Monday, March 4, 2019

Art Fleury - 1980 - I Luoghi Del Potere

Art Fleury 
I Luoghi Del Potere

01. Uno spettro si aggira per (4:36)
02. Brigate Hans Eisler (4:41)
03. Fabbrica Rosa (11:32)
04. e=mc2 (5:01)
05. La morte al lavoro (11:56)
06. L'overdose (7:58)

- Augusto Ferrari / keyboards
- Maurizio Tomasoni / soprano sax, flute, clarinet
- Giangi Frugoni / guitars, bass

Italian group ART FLEURY, born in Northern Italy, Brescia has been a grave oversight from the Italian Avant scene, lost amidst the fertile artistic works of the time. It was not until the unearthing (re-issue) of their first album 'I luoghi del Potere' by experiment label Die Schachtel that the young group received wider spread recognition. Starting in their teens ('76) they opened for quirky Jazz-fusion legends Area at the Parco Lambro Festival in Milan. From here the band joined the Cooperativa L'Orchestra - a Milan based musical collective of experimental artist - to shortly change their name to Art Fleury. 

Between these beginnings and the releasing of their first album ('80) Art Fleury played and toured alongside RIO greats Henry Cow. This influence is stamped on their unique take on Rock in Opposition. Beside Henry Cow influences can be heard from Franco Battiato's experimental works, Faust and Nurse With Wound. Their sound straddles a dynamic juxtaposition of RIO-esque brass fragments and a mélange of tape-loops and radio frequencies, resulting in a cacophony of sounds that find themselves in surprisingly harmonic territory. 

"Superficially (or intentionally) ascribed to the "progressive" genre, "i luoghi del potere" (originally conceived as the soundtrack of an imaginary movie), is in fact a very personal and radical experience, through which music becomes once again the vehicle for the re-appropriation of our personal sphere, and at the same time a chance to rethink the way we listen to music, out of any pre-ordered cultural, social or political context. in other words, out of the "places of power" which are still alive and active." * 

Their second album 'The Last Album' ('81) while retaining their experimental attitudes takes a more song-orientated formate giving a definite nod towards the growing new wave scene. The album was produced at Sunrise Studios recording home to other such acts as: Cassiber, Art Bear and Univers Zero. 

Careful now! Coming out the RIO back-door, Art Fleury were one of those obscure little bands that started out as mere teens in the late 70s. These mad Italians actually toured with both Henry Cow and Italian madhatters Area back in the day, although this was before they got to record their first album. It was first in 1980 that this record saw the light of day, and whether they used all of their time begging for some studio time during punk and discos heyday - or just honed their skills and magical sorcery for the great big showdown - I honestly don't know.

What I do know is that you need to approach this album with care. As a matter of fact, if you shy away from music that just feels a tiny bit out of place, dissonant, quirky or detuned - then run away as fast as you can - real quick now!! Art Fleury are a strange band. They play an abnormally bizarre kind of RIO with musical jig saw pieces that don't necessarily fit together - dress them up in all kinds of electronic buzzing and eclectic sound bits - and whoops out comes this weird and totally unique sonic monster. It's bizarre, circus-like, occasionally rocking but not the way you think and at times wonderfully ambient and soaring.

Talking about this music is like reading David Hume to a 5 year old with a serious hearing deficit. I feel like a closed door - or some kind of awkward oyster who's battling its shut jaws - trying to express how much love its got for a bucket of the Atlantic Ocean. Arhh nuts - well anyway here goes nothing: To this humble listener it feels like musical montages created by crooked and bend pieces of sound - be that musical bits, radio broadcasts, field recordings, tape-loops, toy store gadgetry or a violent storm with thunder and lightning. In a strangely inharmonious meeting this album reflects on the RIO past of old with a monstrous way of cutting up music in uneven segments. Much of the time I've spent listening to this beast, I've felt like the only person on the planet who's managed to tap into the secret radio broadcast coming out of Saturn's rings. A bunch of Italian schizophrenic musicians/astronauts/radio-hosts out there in the emptiness of space have obviously been mixing the music backwards and in the wrong order - whilst their in house jam band is playing offbeat organ bits along with the star-struck space DJ who's bashing the radio percussion tap tap tapping away on the knobs and buttons like a disorientated beat-boxer.

Sometimes I get slow moving burial cortege music where the organ moans away like a rolling staircase of sadness. In the periphery of this I get wafting titbits of zooming radio segments, tape-loops and bizarre percussive splashes. It's like musical porridge - you know that sticky icky substance only conveyed in sound and sonic matter, but then out of the blue you hit a piece of chilli - or a piece of salt liquorice. Zing!

