Last time 'round I was touting Freegal as a good source of dance music singles, but there's another side to my love of this service: ambient music. I've barely begun to dig through the virtual crates of ambient electronic music Freegal offers, but I've already found a good deal of stuff released by one of my most recent musical loves, Alio Die.
A project led by Italian composer/performer Stefano Musso, Alio Die (that's pronounced Ah-leo Dee-ay) creates music very much in the vein of Brian Eno's sonic experiments. That is, material that is the very definition of ambient music: rewarding should you pay close attention to it, but also pleasing as background sound--rather like a beautiful picture hanging on your wall at home. Alio Die makes extensive and creative use of found sound and field recordings: falling rain or bird calls synthesized into melodic tones, a knocking on a door or insect clicks become percussion, even a lemon peel burning on a stove (?!) establishes a backing tone on one track. These sounds are blended with ethnic and traditional instrumentation, ranging from flutes to the didgeridoo, behind all of which float gentle electronic keyboard and synthesizer tones. Silence itself is also an important element in Alio Die's music, heightening its dramatic contrasts. Much like Robert Fripp's guitar loops ("frippertronics") or the ragas of Indian classical music, many of Alio Die's compositions open with a minimalistic, droning tone which builds from a distant whisper to an at times menacing throb as the piece nears its climax. Often these tones have qualities in common with the traditional religious music of Western Europe, and when blended with the other elements in Alio Die's repertoire, can make for sounds that are simply gorgeous and transcendent ... if you pay close attention. Otherwise it makes for wonderful music hovering in the background while you read or study.
Two of Alio Die's finest albums are available in their entirety on Freegal: 1998's Suspended Feathers, and Il Tempo Magico Di Saturnia Pavonia from 2003. Suspended Feathers, originally recorded between 1994-96, features the work of flutist Gregorio Bardini, and is described on Allmusic.com as a "cavernous, intensely detailed fusion of acoustical elements, step-and-repeat sample treatments, sparse, echoing percussion, and deep, atmospheric sound design." The highlights of album include the 21 minute opening track, "Descending Past," which tends toward the menacing end of the ambient spectrum with its deep keyboard drone, along with "Ruins Garden Drones" and "Wings Of The Firefall," each of which build into highly evocative melodic lines. "Ruins" is centered on Bardini's exquisite flute playing, while "Wings" achieves an almost rhythmic, propulsive sound with its synthesized strings and keys. Il Tempo Di Saturnia Pavonia is a more diffused work, with it's tonescapes divided among ten tracks which nevertheless flow gently from one to another while retaining the timeless feel ambient music conjures at its best. The aptly-titled "The Circular Development Of Time" is the standout cut here, as it simultaneously achieves both static beauty and graceful motion through repeated and gradually developing samples.
There are several other albums by Alio Die available on Freegal, and his website (www.aliodie.com) is also well worth a visit. There you can find detailed reviews and liner notes for all his albums (as well as links for their purchase), a selection of videos and photographs, and tour dates (should you be visiting Europe).