Alessandra Novaga, Kid Millions
There’s little question that the last five or so years has radically changed what we understand to be possible in terms of communication and collaboration. Between technological leaps and adaptations to the circumstances of the global pandemic, it is no longer regarded as necessary or expected that two or more creative partners would necessarily occupy the same space or time. Consequently, remarkable albums that would otherwise never have been - due to the great distances that separate their creators - have become almost the expected norm. Such is the case of the Milan based imprint Long Song’s latest, “Sinopia”, a brilliant conceptual duo LP created across the divide between Italy and the United States by Alessandra Novaga and Kid Millions. Interweaving Novaga’s searing improvisations on guitar and Millions’ singular approach to percussion into an immersive tapestry of tone and polyrhythms, it represents a high water mark in both artists’ respective careers, and stands among the most unexpected and striking records we’ve heard this year.
Alessandra Novaga is among the leading figures within northern Italy’s thriving new, experimental, and improvised music scene, consistently rendering striking solo efforts for imprints like Die Schachtel, Blume Editions, Setola di Maiale, and Coherent States - as well embarking upon equally noteworthy collaborations with Loren Connors, Stefano Pilia, Elliott Sharp, Nicola Ratti, Paula Matthusen, Sandro Mussida, Travis Just, Francesco Gagliardi, and others. Remarkably ambitious and forward thinking, her approach to the guitar - slowly emerging over the better part of the last decade - veers from the trajectories of visceral emotiveness and textural extended techniques that have held sway over the instrument applications within avant-garde contexts over the last half century, encountering her relentlessly deconstructing and rethinking its unique properties through applications of structure, resonance, space, and tone.
Kid Millions (the moniker of drummer John Colpitts), on the other hand, has followed a very different path. While experimental music has always been a strong touchstone in his practice, leading to stable collaborations with Jim Sauter, Sarah Bernstein, Daniel Carter, and others, he is arguably best known as the driving rhythmic force behind the NY based genre defying project Oneida, as well as for his percussion project Man Forever.
Novaga and Millions/Colpitts met in 2015 at a residency in Tuscany and immediate felt a deep kinship on personal and creative terms. For Colpitts, Novaga’s guitar syntax had no boundaries. Her playing coiled and attacked powerfully all while she left surprising, compelling silences, to which the drummer found himself responding with restraint and nuance that pushed him toward new and surprising territories. While they lost touch for a time following their work together on the residency, Colpitts reached out after reading an interview with Novaga, conducted by Alan Licht in 2021. Falling into a quick momentum, over the next few months the two musicians composed the six pieces that make up “Sinopia”.
A sinopia is a preparatory wall drawing used to guide the painter of a fresco. A few minutes from Novaga’s apartment, is Milan’s San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore, one of the oldest churches in the city and home to the Hall of the Nuns frescos. Recently restored, in places where the paint is, the sinopias appear as ghostly previews of the work on the walls. As her and Colpitts’ collaboration began to progress, she couldn’t shake the metaphor, and conceived of it as a conceptual current for their work, which began with six sinopias.
Working at a distance from New York and Milan, and at different times than the other, rather than through in-person, extemporaneous improvisations, Novaga and Colpitts recorded performances or sinopies, on which the other completed each work’s final form. The outcome is a marvel of percussion and tone, ranging from “Sinopia #1”’s inexorable drum battery that’s engulfed by a droning wave of sound, generated by Novaga’s guitar, to “Sinopia #6”'s pinball machine-esque percussion, that’s threaded by Novaga’s Walkman feedback, with the totality of the album moving passages of found sound, silence, chaos and flurried energy, as two virtuosic players dance among the other’s interventions and ideas.
A creatively stunning and engrossing meeting of two remarkable players meeting on record for the first time, Alessandra Novaga and Kid Millions’ “Sinopia” is a remarkable proof of the power and potential of experiential music in the contemporary field, marking a high-point in both artist’s careers.
Issued on vinyl by Long Song, with specially commissioned artwork by the award-winning designer, Dan Schechter, that interprets the layering concept of sinopia and highlights the veneers beneath a crumbling fresco, the beauty of the object matches the sounds within.