last edited in April 2007    


As is the case with La Monte Young's Theater of Eternal Music, David Hyke's Harmonic Choir and Pauline Oliveros's Deep Listening Band, Roberto Laneri has had a life long penchant for the droning mysteriosa of the Sound Current and with the Prima Materia ensemble he has expressed it in a disciplined, expansive and singular way

Terry Riley, 2005

In 1977 an obscure Italian private label issued a record that sounded like it came from outer space. A long and dense trance-inducing drone of sustained notes, rich with overtones and harmonic embellishments, coming from a space so vast and unexplored that seemed almost of non-human, even electronic nature. Paradoxically, each and any molecule of that sound was produced using only the most original and archaic instrument, the human voice. The name of the group was Prima Materia (First Matter), a project that took shape in 1973 in San Diego, and the record – “The Tail of the Tiger” – was issued by the Ananda label, owned by Roberto Laneri, Alvin Curran and Giacinto Scelsi. The record soon disappeared and over the became almost a legend among collectors and experimental music lovers.

The musicians of the group Prima Materia individually researched and developed unusual vocal techniques (originally used in Tantric rituals in North India, Mongolia and Tibet), based upon the use of overtones coupled with a special state of inner concentration, which was the essential condition for both the emission and control of long-sustained and complex vocal sounds. Their capacity to sustain a note for what seems an eternity, and then continue to provide endless variations generates a continuous and sustained drone of sound, in which the overtones are clearly perceived.



GENRE: minimalism, drones, overtone singing
DESCRIPTION: Deluxe digipak CD, complete with a 8-page informative booklet plus an astounding 16-page exploration of “visual overtones” printed on transparent paper in full color
PRICE: 18 euro 

:: reviews 





The Wire (by Alan Cummings)

The way of the holy longform vocal drone is most strongly associateci with the mystical wing of the American post-war avant garde, particularly La Monte Young and Terry Riley. But there were adherents in old Europe too. Resplendent in their matching white robes and long hair, Italian a cappella vocal group Prima Materia were the most accomplished. Active through the latter half of the 1970s, they released a single album on a label set up by MEV's Alvin Curran and Giacinto Scelsi, which has now been lovingly reissued by Die Schachtel.
Prima Materia leader Roberto Laneri's concerns were very much ofthe period: he wrote a thesis on "sound as the vehicle of altered states of consciousness", exploring his interest in Asian tantric techniques, Ur-klang trance states and the collective unconscious. The concepts may no longer resonate in the same way, but the group's music remains an intensely focused and ascetic experience, slicing
through the brain with narrow-beam psychedelic power. Sustained vocal drones, originating deep in the throat and diaphragm, are layered one over the other in impossibly long, treacle slow pulses. At times, Prima Materia mightdraw upon recognisable North Indian and Tibetan vocal techniques, but a concentrated monastic minimalism ratherthan florid ornamentation characterises their approach.
Resonance becomes key to the interest of the music, as the sedimented voices conspire to produce gorgeous overtone clusters that float lazily across the still surface of the drone like threads of lightning over a midnight prairie.Two unreleased live tracks (one of which is a full 12 minutes shorter than the advertised time given on the sleeve) are equally strong. But the one recorded at the 1974 Berlin Metamusik Festival burrows particularly impressively into nasal Mongolian khoomi territory and Diamanda Galas-like speed glossolalia. The exquisitely designed silver on white package includes a booklet of fractal mandala patterns on translucent paper.


