Tutuguri — Felipe Otondo


[N.B., this is a review from 2013, which I post here to lead into the review of Otondo’s new album, Night Studies, also from Sargasso, which came out last year.]

Tutuguri is a really splendid CD. I’ve listened to it several times, each time as much a delight as the first. In the first place, the sounds are gorgeous. All of them. In every track. Ear-grabbingly gorgeous. And in the second place, the pieces are well made–so cunningly constructed as to sound fresh and new even after they have become well-known and familiar.

The first track, Irama, starts the album off with some of the most delightful clangor I’ve ever heard, with hard, bright percussive sounds mingled with rich, voluptuous electronic sounds. Delightful clangor is a particular favorite of mine, and this piece delivers it in spades. In fact, I have to confess that for awhile, the other three pieces on this CD seemed less engaging to me. So much so, that I had to come up with a stratagem for this review, which was to listen to them in reverse order. Success! Now they all seem equally engaging and delightful, and I can now write about each of them without any favoritism.

The next track,Teocalli, starts softly with a quick three note rhythm. Bumbumbum Bumbumbum Bumbumbum Bumbumbum. Crescendoes in waves, each wave a bit louder than the previous one. This is joined by a male choir singing something quite other, an almost rhythmless, church-like chant sung in a church (a resonant space) and with some subtle organ sounds, too. While the drumming gets softer as the chorus gets louder, it remains as insistent as ever.

Then, after a tiny pause, the drums slam against your ears, and there are now some shrill crowd sounds as well. This is a terrifically exciting bit,for sure, partly because the drum sounds have changed electronically into something quite strange and extremely gorgeous. What a great imagination Otondo has. A great imagination and an even greater ear.

The “natural” drum sounds return, along with the crowd noises, and very quickly, everything is soft and the drums are thick thuds underneath a woman talking. Everything gets quite whirry and electrified here. And the excitement just gets ratcheted up and ratcheted up.

Until everything gets very quiet–but still rhythmical and still insistent. Then the woman’s voice returns, along with some very strange other sounds. And she and another woman laughing segues back into the men’s chorus which is almost immediately drummed off the (sound) stage. And then it’s all drums and drumming and electronically altered drum sounds and harsh electronic noises–a sonic thrill ride and no mistake.

Ciguri is all whirry, wirey kinds of sounds, quiet at first but getting louder and louder with sharper and sharper attacks–of the hard, metallic sounds–and then a huge, rich, thick attack. And the sharp attacks become quite rhythmical, dance-like. The sharp sounds are by now extremely sharp. And the thick sounds are extremely thick and sonorous. When some wood block-ish/marimba-ish sounds come in, the effect is quite magical. Everything becomes less rollicking but no less exciting. (This is a definite trend in these pieces–no change from fast to slow, from rhythmic to calm, from loud to soft makes any change to the intensity, to the excitement.)

The music becomes quite subtle and understated here with lots of sharp little clangs and bongs. Then the sharp little clangs become large, hard, harsh clangs. After some extremely harsh and delightful sonorities, Ciguri settles down to the relatively quiet and smooth harsh and delightful sonorities that carry it to its conclusion. What a treat!

The last track, Sarnath, is the bell track. Bells clanging and clanging and clanging. And lots of attacks but not so many natural decays. That is, often as not, the sonorous decays are stretched impossibly long and make drones for all the other sounds, drums, birds, miscellaneous rustlings, and other bell sounds.

Eventually, even the attacks become very much softened, hardly more than a kind of swell in the long drones of the extended decays. A really rich and rumbling crescendo ends in a single, hard clang–followed by very soft park-like sounds–birds and people–and some various other percussion noises. In all of these pieces, that is another trend. No matter where this music goes, rhythmically or electronically, we are never far from the every day noises of the actual world, either as they have been captured by Otondo’s microphones or suggested by how he treats the sounds.

The label, Sargasso, identifies this CD as Otondo’s first. May there be many, many more from this very talented composer.

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