Alquimia / Peter Cusack / Mario Schiano

Fluxus: Instant Soundtrack for a Silent Movie

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This soundtrack for the 1966 film Fluxus Anthology is no ordinary one. Composed and recorded on the spot as the film was plying in the foreground, it reveals two things: the first is, after some 40 previous recordings and countless concerts, how well Mario Schiano responds to the challenge of "spontaneous composition"; the second is a 1990s meditation on an important architectural moment in the development of cultural expression in the 1960s. The latter is a unique point because all three musicians here had to walk a line: they had to look back in time and see something for what it supposedly was, and be aware that their commentary, musically, came from the perspective of musicians exercising their art at a pointedly later place in cultural evolution. Schinao's ensemble, which includes himself on alto and soprano saxophones; guitar, bouzouki, and electronics madman Peter Cusack; and vocalist -- in the manner of her Fluxus predecessor, Yoko Ono -- Alquimia, who is also a virtuoso pianist. The second sequence also features the tenor saxophone inventions of Pasquale Innarella. What you hear is not necessarily what you get. As the film rolls by, decisions have to be made: do we reflect the anarchy of the time or our warm reverence for it, or longing for another time when innocence and bravery could flourish? Schiano, wisely does -- both creating a tension and is the balm for itself, offering reflection and introspection only after the initial excitement has been created. As he blips and sputters his horn using microphonics, Alquimia shimmers and glides her voice like another horn, pattering after and before all sounds as they appear from the ether. Suddenly these passages give way to long, almost pastoral passages of sung beauty, saxophones, strings, and voice trade places not only for dominance in the mix but manner of voice. Like the film, this is an explosive and provocative work in free music. Given that it comments on a primary text, it does its best -- and in this writer's opinion achieves -- to equal the startling drama and vision it is presented with. That it does so with such warmth and an absence of free music's clich├ęs is a tribute to each musician's sensitivity. That it could be a now-indispensable counterpart to any future screening of this film is perhaps more than any member of this ensemble could have hoped for, yet that is exactly what it has become.

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