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Best of 2021
01_Motore_Immobile
02_Ananta
File under: MinimalEcstatic

Alan Licht's minimal top ten

Alan Licht's revelatory lists of rare and obscure minimalism releases.

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Best of 2021

Giusto Pio

Motore Immobile (Lp)

Label: Soave

Format: LP

Genre: Experimental

In stock

€22.90
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To quote Pitchfork, this is 'one of the most sumptuous, spiritual ambient albums of any era or provenance.

** 2021 small repress** One of the most striking documents of Italy’s Minimalist movement, Giusto Pio’s Motore Immobile is a masterwork with few equivalents. Produced by Franco Battiato, at the outset of a long and fruitful period of collaboration between the two composers, and issued by the legendary Cramps imprint in 1979, its triumphs were met by silence, before falling from view.

Emerging on vinyl for the first time since it’s original pressing, Motore Immobile now sits within a reappraisal of a large neglected body of efforts made by the Italian avant-garde during the second half of the 1970’s and early 80’s. It is singular, but not alone. It resonates within a collective world of shimmering sound, one familiar to fans of Battiato, Lino Capra Vaccina, Luciano Cilio, Roberto Cacciapaglia, Francesco Messina and Raul Lovisoni. An exercise in elegant restraint - note and resonance held to the most implicit need. Where everything between root and embellishment has been stripped away. A sublime organ drone, against interventions of deceptively simple structural complexity - executed by Piano, Violin, and Voice. A sonic sculpture reaching heights which few have touched. A thing of beauty and an album as perfect as they come.
The reemergence of Motore Immobile heralds what is unquestionably one of the most important reissues of the year.
detail

"Somewhere along the way, working on hint and clue, Giusto Pio’s Motore Immobile came back into view. This artifact - formerly lost to time, has sent countless collectors anxiously scrambling through the bins. Luck was few and far between. Initially issued by the legendary Cramps imprint in 1979, the album has remained among the most unobtainable, sought after, and cherished releases, among the label’s astounding output. Emerging for the first time on vinyl since its original pressing, it’s a day for sighs of relief.  

Giusto Pio, like many in his generation of Italian musicians and composers, was restless. Trained as a classical violinist, he began his career in the orchestras of Milan, but didn’t remain long. During the late 70’s, at the encouragement of his student Franco Battiato, he delved into the world of the avant-garde. Over the following decades, Pio and Battiato formed a close collaborative relationship - chasing each other across genre and time. As Battiato entered the world of Pop music during the early 80’s  - emerging as an unlikely star, Pio was behind many of his hits, sometimes flirting with equal fame. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of their most productive years - those in the spotlight, was the obscuring and loss of their most important works - the albums which first grew from the joining of their minds. As Battiato’s remarkable catalog on Ricordi and Bla Bla drifted from view, so too did Pio’s Motore Immobile.


While a towering artifact from Italy’s astounding Minimalist movement, and among the first great collaborations between Pio and Battiato, in hindsight, Motore Immobile is a symbolic death knell - a signalling of the end. It is among the last explicitly avant-garde efforts on which either would work. Change was in the wind, pushing the past from view. For decades, its obscurity has remained a haunting tragedy among fans - needling consciences - echoing from the depths - longing to be heard. While careers rose and fell, hiding in the shadows, was one of the most striking and singular masterworks of Minimalism ever composed.
detail
Motore Immobile is an exercise in elegant restraint - note and resonance held to their most implicit need. Ringing with subtly and depth - everything between root and embellishment stripped away. A sublime organ drone, penetrated by deceptively simple structural complexity - quite interventions of Piano, Violin, and Voice. A sonic sculpture reaching heights which few have touched. A thing of beauty - as perfect as they come -  singular, but not alone.

