Manuel Fogliata’s name may be familiar from a string of fibrous moody techno releases over the last few years, particularly those released on Donato Dozzy’s Aquaplano label. Released last year to a minimum of fanfare, Trance Mutation is a very different entity. That it should have crept into public consciousness rather than announcing its presence with aplomb seems an appropriate way to deliver an album that has no intention of relinquishing its secrets too readily.
The music follows the same insistent routine throughout: short melodic-percussive phrases of just one or two bars that underpin instrumental motifs and scattershot drum routines which, though devious in their invention, remain grounded in the changing same. Barely ever venturing beyond the tonic, it’s a sound that seems poised to subtly invoke Morrocan Gnawa trance music, the Marrakchi lila ceremonies that can go on all night, using percussion and lute-like instruments to riff on seemingly simple rhythms and harmonies, decorating and expanding them over the course of several hours, exploring seven different patterns, seven different hues, each in dialogue with a different aspect of the divine.
And so we are led through seven tracks - or mutations - characterised by their reliance on guitar loops and hand drums to set the tone and, though the latter sound more like Persian frame drums than the metallic clatter of the north African krakeb, an agitated string sounding halfway through the first track explicitly recalls the Gnawa Gimbri guitar. On paper, this all sounds a bit too close to drum circle territory for comfort and, at times - thanks to the windchimes and rainstick that set the scene for ‘Correspondence’ for example, or the languid electric guitar line on ‘Rhythm’ that seems to have smarmed its way out of Chris Rea’s Fender - the album strays into unwelcome Buddha Bar lugubriosity.
For the most part however, the integrity of the project is compelling and steers clear of tepid exoticism. Opener ‘Mentalism’ and ‘Vibration’ have more in common with a Terry Riley or Keith Fullerton Whitman process piece than Chilled Ibiza Sufi Sunset 4; the latter track in particular, with it’s piano, arpeggiated sine tones, and dancing slow-attack synth, recalls Whitman’s homage to the synthprog of another Italian electronic auteur, Franco Battiato. Elsewhere, things go slightly further off the well beaten track on ‘Cause & Effect’ where a skittery 7/4 rhythm provides lop-sided foundations for electric guitar, processed to resemble a passable muted trumpet - a combination intriguing enough to have been an Aphex b-side circa 1994. The relative harmonic instability that continues in the final track settles on a low chasmic rumble and belies more ominous intentions, ones more readily in keeping with Nuel’s Aquaplano outings.
Techno sensibilities are in full effect here but the album’s real draw is in its instrumental production, which is beautifully realised, capturing a harmonic resonance and richness of depth that can often be missing from percussion recordings. Spatialisation is subtle, which perhaps speaks to a respectful reluctance to allow production to interfere with performance but in this instance I feel it could have withstood a more forceful intervention: occasionally, the parts need a little more room to breathe and stretch their legs, sounding far too cramped and cluttered for their sparse arrangements. Nonetheless, it’s a confident foray into uneasy territory, pulling a delicate thread through from the rituals of tradition to those of modern day.