What I am trying to convey here is that you'd better be prepared for some genuine avant-garde music, before you decide to plunge into this bowl of porridge. This is the deep end folks and only for trained swimmers, but if you happen to adore the music of Henry Cow, John Cage and the experimentalism of Area's Maledetti, then you should definitely get your diving suit out. This is the bee's teeth and if you haven't yet gone a bit mental from all this prog rock, then I challenge you to sit through this one without thinking bizarre and strange thoughts about polar bears on stilts and just how many bananas it takes to kill a gibbon monkey.

Through the magic of file sharing, bootleg reissues and music blogs, troves of bands once painfully obscure have been rescued from the deeps to be appreciated anew by listeners who were likely never previously even aware of the band's existence. Such plundering of underground past has unearthed some newly crowned classics as well as a bevy of mediocre efforts from bands perhaps best left packed in the proverbial vault. Prog and art of the fertile 1970s seems an especially marketable commodity, with forward-looking groups of all varieties being championed as overlooked mavericks and undiscovered purveyors of musical genius. Such laudatory praise is often given in overly generous helpings, but there's not a shortage of worthwhile music being dredged up by dedicated diggers and informal archivists, and while it's not always easy to casually tell the cubic zirconium from the real thing, there certainly exists gold in them thar hills for those patient enough to peruse.

Art Fleury may have arrived in 1976, but their debut album, I Luoghi del Potere (The Places of Power), wasn't released until 1980, by which time the band had changed names (from their initial AMG moniker) and developed a mindset that found them firmly cemented on the far left side of the political spectrum. The Italian trio's radical activism was a strong influence on its music, usually in abstract form; there's no blatant proselytization, no catchy slogans or directives for public action.

As they were also firm opponents of music as big business, it can be supposed that Art Fleury's protestation was embodied in their aesthetic. Written as a soundtrack to a nonexistent film, I Luoghi del Potere, even by contemporary standards, is a rather diverse affair, with its incorporation of sound collage, improvisation and near ambient atmospherics as equal parts to the band's rock-based composition.

The idea of I luoghi del Potere as soundtrack is one that governs much of the disc; it's opener, "Uno Spettro Si Aggira Per," is largely 12 minutes of mood-setting music, with scattered improv peppering its middle, and the rock ratio decidedly low. Much of I Luoghi del Potere follows suit, and while Art Fleury are often unwilling to sit still for too long, the album repeatedly returns to swells in momentum and/or tension, often resulting in piecemeal improv or another surprise turn. Were I Luoghi del Potere in fact accompanied by visuals, the resulting film would be one of consistently thwarted expectations and momentum building to a perplexing and often underwhelming end. Aficionados of horror soundtrack work will notice in Art Fleury's sound traces of Goblin and their spooky ilk, most notably in segments driven by Augusto Ferrari's keyboards, though the postmodern calisthenics latent in the trio's sound foils any conventional utilization of the usual hallmarks of the genre.

Though I Luoghi del Potere isn't likely a protest album, per se, Art Fleury's debut is a rebuff of the musical status quo, not simply in terms of the business side of things (the album was originally self-released), but in terms of the very nature of the music itself. The trio's fractured style and intentional upending of their more pacific sequences seem attempts to alarm, a musical analogy for a more widespread prescription for open eyes and alert minds.

So though I Luoghi del Potere can be frustrating in its multiplicity, an album full of Art Fleury's take on rock (as enjoyable as it might be) would certainly be a less startling, and therefore, less powerful affair. The days of Italy in the 1970s are certainly over, but, human nature being what it is, it's likely that the need for civil disobedience will never disappear. Art Fleury's debut is a subversive document, though perhaps sometimes only subtly so, and, almost 30 years later, I Luoghi del Potere remains an album worthy of unearthing. If not a forgotten classic

Art Fleury were a trio from Brescia devoted to a deeply suburban and experimental progressive rock. Though obviously in debt with King Crimson, especially for the guitar style, their attitude was much closer to more radical and nihilist bands such as Faust, The Residents or This Heat. Their influence is pretty evident on all of the four tracks which compose their debut album: heavily destructured narrations of the industrial gloom, merging tape material, atonal organ or orchestral puddles and restrained arpeggios, occasionally roken by convulsive prog-rock bursts.
The band had indeed more than some contacts with the left-wing R.I.O. scene, having opened several times for Henry Cow concerts and played together with Area and bands from L'Orchestra cooperative (Stormy Six, Art Bears, Etron Fou Leloublan and many more).

"I luoghi del potere" is a fascinating work, pervaded by a dreary, disillusioned mood which constitutes a strong and well-conceived critique of industrial and Cold War alienation. Besides being a masterpiece of Italian progressive rock, it's also one of the very few ones to show a very distinct post-punk leaning: it's an important document of the late-70s transitions.

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