The reemergence of Motore Immobile sits within an important reappraisal of a large neglected body of efforts made by the Italian avant-garde during the second half of the 1970’s and the 80’s. This incredibly diverse movement, though among the most important of its century, was rarely heard beyond that country’s borders, and only acknowledged by a few within. Of its most striking output, Motore Immobile is among the most important to have remained hidden from view. It now joins its rightful place - resonating within a collective world of shimmering sound, one familiar to fans of Battiato, Lino Capra Vaccina, Luciano Cilio, Roberto Cacciapaglia, Francesco Messina and Raul Lovisoni.  Its reissue heralds what is unquestionably one of the most important moments of the year." Bradford Bailey

detail

Details
File under: MinimalEcstatic
Cat. number: Soave001
Year: 2021
A sublime organ drone, penetrated by deceptively simple structural complexity – quiet interventions of Piano, Violin, and Voice. A sonic sculpture reaching heights which few have touched. A thing of beauty – as perfect as they come – singular, but not alone. | Read more

Somewhere along the way, working on hint and clue, Giusto Pio’s Motore Immobile came back into view. Many encountered it for the first time when it appeared in the third installment of Alan Licht’s iconic Minimalist lists – published in 2007 by Volcanic Tongue (the first two had been published years before by Halana), but I was already hunting by then. Ever elusive, it remained my great holy grail – the number one – a hiding ghost. I wasn’t alone. Initially issued by the legendary Cramps imprint in 1979, for those aware of it, the album is among the most unobtainable, sought after, and cherished releases of the label’s astounding output – the crown jewel of the Italian Minimalist avant-garde.  For years Motore Immobile haunted my dreams – a taunting gap. I longed and waited. At one point I even blindly emailed Fabio from Die Schachtel – begging him to reissue it. I was desperate and couldn’t think of anyone else that would.  Time passed. The longing increased – met by silence.

While landscape for reissues ballooned, it seemed that no one was interested in my lost dream. Then one day, not so long ago, Fabio emailed – we’d been corresponding regularly for some time. He had news. A new imprint called Soave was reissuing Motore Immobile. My head swam. My heart skipped. He went on – asking if I’d be willing to contribute a short text for the liner notes. Before me lay one of the greatest honors of my short career – to pay tribute to my beloved holy grail – to take part in its reemergence – to sing its praises from within.  I first drew attention to Motore Immobile in my piece The Obscure Brilliance of Italian Minimalism (In Nine Albums) – an homage to that remarkable movement, through some of its greatest artifacts. Of the albums I featured, it was the only one I didn’t own – making the effort slightly bittersweet – picking at an already open wound. It couldn’t be skipped.  Italian Minimalism was unique – yielding untold depths, in very interesting ways. Beginning later than most of its international counterparts, it was often more restrained, while adding structural and tonal complexity. It took on more with less. While the majority of the broader movement’s practitioners stemmed almost exclusively from the Classical Music world, members of the Italian school came from a diverse number of backgrounds – particularly from rock.  The first wave of Minimalism was more reactionary than most remember. It’s popularity was such, that we often forget it’s Classical Music – intuitively regarding it as unique kind of avant-garde Pop.

This isn’t an accident. Its origins sprang from a rejection of the 20th Century’s two previous dominant forms – Serialism, and the music of Chance and Indeterminacy which grew from the ideas of John Cage. Both were known for their slim popular appeal – often sending audiences running – interpreting what they heard as inaccessible, elitist, and opaque. Minimalism took another path. Through the use of pure intervals of perfect thirds and fifths, and in some cases just-intonation, its first composers – Reich, Riley, Young, Glass, embraced structures which where more appealing to the ear  – creating an often ecstatic and spiritually infused Classical Music – one accessible to all. Though it began within the avant-garde, as it progressed, it consciously built bridges between formal composition, the blossoming psychedelic underground, and broad public appeal.  Because many Italian Minimalist composers had previously worked within more popular forms of music, their objectives and hopes for their creations were very different. Their movement swam against the prevailing tide. It was less single minded, drew on more diverse influences, and was generally more radical, challenging, counter-cultural, and explicitly avant-garde. Rather than Classical Music, it could be understood as an extreme realization of the momentum begun by bands like Soft Machine, Gong, The Third Ear Band, and a number of Krautrock pioneers, who, believing in their audiences’ potential and abilities, pushed their sounds to new challenging heights. Italian Minimalism often embraced the very optimism at the heart of what their American counterparts where reacting against. Though making equally valuable contributions, and similar in many ways, the two movements where shifting in opposite directions – one toward Pop and the other away – two ships passing in the dark.  Giusto Pio, like many in his generation of Italian musicians and composers, was restless. He was also one of the few prominent Minimalists, whose origins trace to  the Classical Music world. Trained as a violinist, he began his career in the orchestras of Milan, but didn’t remain long. During the late 70’s, at the encouragement of his student Franco Battiato, he delved into the world of the avant-garde. Over the following decades, Pio and Battiato formed a close collaborative relationship – chasing each other across genre and time.