Indieworkshop (Adam Richards)
Formed in 2003, die Schactel has been putting together some uniquely beautiful albums, mostly archival releases, of impossibly rare avant-garde sound pieces and other-worldly music. They certainly out-do themselves and just about anyone around with their packaging, but the sounds contained within are the real treat. I was first hooked by their release of Insiemusicadiversa: a reissue of an early 70's avant experimental record, knee deep in mad, Fluxus-inspired mayhem. Along with posh CD issues, die Shachtel also issues delicious artist edition-style LP's that are very limited and just plain decadent with their layout. Started by Roberto Laneri in 1973, Prima Materia was a group of musicians working with extended vocal techniques, using these techniques to create sustained drones composed purely of human vocals. Involved with the project were notable composers Alvin Curran and Giacinto Scelsi whose label originally released this album in 1977. The group toured, performing at numerous European music festivals, before their split in 1980. Presented here with serene white & silver photographs and a beautiful booklet of hypnotic designs, The Tail of the Tiger is the sole release by Prima Materia. This disc presents that entire LP and two previously unreleased live performances. The feeling captured here is hard to describe. The all-vocal choral-drones moves from dirge-like to bombastic, eerie to beautifully surreal. It'd be hard to choose which genders voices turn in the most striking parts. One wouldn't dare attempt to break it down but each contributes seriously moving portions, along with moments that are sexually indistinguishable. True howling of the soul, label-less, just cathartic and pure. Occasionally the skin crawls, the shrieks rise above the current and tickle your tympanic membrane until your jaw twitches. The music here is a true testament to the power and range of the human voice, to the abilities of the human body to create stunning sounds. We also have a test for your ears and your stereo. Can you hear the subtle nuances; can you pick apart the different layers of voice? There are moments where voices no longer sound human, where they sound like an amplifier feeding back or a large machine humming in a cavernous factory. Played on decent equipment, these sounds enter your chest and take your breath for a moment. It's remarkable to experience. The sounds here are haunting and playful, religious and darkly sinful. The music still sounds frighteningly fresh and vibrant. These are the sounds of artists who were looking to test the limits of their own capabilities, the bounds of voice. It's car engines, it's grain mills, it's train tracks, and it's opera records sitting in the sun. Eastern musics are acknowledged, as is minimalism. I am not the first to note a resemblance in desire and technique to that of the Theatre of Eternal Music. All of that is here and so much more. I advise anyone with an interest in extended drones, marvels of the voice or who are curious to hear what occurs when someone actually

Aquarius (Usa)

On the same Italian label that brought us that lovely Luciano Cilio disc in 2004, here's more import-expensive but totally worth it amazing archival material (in ultra-nice digipackaging to sweeten the deal) from the Italian '70s sonic art underground, specifically Roberto Laneri's Prima Materia vocal drone ensemble. This is some heavy stuff here -- and heavy can mean a lot of things, AQ list readers have come to realize. In this case, it's heavy the way that Tibetan Buddhist Rites From The Monasteries Of Bhutan double disc reissue we listed last year was heavy (so said our distro rep when we ordered this, and he was right!). And this mesmerizing, yogic drone-fest does have a monkish sound, being produced entirely by live human voices, gargling and moaning and droning. Though if you didn't know that, you might think it was in part electronic. It's the sound of wind and weariness, sorta spooky and haunted, wavering and weaving, building and building, with overtones galore, a howling of souls into the Universe. Like a bunch of Tibetan monks or Tuvan throat singers wordlessly saying woe is me... and we're pretty sure that one of 'em at least sounds a heckuva lot like Elmer Fudd!! Seriously, though, it's really good and intense and magical... if you're a trance/drone fan (maybe digging stuff like Grouper, that has a vocal component), you should listen to this!
We're told that "the musicians of the group Prima Materia individually researched and developed unusual vocal techniques (originally used in Tantric rituals in North India, Mongolia and Tibet), based upon the use of overtones coupled with a special state of inner concentration, which was the essential condition for both the emission and control of long-sustained and complex vocal sounds. Their capacity to sustain a note for what seems an eternity, and then continue to provide endless variations generated a continuous and sustained drone of sound, in which the overtones are clearly perceived." We believe it.
The Tail Of The Tiger LP was originally released in 1977 as a private pressing by a small label run by Laneri, Alvin Curran and Giacinto Scelsi. Now, this digitally remastered cd reissue features the 33 minutes and 30 seconds of music from the original LP plus another 42 minutes of live performance recorded in Berlin in 1974 and Rome in 1976. And it's packaged not just with a booklet of liner notes but also 16 pages of "visual overtones", beautiful full color prints on tracing paper. Yup, nice! And it case you're still unsure, the blurb on the cover sticker contains high praise from none other than Terry Riley, who knows his drones.

Squidco (Usa)

In 1977 Italian label Ananda, owned by Roberto Laneri, Alvin Curran and Giacinto Scelsi, issued this recording of long and dense trance-inducing drone of sustained notes, rich with overtones and harmonic embellishments. The area of music explored seemed so vast that it seemed almost of non-human, even electronic in nature. Paradoxically, the recording was produced using only the most original and archaic of instruments: the human voice. The musicians of Prima Materia individually researched and developed unusual vocal techniques originally used in Tantric rituals in North India, Mongolia and Tibet, based upon the use of overtones coupled with a special state of inner concentration, which was the essential condition for both the emission and control of long-sustained and complex vocal sounds. Their capacity to sustain a note for what seems an eternity, and then continue to provide endless variations generates a continuous and sustained drone of sound, in which the overtones are clearly perceived. This CD digitally remasters the original LP recording, and also presents two live concerts from 1974 in Berlin and 1976 in Rome. Beautifully packaged in a triple-fold digipack with a booklet in Italian and English, and a stunning booklet of complex circular artwork on semi-transparent paper.

