One of the best drone albums I've heard recently is a 2006 release by Stefano Pilia, The Suncrows Fall And Tree on the Massachusetts-based Sedimental label. Pilia is most well known as a member of the Italian improvisation group 3/4HadBeenEliminated, where he plays electric guitar, double bass, various unspecified acoustic instruments, and field recordings. The group's first album, a 2003 self-titled release on Bowindo, is much closer to The Suncrows Fall And Tree than their more recent release on Hapna, where his guitar is much more prominent as such. The first album is more drone-based, while the aesthetic on the group's second album seems closer to the queasy listening of Biota, a very active amalgam of studio wizardry and idiosyncratic, mysterious improvisation. The Suncrows Fall And Tree is also quite different from the prepared guitar improvisations on Pilia's earlier solo release, Healing Memories and Other Scattering Times, which was released on the New Zealand label Last Visible Dog. In fact, one would hardly suspect the presence of a guitar on The Suncrows Fall And Tree at all.
Split into two untitled pieces (almost as if it were intended for a vinyl release), The Suncrows Fall And Tree doesn't follow the common pattern of many ambient drone artists. For one, Pilia specifies on the cover to play it loud, and there are some abrupt transitions that are guaranteed to shock the listener out of whatever comfortably numb blissful state where he or she might have drifted. For example, the first track has a long fadeout, where the glorious and shimmering drone slowly becomes quieter and almost thinner, as the low frequencies in the drone are removed little by little. More than thirty seconds of silence separates the final fadeout from the first sounds in part two, which is the booming of an ocean wave. Wake Up!
Many drone artists use field recordings, often processed beyond any semblance of recognition. By contrast, both parts of The Suncrows Fall And Tree have extended sections in the middle that are unadorned field recordings, both featuring something miked very closely, but that remains unidentifiable. Despite the clear presence of crows and other birds along with church bells in the background, between the various crackles, static and other mysterious noises, the inability of the listener to identify precisely all of the sounds makes for a slightly unsettling atmosphere.
Pilia's drones are themselves quite diverse. The opening of part one is a deep, rich, fully resonant drone, but it grows to a climax like being inside a jet engine by the time of the first field recording episode. This complexity is mirrored at the end of part two, where a buzzing, almost metallic drone becomes overlaid with white noise, releasing a giant roar of sound. The end of part one has short melodic fragments buried in the mix, and there is a lovely section in part two extending the resonance of single piano notes (with the attacks removed or otherwise modified, another eerie touch).
With The Suncrows Fall And Tree, Pilia has created an electroacoustic work that uses drones as a major compositional tool, but to achieve effects that are striking and unusual. Avoiding sonic gestures associated with one or another school of electroacoustics, and not creating a work entirely of blissful ambience, Pilia has concocted a very impressive electroacoustic debut. I look forward to his continued success in this arena. The Suncrows Fall And Tree is available from Mimaroglu, Forced Exposure, Erstwhile Distribution, and other fine record stores, but not through the typical channels of digital distribution.