Robert Iolini

Songs from Hurt

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AllMusic Review by Fran├žois Couture

By attempting to present a complete image of Robert Iolini's work, Electroacoustic, Chamber Ensemble, Soundscapes & Works for Radio had diluted his art. Songs from Hurt focuses on his forte -- radio art including narratives -- and the result is much more convincing. This album contains three 20-minute pieces commissioned by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. In "Silent Motion," actress Virginia Baxter reads a loose essay on film music, over textures of projector sounds and keyboard parts (performed by Chris Abrahams). The piece has a lovely flow and offers an interesting reflection on the very media Iolini works with, but it is no match to the intensely human and political content of the works following it. "Songs from Hurt" is a troubling masterpiece. The composer has gathered testimonies from teenagers who have lived through traumatic experiences (family violence, mostly). Their stories are edited down to a few succinct lines, adding more punch to the narratives, and are backed by angular rock themes provided by Iolini on guitar and Hamish Stewart on drums. Each piece is two to three minutes long -- in other words, the duration of a "hit single." The stories are horrible, but their characters are also resilient, and the whole suite leaves a slight glimmer of hope that has nothing to do with "true story"-type television dramas. Finally, the composer's journalistic bone shines throughout "Black Sheep," a piece about crime among Aboriginal teenagers. Combining testimonies from inmates, specialists' analysis, and snippets of talk radio tribunes, this work navigates elegantly between documentary and radio art, the music switching back and forth between support and first role. You will never listen to Songs from Hurt leisurely. It is art that makes you think, that makes you uncomfortable. It is also very moving, and that's where Iolini's talent lies. The relationship between word and sound, narrative and treatment, may bring forth references to musique concrete, but this album is more about documentaries and storytelling than about the music avant-garde.

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