As Battiato reentered the world of Pop music during the early 80’s  – emerging as an unlikely star, Pio was behind many of his hits, sometimes flirting with equal fame. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of their most productive years – those in the spotlight, was the obscuring and loss of their most important works – the albums which first grew from the joining of their minds. As Battiato’s remarkable catalog on Ricordi and Bla Bla drifted from view, so too did Pio’s Motore Immobile.  While a towering artifact from Italy’s astounding Minimalist movement, and among the first great collaborations between Pio and Battiato, in hindsight, Motore Immobile is a symbolic death knell – a signalling of the end. It appeared at the end of a string of Minimalist masterpieces by Battiato (Clic, M.elle Le “Gladiator, Franco Battiato, Juke Box, L’Egitto Prima Delle Sabbie), and is among the last explicitly avant-garde efforts on which either would work. Change was in the wind, pushing the past from view. For decades, its obscurity has remained a haunting tragedy among fans – needling consciences – echoing from the depths – longing to be heard. While careers rose and fell, hiding in the shadows was one of the most striking and singular masterworks of Minimalism ever composed.  Motore Immobile is an exercise in elegant restraint – note and resonance held to their most implicit need. Ringing with subtly and depth – everything between root and embellishment stripped away. A sublime organ drone, penetrated by deceptively simple structural complexity – quiet interventions of Piano, Violin, and Voice. A sonic sculpture reaching heights which few have touched. A thing of beauty – as perfect as they come –  singular, but not alone.  The reemergence of Motore Immobile sits within an important reappraisal of a large, neglected body of efforts made by the Italian avant-garde during the second half of the 1970’s and the 80’s. This incredibly diverse movement, though among the most important of its century, was rarely heard beyond that country’s borders, and only acknowledged by a few within. Of its most striking results, Motore Immobile is among the most important to have remained hidden from view. It now joins its rightful place – resonating within a collective world of shimmering sound, one familiar to fans of Battiato, Lino Capra Vaccina, Luciano Cilio, Roberto Cacciapaglia, Francesco Messina and Raul Lovisoni. Its reissue heralds what is unquestionably one of the most important moments of the year. Emerging for the first time on vinyl since its original pressing, it’s a day for sighs of relief (not the least of which is my own). I can’t thank Soave enough for finally bringing it back, and asking me to play a small role.  Despite all my joy, a sad note hangs in the air. One of the great byproducts of the current landscape of vinyl reissues, is the long overdue attention gained by remarkable and neglected artists. It’s something I was very excited to see offered to Giusto Pio. Few deserve it more. Sadly, just under a week ago – on February 12th, the composer passed away at the age of 91. He had a good run, but fate has robbed him of the ability to witness the celebration of his lost masterpiece. May he live on in its depths. May his name reach the heights that it should.

I can’t recommend it enough.  - Bradford Bailey

What is the difference between American and Italian minimalism? A preeminent example of the latter is this 1979 record, one of the most sumptuous, spiritual ambient albums of any era or provenance. | Read more

Italian progressive rock icon and all-around renaissance man Franco Battiato once sought out violinist Giusto Pio for violin lessons. A member of Orchestra Sinfonica Di Milano Della RAI, Pio assisted Battiato as his sound was undergoing a furious metamorphosis, from the prog rock of his earliest albums to a more minimalist sound of the late ’70s (in this regard, Battiato is Italy’s Brian Eno). Soon after, the duo would pivot towards pop song, with some of Battiato’s early ’80s albums selling over a million copies, which led to the two collaborating on a Eurovision hit by 1984.

