Italian synth composer presents a deeply atmospheric, captivating set that conjures the sounds of distant, futuristic worlds
Since releasing her first album Patterns Of Consciousness in 2017 Italian synth composer Caterina Barbieri has continued to explore the possibilities of electronic ambient music within a particular structural framework. Latest album Spirit Exit was written during lockdown and saw Barbieri dedicate herself to producing a piece of work that is arguably the most engaging of her career to date. She revealed how the album was inspired by St. Teresa D’Avila’s 16th century mystical text The Interior Castle, the metaphysical poetry of Emily Dickinson and the posthuman theories of philosopher Rosi Braidotti, a trio of influences that very much confirmed her to be an artist that desired to incorporate bigger ideas, broader contexts and ambitious outcomes into her work.
Tonight’s show at the Barbican, Barb at the Barb if you will, saw her present selections from the album, alone on the stage only with her small synth bank for company. From the off it’s clear that the clinical precision of the album will be preserved, with an added, colder dimension also present, largely courtesy of tonight’s visual setting. They key feature of this is how the Barbican stage is slowly engulfed with a white dry ice that gives the impression that the performance is taking place amid the clouds, perhaps at the top of the snow-covered Alps, a suitable location for Barbieri’s pure, pristine sounds. Paired with some restrained lighting, it proves to be visually minimalist yet effective and contributes to a quietly captivating and soothing spectacle.
Opening piece At Your Gamut sees electronic pulses eventually arranged into something undulating and coalescing, the first sign of how an almost architectural aspect is present within her music, a series of freestanding yet interlinked sonic constructions. The album features processed vocals within the mix but these are downplayed tonight, Barbieri preferring to focus solely on the sounds emanating from her synths. As the set progresses dancing synth figures emerge and a greater sense of flux and movement becomes apparent before these moments of minor turbulence are gradually offset by softer edged sounds.
At times aspects her sound recalls the likes of early synth pioneer Suzanne Ciani and even acclaimed German electronicists Tangerine Dream. The show also provides a reminder of how Spirit Exit is one of several ambient/electronic albums to leave an impression this year, alongside the likes of Esthesis by Clarice Jensen, Let’s Turn It Into Sound by Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Heaven Come Crashing by Rachika Nayar and the self titled release of Loraine James’ side project Whatever The Weather.
Towards the end of the show, simple planet like visual projections appear on the stage’s backdrop, seemingly taking the audience on a quick detour to the outer reaches of the solar system. It’s an appropriate choice for a deeply atmospheric set that conjured the icy sounds of distant, futuristic worlds.