Dusted Reviews (Usa)

It was only under the gaze of soft morning light that I noticed the hidden layer of cover art that adorns the most recent Die Schachtel release. Composed in the label’s telltale silver on white motif, the jpeg file may slightly capture the gorgeous Tibetan mandala, but nothing more. Only when physically held in hands toward the light does the cover reveal an ornate exploding blastula pattern etched in a clear gloss. And wait until you see the transparent booklet of more complex mandala design that accompanies it. A reissue of Roberto Laneri’s six-person group, Prima Materia, the package is literally illuminated beauty. Originally released on the Ananda imprint (who, if you’re wondering who the labelheads might be, is MEV co-founder Alvin Curran and master of the monochord and the Jenny Ondioline, Giacinto Scelsi), Prima Materia is the result of composer Roberto Laneri’s studies into the transcendental study of sound as achieved by the overtone singing of the human voice. The most noticeable touchstone for such a group cannot be found in much Western music, but rather in the Tantric rituals as practiced in North India, Mongolia and Tibet, and the resulting out-of-time trances that such regions produce with their singing. As the notes attest, the discipline lies less in the physical regiment and more in the inner concentration necessary to reach such psychic states. That all six members of Prima Materia are dressed in flowing white robes, their hair and beards unshorn suggest the spiritual dedication that such work also entails. But don’t expect some hippy-dippy vibes here, as the sound is far heavier and difficult than that. The group name itself suggests a difficulty in pinning and naming the source of such sound. As found in analytical psychology dictionaries, Prima Materia suggests a “primordial element, collective unconscious, unknown psychic substances, nocturnal sea-voyage, diminution of consciousness,” things not readily namable or understood. The six-person group strives not just for sound, but its absence as well, taking its cue from The Upanishads quote about sound and non-sound and how “non-sound is revealed only by sound.” The 30-minute main piece ebbs and rises with a guttural wave of multifarious voice that rises forth not from the lips but from the guttural depths of each person, and the two accompanying live versions from Berlin and Roma are similarly rooted. And what a haunting, delirious sound Prima Materia unleashes with their throats! Suggesting both Tibetan and Gregorian chants, Tuvan throat singing, Cornelius Cardew and the Scratch Orchestra’s The Great Learning, the overtone singing of Pandit Pran Nath as practiced by American minimalists like Terry Riley and La Monte Young, perhaps even the throaty growl of extreme black metal such as Corrupted, all coalesce here into something that defies description. Or as Laneri states in his notes: “Well, not only it’s (sic) not easy to sing it, it’s not easy to speak about it too.”

Gaz-eta (Poland)
Die Schachtel, na co nazwa nie wskazuje, to ulokowana w Mediolanie wytwórnia, która od trzech lat przybliza dokonania mniej lub bardziej znanych wloskich twórców z kregu muzyki elektronicznej, konkretnej oraz sound-poetry. Ambicja twórców Die Schachtel (jednak nazwa zwiazana jest w Italia, bowiem jest tytulem pochodzacej z 1969 r. kompozycji autorstwa Franco Evangelisti) jest nie tylko publikowanie plyt z nieosiagalnymi dotychczas nagraniami z lat 60-80, lecz wydawanie niezwyklych wydawnictw, które lacza interesujaca muzyke z niezwykla i korespondujaca z nia oprawa graficzna. Nic zatem dziwnego, ze posiadajace niewielkie naklady winyle oraz kompakty dosc szybko staja sie pozycjami niedostepnymi. Na koniec tego wstepu warto jeszcze wspomniec, ze Die Schachtel to równiez rodzaj galerii, w której regularnie goszcza instalacje dzwiekowe, wystawy oraz inne wydarzenia zwiazane z muzyka elektroniczna. Godna rozpropagowania inicjatywa tandemu Bruno Stucchi-Fabio Carboni jest SoundOhm - strona internetowa, majaca byc swoistym kompendium wiedzy na temat muzyki awangardowej z lat 60-80 minionego stulecia. Poniewaz jest to nieustanny "work in progress", twórcy zwracaja sie o pomoc do wszystkich osób posiadajacych wiadomosci, które umozliwia rozbudowe archiwum.