In 1979, the same year Battiato made L'Era Del Cinghiale Bianco (with Pio handling arrangements), Battiato also produced Pio’s first solo album, Motore Immobile, two diametrically opposed efforts that showcased the duo’s musical range. And while the former marked the tandem’s first foray into pop, the latter stands as one of the towering beacons of Italian minimalism and one of the most sumptuous ambient albums of any era. Recently, there’s been a greater appreciation for that era in Italian music with the Milanese label Die Schachtel reissuing stark classics like Luciano Cilio’s Dell’Universo Assente and Raul Lovisonni and Franceso Messina’s Prati baganati del Monte Analogo. But Pio’s debut has long been unobtainable. Originally released on the revered Cramps Records label (home to operatic progressives like Area and Demetrio Stratos as well as albums by American composers like John Cage and Robert Ashley), Motore Immobile has been near impossible to track down since its release. And with Pio’s recent passing earlier this year, it’s a fitting tribute to the man to have his greatest work see reissue now courtesy of the newcomer Soave label.

Motore Immobile is one of Italian minimalism’s most beatific iterations, with an approach that brings to mind Italian cuisine, meaning a concentration on a handful of quality ingredients so as to reveal the profundities contained within such simple material. Though with food it’s to reveal the essence of the earth; with this music, it’s to experience something more celestial. The first side of the album features the seventeen-minute title track, wherein Pio explores the sonorities to be had in two church organs, a hum originating from the soft palette of vocalist Martin Kleist, and Pio’s own violin. A burst of organ opens “Motore Immobile” as if the start of a Sunday service, though it soon seems as if the keys are stuck, holding the note well past the breaking point. Ever so carefully, the keys of that chord peel off and the hum of a voice in harmony can be heard alongside that drone. A minute in, Pio’s violin ever so gently sneaks in alongside the two organs.
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It is then that the piece appears to reach a standstill. There’s not much in the way of an “event,” but that’s beside the point. The held keys of the organs resemble the op-art of Bridget Riley, the drones producing an aural moiré. Pio’s patience is remarkable throughout, letting the horsehair of his bow move exquisitely slow across the strings, ever so subtly keying a shift in the drones. And so subtle and subliminal are the exhalations of Kleist that if you listen on headphones, you might wonder if you’re actually humming along with these held tones. When the organs again revert back to their opening chord, it gives the impression that “Motore Immobile” could just as easily continue on into infinity.

“Ananta” which comprises the second side, again uses a similar approach to suspended tones, this time with just piano and organ. With just the sparest of ingredients, Pio makes something delectable. A glissade of piano notes opens the piece before again settling into the sustained drone of the organ. The piano then carefully moves one note at a time against that continuum, to the point of where the piece seems to reach a stasis, only to have the piano break that stillness with a flurry of notes. And with every new cascade, the organ’s drone shifts its center ever so slightly. But again, the piece’s greatest attribute is that it again gives the illusion of suspending the passage of time.

It’s hard to put a finger one just what distinguishes Italian minimalism from its American counterparts, but to my ears, it ultimately boils down to lineage. While Americans trace back to the rugged and mischievous works of La Monte Young and Tony Conrad, the Italians go back to the compositions of Giacinto Scelsi, whose microtonal sound edges toward the mystic. As a result, Italian minimalism tends to be more crystalline and ascetic (read: pure) than what can be found elsewhere. It’s telling that Pio grounds both of these extended compositions not in his violin work, but in the tones of the church organ. It’s a sound that still resonates during services throughout the duomos of Italy, and one on Pio’s Motore Immobile that too evokes a sense of the divine.

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