Piero Umiliani
Musica Dell'Era Tecnologica





Prolific film composer, Jazz adventurer and writer of library music Piero Umiliani (1926–2001) rarely takes things too far with his sleazy concept albums and tailored compositions, but in a world where odd things become commonplace and accepted even by your grandma, you have to reinvent yourself in order to either shock people severely… or let their bewilderment grow in a more subtle way. Enter the fourth dimension with Musica Dell’Era Tecnologica, released in 1972 on Liuto Records and sporting 14 tracks of… well, of what? How to describe the soundscapes? Are they about a turbulent turmoil, mephitic mayhem, uvular uproar or a masterful Moog meningitis?


The LP is all of the above, for in this exclusively synthetic and artificial album, Umiliani’s world of machines, robots and gadgets is so far out that even a reviewer’s convenient Space-Age umbrella term is mercilessly mocked and rigorously ridiculed. But once an artist is so determined to create something peculiar, I have to feature him on AmbientExotica sooner or later. Musica Dell’Era Tecnologica is exotic in the wrong way, unfurling staccato blebs, rotatory synths and frizzling percussion layers. Melodies – or simulations thereof – spiral downwards, waft aimlessly through the thick air, everything feels s(l)ickly pointillistic and chopped up. You want mauve strings and aerose timpani? Forget it. Traces of Funk are the next-best thing to a conventional music genre you might get. There are several reasons why Musica Dell’Era Tecnologica is only available on vinyl and will probably never resurface as a remastered download version, all of them quite funny and uplifting in hindsight, but also quite odd. Yes, I think that bewilderment and oddity could be the signal terms for this album. Read more about it below.


An archetypical arpeggio afterglow, parallax impositions of bustling organs, quirky tones and an overall portentous frenzy: welcome to the opener Consumisimo and its strictly rotatory robotisms. Umiliani basically creates the fitting sound backdrop of your favorite Saturday morning cartoon. Hanna-Barbera-esque bubbles and mild alkaline scents round this critter off. Marcia Dei Robots is thematically close, but takes its title more seriously and creates a march loaded with pulsating stardust shards, Latin castanets (!) and space whistles. The warm globs of the Moog synthesizer round off the frequency-bent staccatofied mélange. Whereas Danza Dei Rocchetti presses ever-forward due to its breakneck speed, slightly off-key polyphony on the lead organ and a sizzling Wild West atmosphere creeping in on the rockets, Requiem Per Un Autotreno is a foreshadowing but already surprisingly prototypical artifact of the brazen Shoegaze scene due to its mercilessly metallic clangs, dark matter cascades and pitched interim stages. Oscillating between a bone-crushing siren and acidic protrusions, this is one of Umiliani’s darkest hours. Ride the road train!


The follow-up Antiquariato meanwhile brightens things up with synthetic trumpets and clarinets which inherit the Baroque charms of said antiquarian housing, whereas the hyper-warped laser pulses of Finalissimo Atomico and the shuffling breakbeat spine make this piece odd in an amicable way. Hear the snafu once, and chances are that you may never forget its textures. Side A closes with the artificial arcanum that is L’Ultimo Pastorello (the last shepherd) which unleashes pan flutes, a lachrymose luminosity of lilac organs and a good dose of Orientalism.


Side B transmutes the calcined atmosphere further: the opener Blues Machine has to be a part of every household in the shiny millennium, exacerbating emaciated Funk blebs and synth bass specks ad infinitum, and always with a tongue-in-cheek attitude. The microscopic Virus In Amore then pieces the Moog textures of Blues Machine together anew and makes aeriform zingers and oscillating buzzes out of them. A droning yet quavering organ provides the mystical backdrop for this toxic wasteland of tomorrow. Whereas Computer Nevrotico creates the titular neurotics via a cyberspace Samba with faux-ligneous fake claves, virtual reality crickets and piercing chirps from a parallel universe, Fruitori (users) plays it cool with its simulation of farting tubas, abyssal bass melodies, frizzling cymbals, fir-green organs and the genuinely hypnotizing beat structure; one of the best post-Space-Age tunes, and strictly Latinized it is too.


While Macchina Sfascia-Omini opens with a whitewashed jagged frequency uproar which eventually makes room for a murky breakbeat-fueled atmosphere sans melodies, Catene Di Montaggio (assembly lines) builds on the percussion theme as Piero Umiliani lets loose his best beat. Yes, I have to admit that we have left Exotica long ago, even Space-Age this is not, but at least infinitesimally related, although the friendly weirdness is completely amiss. The grand finale Impulsi is indeed just that, a collection of discordant Moog coils with sine tones glued to them, tumbling down into the maelstrom of madness, with no way back to the ashen daylight.


Piero Umiliani has taken things too far with Musica Dell’Era Tecnologica. Way too far. And since he dares to visit innermost heliospheres and microscopic galaxies that are deemed outright crazy and non-digestible to even the most diehard composer of Moog and synth material, he succeeds in his own, very peculiar way. Yes, this work is spawned from the very composer who brought us the iconic Mah Na Mah Na, many a jazzy film score and library music par excellence, but the album is, qua the nature of its theme, almost too odd to even appear here on AmbientExotica. To some extent, I weasel out quite a lot by explaining why a certain album can still be somewhat placed near the Exotica genre because of “attribute X,” “characteristic Y” or “instrument Z,” but Musica Dell’Era Tecnologica makes these things hard to explain, let alone justify, and we’re talking Space-Age here… clear cut Space-Age even.


There is no mistake: Umiliani has created this album for short (i.e. very fugacious) vignettes or cartoons whose futuristic settings producers want to fill with life. This means that the album cannot be enjoyed as a whole, or else you’ve got yourself a big problem. The percussion-only tracks such as Macchina Sfascia-Omini and Catene Di Montaggio are indeed very good, but once pseudo-melodic sequences start, this album becomes a mess. A loveable, unique mess as the almighty bane of Requiem Per Un Autotreno or the hyperspeed surroundings in Danza Dei Rocchetti showcase. But still, Musica Dell’Era Tecnologica remains a curious and slightly embarrassing collector’s item par excellence, ready to absorb the dust of one’s bachelor den. It is odd: several decades ago, one could potentially scare away his parents with Liverpool Rock and cause a riot in the family. Nowadays, it should be suitable enough to simply play this record with a straight face, and bewilderment ensues throughout the neighborhood. So I’ve heard. From a friend’s friend.


Exotica Review 366: Piero Umiliani – Musica Dell'Era Tecnologica (1972). Originally published on Aug. 16, 2014 at AmbientExotica.com.