Mike Patton – Luciano Berio: Laborintus II

January 01, 1970

(Ipecac Recordings)




Mike Patton showed he cared a lot about Italian music with
2010’s glorious Mondo Cane, in which
he boldly and expressively sang with molto
contemporary Italian pop songs with support from the Filarmonica
Arturo Toscanini, back-up singers and band. It was a tour de force, or however they say that in Italy. His love for
Italian music, as well as the language, came about as a result of his marriage
to an Italian woman – and settling down in Bologna – during the 1990s, according
to Wikipedia. That love has outlasted the marriage.


And so has his dedication to experimentalism, evident on Luciano Berio: Laborintus II (Ipecac
Recordings), a venture into the work of the provocative classical composer
Luciana Berio, who died in 2003 at age 77. Patton is the narrator – a turn that
requires dramatic, oratorical swings in expression and intonation – on a
recording of a concert performance of “Laborintus II,” a composition that Berio
and Edoardo Sanguineti wrote in 1963-1965 to honor Dante’s 700th birthday. (Berio had been commissioned by French and Italian radio; Sanguineti
was a Dante scholar and poet.)


This slightly-more-than-half-hour work was recorded at the
2010 Holland Festival, with the Belgian Ictus ensemble, Nederlands Kamerkoor Chorus under Klaas Stok, plus three
female soloists (Annet Lans, Margriet Stok and Karin van der Poel.) Berio,
himself had conducted a performance of “Laborintus II” at the same festival in
1973; this recreated that to honor him.


was Italian, yes, but he was also part of the international avant-garde that
included John Cage – especially in the 1960s, when he composed “Laborintus II”
and also turned folk songs into classical music. He was reportedly an influence
on the Beatles and his close collaborator and former wife, operatic singer
Cathy Berbarian, recorded an album of Beatles arias, Revolution.)


was like a more academic version of the filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni, whose
artistic progressivism at the time got him invited to Britain (for Blow-Up) and the U.S.
(Zabriskie Point) to make cinematic
sense of his times. Berio was teaching at Oakland’s
Mills College – an outpost for experimental
New Music – while composing “Laborintus II,” and his students there included
Steve Reich, Louis Andreissen and Phil Lesh.


viewed this project as a kind of abstract-expressionist opera – Sanguineti’s
libretto featured his own poetry as well passages from other 20th Century poets, Dante’s writings and the Bible. (There is a snatch or two of
English in the spoken-word parts.) It has a true operatic feel in the first
movement, as the male and female voices shout, wail and confide – separately
and in unison – while the music grows eerily cacophonous and dynamically
exciting. You can also hear how it grows out of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,”
as does so much of mid-20th Century classical music.


the second movement, Berio’s interest in free jazz moves to the fore as the
trumpets, trombones and clarinets of Ictus start to rise and fall and the drums
kick up a storm. Patton and choir members shout as if they are falling ever
deeper into the frightening Afterlife, and it’s gripping. It raises the kind of
ruckus Art Ensemble of Chicago would admire; it’s modern classical music
responding to other music of its time. And there appears to be use of echoing,
vibrating electronics here that’s chilling.


short third part serves as a mournful elegiac coda, a reflective ending to what
has been – like its source material – a profound journey.





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