Nicola Ratti – Ode

Nicola Ratti - Ode

Nicola Ratti - Ode

Music is a form of cooperation. Rhythm is the most frequently used means of fostering that end along a continuum of time. Melody is the linear sequencing of pitches, and feeds off of a common key and scale. Harmony is the simultaneous layering of pitches together to create more complex musical relationships. Music built on these rational notions of cooperation requires planning and coordination, and small mistakes in their execution result in dissonance. On his third album, Ode, Nicola Ratti de-emphasizes these forms of cooperation in favor of a free-flowing, exploratory approach, achieving a unique musical language which is calmly shambolic, elegantly emergent, and emotionally stirring.

What I find striking in Ratti’s approach is the presentation of the whole, embedding the process in the end product without sacrificing any aesthetic enjoyment. These pieces begin with little cooperation besides coexistence, sounding like a bunch of instruments or musical phrases slowly introducing themselves to each other. Along the way, as the individual sound sources become more comfortable and self-confident, they start showing an affinity for each other and act more in concert than alone, eventually cooperating to produce something at the end which sounds more musical than each song’s more electroacoustic beginnings. “Dream #2“ demonstrates this approach most overtly, starting with some imperfectly strummed chords, picked notes, and their overtones, backed by the irregular beating of a drum. The drum eventually slows down more to the speed of the guitar, the overtones are pushed up in the mix equal to the volume of the guitar, and the strums take on a more regular pattern, supporting the chanting vocals which appeared halfway through when the track started gelling together.

You can hear this approach on other tracks as well, though with their rejection of quick tempos, it might feel difficult to discern the movement in the dour clatter of “White Morning” or the wah-wah noodling of “Resume”. The songs sound like they are composed from tapes of improvisations. Ratti’s guitar and piano playing is joined by Chet Martino on double bass and Andre Arraiz-rivas on drums, and is supplemented by electroacoustically generated samples and field recordings, which act more like glue behind the scenes than as star performers. “Tropical Malady” ends the album with a sample of what sounds like a ping pong ball in action and the chirp of sneakers on a gym floor. This is an enjoyable and energetic (relatively speaking) track, but the ping-pong sound never fully escapes its initial context. The rest of the album avoids such gimmickry and stands on its own just fine using standard instruments as source material. “…And Fireworks” and “Dream #2” develop into full-bodied tunes with a sustained momentum complimented by Ratti’s mumbled singing and beautifully rising and falling guitar chords.

It’s fun to see someone ignoring conventional methods of music making with such a high rate of success. Ignoring the tropes of the trade imbue Ode with a peculiar personality lacking in a lot of the music which situates itself between electroacoustic sound-art and more inviting ambient soundscapes. Mostly eschewing not only rhythm, melody, and harmony, but also tried and true song structures based on repetition of verses and choruses, build/release, or ambient micromanagement, Nicola Ratti has crafted a work of art which is simultaneously thought-provoking and moving, at turns dreadful, relaxing, giddy, pensive, and restless. Let’s hope his more well known peers take a cue and start exploring territory further outside of their comfort zones.

Nicola Ratti

Preservation Records