Giulio Aldinucci: Borders and Ruins
Joel Hanson, January 24th 2018
Growing up in a Protestant household in the mid-80s, I was exposed to the folksy remake of Christianity, which always struck me—historical inaccuracies and problematic dogma aside—as missing the point of religious experience. The main problem was the music; the inability of those tired hymns, and folk-rock ballads, to take me anywhere close to the feeling Joseph Campbell once remarked was the purpose of all religion: “to celebrate the ecstasy of being alive.” It wasn’t until I entered an Eastern Orthodox church in Romania many years later that I experienced firsthand the power and sublimity of choral music to transport one to realms that were otherwise inaccessible to a suburban kid who sought a steady diet of indie rock for his spiritual sustenance.
Listening to Aldinucci’s Borders and Ruins, which is part horror film soundtrack, Christian liturgy, and ambient drone, is every bit as powerful as being in a Romanian church with one important twist that is central to the human condition: its amalgam of disparate sonic influences allows it to seamlessly fluctuate between moods, to sound both menacing and redemptive within the span of a single track. The interplay between emotional levity and its distressing counterpart is most prevalent on pieces—like “Exodus Mandala,” “Venus of the Bees,” and “Chrysalis”—that use choral samples as their foundation and are interspersed with field recordings and keyboards which pull the empyrean mood of the music in a more ominous direction. Chronic emotional conflict is certainly what Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had in mind when he observed that “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years.” Or, Aldinucci might reply, this line can also move within the space of one song. As a testament to the underlying caprice and instability of our ontology, Aldinucci has crafted an album that affords the listener the latitude to explore the full range of human emotion while attempting to momentarily—but unsuccessfully—reconcile it. In hindsight, such spiritual reconciliation was the key component missing from the religious experiences of my adolescence. The essence of self-transcendence, I understand now, involves acknowledging the darkness within and then searching for the appropriate spiritual practice to decathect from it rather than simply push it aside. Borders and Ruins is yet another sonic avenue one can take to achieve the same results.