Mike Patton / Luciano Berio (Collaboration with the Ictus Ensemble) Laborintus II (Ipecac Records)
With Mike Patton’s new album he set out, along with Luciano Berio, to pay tribute to Italian composer Luciano Berio. As Colin McCracken found out it’s a difficult listen but one that, if you put the work in, is ultimately rewarding.
As far as concepts go, Laborintus II is pretty out there for even Mike Patton. The Communist Italian poet Edoardo Sanguineti was responsible for a great deal of the Italian translations of works by James Joyce and MoliÃÂ¨re and also happened to be a scholar who specialised in the legacy of Dante (Durante degli Alighieri: 1265-1321). In 1956 he published his first collected edition of poetry entitled ”ËLaborintus’; which alluded greatly not only to Dante’s work but also to the political and social turmoil which Europe was in at the time.
In the run up to 1965, several radio stations commissioned Avant-garde composer Luciano Berio to construct a piece to pay tribute to Dante upon what would be the 700th anniversary of his birth. Berio had been living and teaching in California during this period and the experimental nature of the early sixties musical culture certainly seemed to encourage him to both expand and develop his subject matter. His friendship with Sanguineti proved a worthwhile one, as the two set about creating the hybrid of poetry, opera, classical, jazz and conceptual soundscapes which would become Laborintus II.
The original Laborintus II utilised three female vocal soloists, a mixed choir, a narrator and an ensemble jazz group. The piece was about 35 minutes long and consisted of two parts. As well as heavily modifying the poetry of Sanguineti, Berio also used excerpts from Dante (Divina Comedia and Vita Nuevain particular) The Bible, T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound. The results were a hysterical, frightening myriad of sounds which became incredibly well regarded and highly respected in certain musical circles.
This is where Mike Patton comes into the equation. A fluent Italian speaker, he has already paid tribute to the world of Italian composers on 2010’s remarkable ”ËMondo Cane’ and 2008’s A Perfect Place’. With Laborintus II, however, we are on far more unfamiliar ground than the aforementioned releases and Patton has absolutely no intention of guiding us gently through it. His version was first performed in the Netherlands in 2010 and is now available as a studio recording.
For those expecting the vocal dexterity and experimentation present on previous Mike Patton solo albums such as ”ËAdult Themes for Voice’ (1996) or ”ËPranzo Oltranzista’ (1997), I am afraid to tell you that this is a very different kind of record. Patton accompanies us through the insanity in the guise of a medieval orator, narrating in his baritone Italian, adding to the eerie and unsettling nature of the overall piece.
This interpretation of Berio’s masterwork is split into three sections and was performed with Belgian group the Ictus Ensemble. It is by no means an easy listen. It may even be infuriating to some, but don’t be too hasty to dismiss it. Once a certain degree of contextualisation is made, there is much to discover. Despite the short running time (just over half an hour), more occurs within that period than in many 70 minute albums. There are multitudes of layers of sound here which are seemingly conflictive and at odds with each other. Yet, when it is examined in greater depth, hidden beauties reveal themselves and the obscurity begins to make sense.
It is best to cast aside any preconceptions you may have of Patton as a vocalist for this album as they are incidental. What really shines through here are the talents of Patton as an arranger and as a highly gifted conceptual musician.