WIND and WIRE
Is there such a thing as a concept album without a true definable musical concept, instead being borne out of a true story told through music? If so, Suite Patagonia, from keyboard player Bruno Sanfilippo (who hails from Barcelona) is it. This is a grand “tale”, all the more remarkable when one reads the extensive (pages and pages of them, in fact) liner notes which recount the history of the land of Patagonia (the land at the far southeastern tip of South America, near the Straits of Magellan), starting with its discovery by the explorer Magellan (here written as Magallanes). I will admit to being more-or-less ignorant of the “real story” behind this chapter of history (and subsequent ones involving the Patagonians and the colonists). After reading the liner notes, I certainly want to know more and my curiosity is reinforced and encouraged by the highly dramatic and wonderful music written and performed by Bruno Sanfilippo. Using what sounds like a large arsenal of synths and samplers
(along with a few authentic – for that part of the world – instruments, e.g. kultrum, chaschas), Sanfilippo has crafted a sweeping neo-orchestral recording that offers up stirring themes, forlorn melodies, and both stately and dramatic rhythms. Musically, some may hear echoes of Richard Burmer, circa his brilliant Bahkti Point-era. But the music on Suite Patagonia is less ‘ new age ‘ by far. It’s much more along the lines of soundtrack music, especially on tracks like the opening “Sayhueque,” (church-like bells, pounding timpani, and bass-strings may bring to mind Morricone’s great soundtrack for The Mission).
Other selections include the somewhat otherworldly “Giant Patagon” (featuring great “clipped” synth chorus work and lush strings) as well as delicate flute-like samples counterpointed by thundering drums and plucked strings. “Terra Incognita” features a variety of exotic synths but used in a traditional manner so that the music is never too bizarre or overtly “electronic.”
A harpsichord-like keyboard carries the melodic refrain and hand-chimes bring to mind the Burmer comparison I mentioned earlier. Despite the title (which can be translated as “unknown land”), the track is not dark or scary, instead concentrating on a sense of exploration and discovery.
Even during the few parts of the album when the mood quiets down, I’d never call this ambient music. And it’s definitely not new age music.
I think the best way to define Suite Patagonia is as I wrote above: it’s a musical “tale” with distinct chapters and stories, encompassing a wide variety of moods and emotions. “Magallenes” can be heard as haunting (owing to snaky synth work) despite its pounding percussion.
The title track is almost overture-like, with a largely orchestral sound to it as it moves through eight minutes of various musical motifs.
The closing cut, “The Andes,” is probably the closest to “new age music” owing to a more gentle tone and the use of synths that sound less
like traditional instruments.
Admittedly, Suite Patagonia is probably not an album, upon one’s first listening, whose craftsmanship or artistic worth is wholly appreciated (such was the case with me, at least). The music is never “easy” to listen to the way that new age music usually is and it’s not the least bit unobtrusive (in the way that ambient music is). Instead, I keep coming back to the comparison to a soundtrack.
In fact, owing to the great liner notes and the strong visual component of the music, I sure wish someone would “film” this album.
The historical “story” is amazing (I wish space permitted me to recount it here) and the music, with its dramatic themes, exciting melodies, forceful percussion, and classically romantic motifs, would merit a movie filled with heroism, tragedy, hope, loss, and redemption.
Until the movie is made, though, Suite Patagonia will have to do for those with imagination enough to “see it” in their mind’s eye.