The field of contemporary electronic and electroacoustic music is a fascinating and dense realm, filled with remarkable composers endlessly pushing their tools and ideas toward new creative unknown. Unlike the golden era of this music, when it emerged during the decades following the Second World War as a vital force in sonic landscape, but was slightly rarefied by the limitations of access to those working in institutions like GRM, EMS, San Francisco Tape Music Center, and the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, leaps in technology and relative affordability have placed these forms experimentalism in the hands of the many. As remarkable as it is, this can make it hard to manage the vast amount of material that has been produced and released in any given period, and subsequently leave artists working slightly off the beaten path in the shadows. One such case is the Italian composer and electronic musician Angelo Petronella. Working at a quiet and steady pace, until now he’s only released two full lengths, 2006’s “Sintesi da un Diario” and 2010’s “Rimandi e Scoperte”, both issued by Die Schachtel to great critical acclaim. Now, after nearly a decade and half, we’re treated to an unprecedented immersion in Petronella’s singular universe of electroacoustic practice with “Habitat”, a stunning 5CD box set comprising a towering 27 tracks composed between 1981 and 2022. Tense and captivating, as it evolves over more than three decades of output, combined with a fantastic booklet with insights penned by Petronella himself and an insert with color photograph “Rosso” (a suggestive image of one of his sound installations), it’s one of the most unexpected and engrossing bodies of electronic work we’ve heard in some time. Absolutely essential for any fan of the outer limits of the electronic and electroacoustic realm.
Born in 1952, Angelo Petronella began his musical career studying percussion and subsequently piano and composition with teachers of the Academy of Music in Perugia. Later he studied electronic music at the same Academy. Following a move to Milan, he attended courses in computer music at the Computer Science Department of the Polytechnic and took the diploma in Electronic Music. Over the years since, he as sought extensively in the field of electronic and acousmatic music, offering particular focus to the relationship between space and sound, as well as composing and performing a vast body of electronic and electroacoustic work, as well as creating numerous sound installations. “Habitat” the five CD collection comprising 27 tracks composed between 1981 and 2022, is only his third release.
Petronella states of “Habitat” that: “The tracks in this collection represent a synthesis of a significant part of the environment in which I have lived - sound environment, made up mostly of temporality, but also spatiality. I was inspired by both concrete and studio generated electronic sounds. I made targeted recordings of concrete material and intervened with numerous modifications, both on this and electronic material. The result was a quantity of sounds (which I prefer to call sound microforms) that I combined in stereophonic space.” In effect, as these precesses unfold across the collection’s 27 tracks, beginning with 1981’s “Chitarra Eettrica - Parte 1” and sprawling across the decades before concluding with 2022’s “Esplorando un Generatore di Suono”, we are immersed in what amounts to Petronella’s entirely singular notion of sonic space; a sonorous environment in multiple phases to be occupied by the mind and ear.
As Keith Fullerton Whitman previously stated about Petronella’s work, there are direct connections between the composer’s work and the 1970s INA-GRM-grm sound world, especially the “the big three, François Bayle’s mutating upper-register textures, Luc Ferrari’s distant field-events, and Bernard Parmegiani’s metallic drones”, but every step of the way Petronella manages to infuse his work with the depth that is renowned in those reference points, while creating something new, individual, and entirely contemporary. From the earliest works gathered by the collection to the most recent, with increasing sensitivity, the composer yields a minimalist sensibility to his manipulation and reworking of concrete sounds and processing, drawing out microscopic detail from brisling textures and freeform structures applied to captured tonalities.
Perhaps most fascinatingly, rather than the vast scope of the material risking to overwhelm, the assembly and progressing of “Habitat” seems to double back and loop, with each piece informing what has been heard and will be heard, and through its strong sense of abstraction inform a means to reconsider environments and natural world through largely synthetic means.
Absolutely immersive, engrossing, and creatively demanding from its first sounding to the last, Angelo Petronella’s “Habitat” is a joy in listening that places this sinfully under-regarded composer at the centre of our consciousness as a remarkably important figure in the contemporary field of musique concrète, and electronic and electroacoustic music. An absolute must that can’t be missed by any fan of the many incredible realms of experimental electronic unfolding today.