Since there are so many directions that music can and does head in, it’s difficult as a listener to really get a grasp on modern classical music. Not all of these directions are especially pleasant to listen to, and it seems that an “Emperor’s New Clothes” scenario comes into effect with regard to some – people don’t quite know how to take the compositions, but they must get good, right? RIGHT??? The latest album from classically-trained Barcelona-based musician and composer Bruno Sanfilippo is unlikely to provoke such speculation – Inside Life is an album of fine craftsmanship that’s exceedingly easy to listen to. Existing in the same realm as many of Brian Eno’s works, this album represents a different style of ambient music than is produced by the artists on the Across the Mountains compilation in that it revolves around more obvious composition of a very minimalistic nature. Snippets of melody flutter in and out of audible range during the course of Inside Life, but a glowing background warmth may be its most prominent element.
Universally quiet and restrained, the seven tracks here feature delicate piano melodies and subtle accompaniments. The title seems appropriate given the very earthy tone of these works, and I liked the fact that Sanfilippo was confident enough in his musicianship that he didn’t need to incorporate sound effects of tweeting birds, babbling brooks, or gentle breezes to achieve what he wanted here. Opener “Sudden Quietness” has a slight apprehensive quality to it established through the use of whirring electronic tones which churn in the background. The twinkling main piano melody here is a bit mysterious but nonetheless calm with an almost agonizing cello adding additional texture to the piece, and following a relatively loud middle sector, it finishes with a virtually silent concluding section. Sanfilippo’s piano is more percussive, bassy, and resonant in “Freezing Point,” a perhaps more introspective number which features omnipresent background crackle. Shrieking and screeching cello again joins in to add occasional punctuation to the main theme, and the piece eventually fades out as if to suggest an ongoing, inevitable process.
Written in dedication to Romantic era composer Camille Saint-Saëns, “Camille” is substantially brighter in terms of its overall mood, with distant vocal choir heard occasionally while a clanging, church bell-like melody sounds out. Organ chords drone on throughout the piece, and a listener is left with a sense of serenity missing from the opening pair of tracks. Possessing arguably the strongest moments of melody on the album, “A Door Opens For Ever” may also have the loudest individual sections heard on it. Flowing piano and strings bellow out a lyrical theme over occasional ticking rhythms and throbbing bass tones before the substantially quieter “The Place Where Dying Crows” takes things back to a somewhat darker sonic landscape. Never quite rising out of a moderately depressive haze, the piano here is pained and deliberate, with scraping strings and odd metallic sounds working to create an odd sense of ambiance. A slow tempo can’t stop “Tea Leaves at the Bottom of a Cup,” about as close to a genuine piano solo track as is found here, from seeming almost hopeful in context and the album ends with a sweeping title track that conjures an exquisite sense of wonderment.
Though it lacks grandiose moments of cathartic release and is more interested in providing gorgeous but pensive sonic backdrops, Inside Life does contain plenty of goose-bump-inducing beauty of the Sigur Ros variety, and I think it would have crossover appeal to fans of atmospheric or post-rock. Without doubt, this supremely beautiful album is ideally suited as relaxation music, yet it’s also interesting enough to be appreciated as active listening material. In any case, I’d have to label it as a tremendous achievement for composer/performer Sanfilippo. Inside Life definitely won’t appeal to those who seek instant gratification from the music they listen to, but it will be most rewarding for more patient listeners willing to give in to its allure. I wouldn’t be surprised if it wound up being among my favorites of the year.