"The Tail of the Tiger" to reedycja jedynej plyty nagranej przez Prima Materia. Material pochodzacy z wydanego w 1977 r. przez niewielka wytwórnie Ananda, której wlascicielami byli Roberto Laneri, Alvin Curran i Giacinto Scelsi, albumu w wersji AD 2005 poszerzony zostal o dwa nagrania koncertowe z Berlina (pazdziernik 1974) oraz Rzymu (styczen 1976). Jednak niewielkie róznice dotyczace czasu oraz miejsca powstania tychze w zaden sposób nie wplynely na muzyke zespolu - zdawac sie moze, ze czas i jego uplyw niewiele maja z nia wspólnego. Twórczosc wloskiej formacji, porównywanej przez Terry Rileya, klasyka minimal music, a zarazem jednego z komentatorów reedycji, do Theater of Eternal Music, Harmonic Choir oraz Deep Listening Band, w jakis przedziwny sposób wymyka sie analizie umyslu.

Roberto Laneri, glówna postac Prima Materia, rozpoczal prace nad nietypowymi technikami wokalnymi w 1972 roku podczas studiów na Uniwersytecie Kalifornijski (zajmowal sie tam dzwiekiem jako nosnikiem odmiennych stanów swiadomosci), zespól powstal rok pózniej w San Diego. Od samego poczatku wspólpracowala z nim Suzanne Hendricks, a po przenosinach do Wloch, skad Laneri pochodzil, do grona scislych wspólpracowników dolaczyli Gianni Nebbiosi oraz Claudio Ricciardi. Prima Materia istniala do roku 1980, w tym czasie przez jej sklad przewinelo sie wiele osób, Alvin Curran, Michiko Hirayama i Maria Monti, regularnie koncertujac i propagujac spiew harmoniczny. Niestety nagran pozostawila niewiele - zdaje sie, ze istnieje tylko ten jeden album. Okreslenia: "minimalism, drones, overtone singing" wyczerpujaco przedstawiaja charakter zawartej na nim muzyki. Niezwyklym jest to, ze choc do stworzenia muzyki uzyto wylacznie ludzkich glosów, to rezultat wydaje sie nie posiadac cech ludzkich - tutaj brzmienia i posiadaja aure "elektroniczna". I choc przyzwyczailismy sie juz do technik spiewaków Tuwianskich czy Tybetanskich, to wciaz jakze trudno jest uwierzyc, ze ludzkie cialo jest w stanie wydac takie dzwieki. Wyglada na to, ze jest glos ducha, a nie ciala, a te trzy nagrania zawarte na nowej edycji "The Tail of the Tiger" zaswiadczaja , ze podróz w glab duszy przynosi niezwykle rezultaty. Goraco te plyte rekomenduje.

Other Music (Usa)

" is a mystic dialogue that brings us closer and closer to the source of light..." (Giancinto Scelsi, from the liner notes)
Here's another extraordinary sound document from the Italian label die Schachtel, the folks who brought us the genius Luciano Cilio album the year before last. This one features the work of Roberto Laneri and his extended vocal drone ensemble Prima Materia. Born in Italy, Laneri graduated from the University of California in San Diego with a thesis on "sound as the vehicle of altered states of consciousness" in the early-'70s, and for the remainder of the decade his ensemble Prima Materia would be the primary means of transportation.
Using a wide variety of vocal techniques inspired by the musics of Tibet, Mongolia, and India, the members of Prima Materia created dense polyphonic drone music of intense concentration with clear affinities to the concurrent work of folks like La Monte Young, Pauline Oliveros, Tony Conrad, etc. The first 30-minute-long piece was originally issued by the Italian label Ananda, a short-lived artist run consortium headed by Laneri, the American composer Alvin Curran, and the elusive Giacinto Scelsi. Nearly impossible to find upon its initial release, and ever after for that matter, The Tail of the Tiger has been coupled with a further 35-minutes worth of material recorded while Prima Materia were at the height of their power.
Die Schachtel again wins the award for most gratuitously beautiful packaging, as this reissue comes with a lovely white-on-white and silver embossed cover, metallic tinted liner-notes and photos, and a free-standing 16-page booklet of exquisitely printed multi-colored mandalas. These guys are setting the bar for what a proper reissue ought to look, and sound, like.