There is a moment that forces us to question everything and the direction we are headed in our respective lives. Perhaps, if we are lucky, an answer will present itself in the form of a revelation providing some sort of reprieve; when at first it seemed impossible and complex, salvation sheds light, providing clarity within a simple hue. This is precisely what happened to Alessandro Baris, an artist who has been playing and making music for several years now. He is an Italian-American multi-instrumentalist, composer and electronic music producer based in Bologna, Italy.
Raised in the countryside town of Esperia, Alessandro’s childhood was immensely influenced by its surrounding natural environment. He has played in a number of different bands and has made appearances in a variety of different festivals, including CMJ (New York), Proximos (Santa Cruz de Tenerife), Eurosonic (Groningen), Tanned Tin (Valencia) and countless others. His up and coming album, Sintesi, will be his first solo effort, and the record represents a brand new start.
His debut album, and more specifically his single for the record, ‘Last Letter to Jayne’, came at a spiritual moment in Alessandro’s life. He describes the record as a sort of “conscious scream”. It was simultaneously a reawakening and an exorcism of past trauma he had undergone with his last record, which, because of personal circumstances, had to be scratched. The single, ‘Last Letter to Jayne’, is a special song for a few reasons and will be released on March 5th via Baris’ Bandcamp. It is sparse and minimalist; it is a symphony of sorrow in a starkly beautiful way. If the song was a painting, the colours inhabiting the piece would be light and bright, but cold and distant. It is an understatement in the true sense of the ethos, ‘less is more’.
On top of Alessandro’s beautifully orchestrated composition of electronic synths lies a spoken word poem, written and performed by none other than Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth. Ranaldo is a published poet and guitar wizard, so it made perfect sense. Alessandro met Lee a few years back at a show in Alessandro’s home country of Italy. Baris said of Ranaldo, “Sonic Youth is an important part of my life soundtrack”. Baris was fortunate enough to ask Ranaldo a few questions on stage at his show, after which they kept in touch and became friends. When Baris was writing Sintesi and the musical composition that would later become ‘Last Letter to Jayne’, Alessandro sent Lee the music. Baris said of the piece, “My initial vision was that of crossing a glacial landscape, hostile to life but necessary for it, as a metaphor for which those tough moments we experience in life are necessary to move on through our life process. After the electronic instrumental part was done I thought of having a spoken word part on it in order to add organicity – so I thought of Lee who has a very particular and evocative vocal timbre.”
The instrumental, at the time, encompassed a feeling of loss and distance; Ranaldo had already been working on a poem inspired by quarantine life and losing touch with people, whether the cause was time, distance or death. The two pieces would come together, borne of similar emotion, and find synchronicity of coincidence that existed within a sense of loneliness. ‘Last Letter to Jayne’ is brilliant because it is what it organically presupposes – a record of time and loss. The words open as a kind of epitaph written for one person. As time passed, the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests began erupting across the United States, and Ranaldo began addressing more than just one person. In his lyrics, he was recognising the loss of more than one person; like the music, there is definitely sadness, but also an underlying sense of hope. As if writing to all the recipients: “We are not together right now, but we will overcome this. I will see you again,” he said.
“The initial text for ‘Last Letter to Jayne’ was written in the early dark days of the pandemic, when it seemed the world was closing in,” Baris explained. “We were stuck at home, hardly able to go outside even for some fresh air. Fear and insecurity were high. I had recently parted ways with someone who I’d been close to, but our time together was ending, sealing shut like the doors and windows in the pandemic. The poem came as a sort of memorial to a relationship with a fixed ending.”
The serendipity for why both writers created what they did, seemed too coincidental; perhaps it was fate beckoning them with a cold but yet hopeful hand? This fate comes across in the music and words – it translates into an organic sense of unity. The message to me is clear: it is ok to be alone. We must learn how to live with ourselves and learn to breathe and welcome the space.
Ranaldo continues, “Some time later, Alessandro approached me about working together on a collaborative song. When I heard the sombre, majestic music, I thought that I could adapt the poem to fit, and also challenge myself to be experimental with my vocals in a way that was quite new for me – using overlapping voices and phrases to create an instability between the foreground and the background, a ‘three- dimensional’ evocation of an emotional state.”
The music video that accompanies ‘Last Letter to Jayne’ is stark in its colour, and minimal in its motion. The visual artist behind the video, Luigi Honorat, commented about this: “Being closer to a poem, I approached it differently than I normally do. I wanted to follow it rather than re-interpret it. It has this slow, linear progression, and I wanted that to carry the visuals. The form itself represents two entities, going from order to chaos to nothing as they interact and penetrate one into the other. In the end, the purity is gone, one entity takes the upper hand, and soon the light is leaving. I wanted the viewer to be in the form rather than outside of it, with the entities, rather than watching them.” Honorat accomplishes this by creating a visual drenched in whiteness and slowness. What is seen is exactly unclear; at times, the shapes look like folders within a filing cabinet. Other times, it looks like shades being drawn shut as if blocking out the light during the lockdown. Then other times, as these surreal-like white rectangular and long shapes unfold and fold back into itself; it gives you the impression that you are in a dream, devoid of all colour, but yet faintly mystical – as if you have reached a destination at the end of a long journey and find that you are somewhat at peace with yourself.
‘Last Letter to Jayne’ comes out February 26th via White Forest Records. Sinesi is due to be released in May. For more information and news on Alessandro Baris, you can visit his website, here. Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, is also working on some new projects, including a new collaboration with fellow Sonic Youth bandmate Thurston Moore. For more information on this, click here.
Below, see a taster of the music video by Luigi Honorat, for ‘Last Letter to Jayne’, by Alessandro Baris Feat. Lee Ranaldo.