Markus Reuter & Stefano Castagna: ‘Sea of Hopeless Angels’
An unexpected concerto. The streets of Berlin. Nourishment and exhaustion. The celestial, moving among us. All of these things might describe (or, more accurately, permeate) Markus Reuter’s latest project – a spontaneous collaboration with Stefano Castagna.
From a strictly Reuterian perspective, ‘Sea of Hopeless Angels’ could be seen as a reaction to Markus’ furious and abrasive work with the free-rock improvisation quartet Anchor & Burden, one of his central priorities during 2022. At the same time, it stems directly from that project (having emerged in the heart of actual band time) and also serves as an intentional sequel-of-sorts to the ‘Anchor and Burden – Musica 2021’ album which, while consisting of solo soundscapes, served as a conceptual introduction to the band. An understanding and acceptance of music as being both fundamental and stabilising, while also being a grave and sometimes disruptive weight, underpinned both band and solo recording; and also eventually left its imprint on this new work.
The seeds of what would become ‘Sea of Hopeless Angels’ were several unedited "live-in-the-studio" electric touch guitar solos by Markus, recorded at Castle Studios, Germany, 26 July 2022 (during day two of a three-day recording session for the Anchor & Burden band’s ‘Kosmonautik Pilgrimage’). Unusually – especially considering the ferocity of his recent work – Markus mostly selected clean instrumental tones, feeling that after much previous experimentation he’d finally found a way to speak through them musically. From there, the solos ended up in the hands of the album’s mixer, Stefano, and it was there that they underwent a new transformation.
Although Stefano’s connection with Markus goes back to the recording of mixing of Markus’ ‘TRUCE 2’ album in 2021 (and his mixing wizardry also helped to hone the ‘Mata Atlantica’ album), this is the first time that the two of them have collaborated on composition. From his own Ritmo&Blu studios in Pozzolengo, northern Italy, Stefano has created and produced recordings of Italian indie music, film and television soundtracks, dance music and performances for theatre, ballet and visual art exhibitions. However, his true roots are at that point where 1980s art rock intertwines with jazz, Mediterranean music and experimental sound (something reflected in his Flos project with Luca Formentini, with its mixture of invented instruments, found sound and avant-pop songcraft). It is this nexus of inspirations which drives his sympathies with Markus. It informed their work together on ‘TRUCE 2’, and drew Markus into the same year’s ‘Mask of Confidence’ project (a collaboration between Stefano, Fabio Trentini and Jeff Collier, which hearkens back to the keystone art-pop work of Mick Karn and Japan).
Inspired to bring out his own palette of sounds, Stefano took on this set of Reuter solos and produced instinctive counterpart work, gradually building up to become a sympathetic one-man orchestra. “Listening through, I perceived a very free and sinuous narrative, undulating between some slow meditative sections and some faster, rhythmic moments. I have tried to support this narrative throughout, keeping his performances always in the foreground, highlighting the most outstanding parts, adding sounds and instruments when needed (my own vocals, samples, bass or synth sounds and electronic variations added in the mixing process). It's just as if I let Markus tell his story and let it guide me throughout, without too much thinking.
“As I listen to the final result, I realise that I was playing out the lesson I learnt from two records that were pivotal in my artistic education, Fripp/Summers' "I Advance Masked" and Eno/Byrne's "My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts", famously conceived and brought about by a duo rather than a band.”
Markus concurs with this particular connection, adding “the vibe quite strongly reminds me of the instrumental half of David Sylvian’s ‘Gone to Earth’ album.”
The music on ‘Sea of Hopeless Angels’ is also directly inspired by Wim Wenders’ celebrated “Damiel and Cassiel” films - 'Der Himmel über Berlin' ('Wings of Desire') and 'In weiter Ferne, so nah!' ('Faraway, So Close') – in which angels hover above pre- and post-unification Berlin and are gradually, inexorably and transformatively drawn towards the lives of its human inhabitants. Although the chosen titles of several of these pieces refer directly to characters from the films, the music remains mysterious; and reluctant to draw a straightforward picture.
However, in its slow fire, flickering rain, multiple shadings and sense of monumental architecture lightly touched upon (and despite its partly-Italian birthing), perhaps it does evoke and present a multi-dimensional cryptic picture of Berlin played out across time and associations; with the weight and elations of the city’s history - the scars, upthrustings and lacunae - mingling with routine everyday feelings and private thoughts, and with meditations shaped by place, familiarity and cinematic refraction.
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Stefano’s initial responses and reactions to the music also informed the selection of the album’s visual component – although, as opposed to his instinctive musical choices, the choice of cover art in particular was much more deliberate and considered.
“At the beginning of the ‘80s Aldo Grazzi, an Italian painter and video-artist, made visual experimentations interfacing a video camera with a cathode ray TV screen. The resulting video retains every imperfection of the then up-to-date technology, and maybe this is what gives the human quality and wild energy to such an opera of workmanship. Those characteristics are completely lost with the newest tech video devices. It is in total contrast (let me underline that) to any AI or computer-generated image or sequence of images.”
All of the pieces on ‘Sea of Hopeless Angels’ feature video accompaniment drawn from the Grazzi archives, with two of them (including the currently viewable title track) also accompanied by live-in-the-studio footage of Markus’ original performances.
Markus: “What I love about this record in particular is that it is the marriage of spontaneous creation and considered composition. The video that shows me playing in the studio is wondrous because of that. It would be impossible to play like I do if it was pre-planned/composed.”
released October 27, 2023
Markus Reuter: Touch Guitars® S8, Live Looping
Stefano Castagna: Synths, Samples, Bass, Voice, Percussion, Treatments
Markus' parts recorded by Arno Jordan at Castle Studios on July 26, 2022.
Stefano's parts recorded, and album mixed, at Ritmo&Blu Studios.
Mastered by Lee Fletcher
Video Art by Aldo Grazzi made in the early 80ies, experimenting with cathodic tv screen and VHS video camera.
Cover design and layout by Bernhard Wöstheinrich
Special thanks to the visual artist Aldo Grazzi who dug up and shared, after so many years, this visual experience that was pure avant-garde in the 80's and that's mainstream now.