth and ingenuity around every corner. The only way to take this is step by step. Indulge me. The album opens with alien flute and harpsichord melodies of the title track. Already there is a surreality about the goings-on. A child's voice talks in Italian over campy synthesizer melodies. Boisterous female operatic vocals suddenly emerge along with melodic piano runs and distorted guitar stabs. Further and further the listener is dragged, strange sounds burst out from nothingness, the vocals continue meaninglessly, "...waves crashing on the seashore...", "...a stranger cries...", "...wandering, rushing into the earth...". In fact, the entire album is almost like some free association exercise put to music. At some point, who knows where, the delicate solo piano, almost jazzy, but not quite, of "Dietro dil Silenzio" becomes comes to the fore. Then it's cars, buses, and street sounds leading up to what is among the album's most purely beautiful moments in "Plaisir d'amour", a flailing, distorted, flanged-out electronic motif provides a melodic basis for a crystalline female vocal line that sounds almost familiar, but impossible to place. Eerily beautiful. Before long, one is subsumed by the active, offbeat synthesizer melodies of "Sonde di Profondità", a tape clicks, then a radio playing some kind of Italian pop music is interrupted by an emergency broadcast. "Attenzione! Attenzione!"... one is at once alarmed, then the next moment soothed, as the official's voice fades beyond a soundscape of surreal synthesizers and guitars. "Morella" may be the most cathartic and haunting moment on the album; a sublime, descending piano melody backs a heart wrenching operatic vocal. "Mein in Armen Italiener" closes things out, another varied piece that moves from progressive rock bombast to folk music in a series of false endings before finally concluding.
Anyway, pardon the rave, but Gudrun has become one of my all time favorite albums in recent months, and easily within my top five or so Italian albums. However, typical Italian prog this is not, but maybe that's what's so damn invigorating about this album. It is totally unique, unequivocally inventive and endlessly startling in its sheer capacity for pleasant surprises. A work that effortlessly blows the doors off boundaries and genre, Gudrun is one of those masterpieces where only one classification seems appropriate: extraordinary music. - Greg Northrup [January 2002]
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Monday, February 12, 2007