When reflecting on Milo Fine the picture is that of a combustive artistic specimen, an impulsive multi-instrumentalist linkable – quite inescapably – to adjectives like “rebellious”, “volatile”, “volcanic”. A part of these definitions rings true, for Fine’s output does contain germs of creative antagonism that many people struggle to recognize. It’s a problem typically related to the human necessity of belonging to a “circle”, or compulsorily pushing what is not sticky-tagged to a remote corner, as children do with differently gifted classmates not obeying to the rules of shared mediocrity. Turning 60 this year, the man is still happily overlooked by the official hype machine after several decades of incessant probing of various sides of improvisation that usually remain out of sight. Everybody’s loss, as always, except for the acquainted.
Aside from the distinguished rapports with drums, clarinet and “regular” piano, the Minneapolis dissenter produces some of his best work via an instrument that today is obsolete per definition: an electronic piano, altered by the use of electronics. A pair of relatively recent recordings synthesize the approach to the generation of abnormally harsh sonorities through a keyboard customarily utilized to elicit everything but scorching throbbing and enforced receipt of hurtful timbres. There’s no place for leniency in Mr. Fine’s music, we already knew that. Spend a few hours with these records, though, and you’ll come out a changed person. For better or worse.
The LP named Sound Carvings (splendidly subtitled “Ongoing Celebrations Of Insignificance”) was released this year by Mutant Music and includes a performance recorded at 2008’s Heliotrope Festival V. Two years later, same event, Fine performed again with this setup; the results – heard on a private CDR but still waiting for official publication – also challenge the average listener to an endurance test anticipated by the very protagonist, who addresses the spectators at the beginning quoting Frank Parman’s An Avalanche: the audience won’t understand what’s meant, but they’ll sure be going to hear it.
Indeed, there is so much for the ears to swallow in these sets, definitely showing an awareness of composers such as Iannis Xenakis and Roland Kayn. The content – besides expressing the kind of visceral urgency too often conveniently forgotten in favour of collector-friendly behavioural formulas – is likely to seriously wallop the guts of those whose receptive channels are not cluttered by personal issues. The main source is mostly unrecognizable, except for short openings where Fine allows himself a modicum of chording and splinters of arpeggio. Infrequently, he releases sudden cries and strained howls to highlight the most dramatic spots. Yet the bulk of the sound is made of massive slabs of ferociously smoldering distortion – frequently enhanced by ring modulation – which would make Merzbow feel ashamed; a cross between a hundred thousand non-tuned radios and a sonic representation of radioactive globules and particles. This if you stop at the superficial appearance: in fact, try and really penetrate those cataracts of acoustic unease and – lo and behold – repetitive patterns, intertwined designs and a distinct sense of composite harmony emerges from the smoke.
A number of sections reveals a diverse type of vicious beauty, and the final catharsis that defines both performances – represented by growing accumulations of superimposed fortissimo stabs – gives at least a nebulous idea of the foremost conception (or lack thereof) behind this material. Something that is mentally demanding, forcing us to experience and classify a physical reaction. Something that will have the listeners mulling over their response to outrageous discord and, generally speaking, to what is hard to acknowledge. Someone might utter “confrontational”; I call it “quest for the core of truth”.
Milo Fine’s Website