The debut CD on Hypnos by ambient maestro Bruno Sanfilippo could not possibly be any more impressive. In fact, to these ears it is one of the finest discs Hypnos has released in the last 15 years. “Urbs”, a strange title which makes sense when you discover the urban theme of the music, plays like an alternative, and more ambient, soundtrack to Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece “Blade Runner.” The striking cover imagery of a photo of Berlin taken through a bus window gives a hint of the surreal soundscapes contained within, which could describe both an urban city and all its stories and emotions, or simultaneously the landing of a spacecraft on a barren and undisturbed extra-solar planet. Sanfilippo utilized only the Korg Radias synthesizer, samplers, and field recordings (of churches, cityscapes, subways, and bars), focusing on the “less is more” approach to sound design, making the music feel open, spacious, and uncluttered. And seemingly, not a sound is out of place as the music unfolds like a radiant dream, a dream which you never want to end.
The album is broken up into four tracks but plays like one long track, the first three averaging 20 minutes a piece. This kind of urban environmental ambient has been done before by other artists–check out Paul Vnuk’s “Silence Speaks in Shadow” on Hypnos, and Charles Edwards’ “Create” series on Fax–but “Urbs” never sounds derivative of those or cliched in any way. And that’s probably because the sounds employed on the album are just so jaw-droppingly, viscerally ethereal and beautiful that “Urbs” actually should have been the album to inspire those works. The first two pieces, “Urban Flow” and “The City Reflected,” set the stage with gritty, shadowy (but not dark) sound design; “The City Reflected” then morphs into some melodic synth motifs that are incredibly pastoral and calming (I am reminded here of Namlook/Inoue’s classic “2350 Broadway” album, which explored similar urban themes).
The third piece, “Chaotic Order,” the longest, at over 25 minutes, begins with lush, beautiful melodic sine waves over city soundscapes of streets, voices, etc; here. Slowly, some ultra-ethereal blips echo in and out (Tetsu Inoue fans take note) as the track continues its majestic path, pulling you from downtown to the Moon and back again. Later in the piece, some glitchy sounds add some grittiness to the rainy streets.
The final 7-minute piece, “The Gray Umbrella,” opens with heavily reverberated field recordings of voices in a train station, followed by some incredible metallic sounding synth tones that continue the pastoral feel of the album and create a perfect close. What a phenomenal album! “Urbs” has my highest recommendation, and is easily the best ambient album I have heard so far in 2012. Congratulations Bruno Sanfilippo on an instant classic and unforgettable masterpiece.