It must be said from the outset that anyone not familiar with Mike Patton and his breathtakingly diverse body of work would do well to investigate the back catalogue and familiarise themselves with the artist who has successfully taken on any number of disparate projects.
In 2010 Patton, together with the Brussels based Ictus Ensemble and Nederlands Kamerkoor, performed “Laborintus II” by Italian composer Luciano Berio at the Holland Festival. Berio created the piece in 1965, to mark the 700th anniversary of the birth of Dante, basing it on the poem “Laborintus” by Edoardo Sanguineti, and concerning itself with the “timelessness of love and mourning”.
The chamber opera had its Dutch premier at the Holland Festival in 1972, and featured a set that compromised, amongst other items, a giant blow up doll and car tyres. Lieven Bertels, former artistic director of the Holland Festival, described bringing the piece to a new, younger audience, and incorporating narration from Mike Patton, who, quite rightly, has the versatility and open mindedness to tackle such an assignment, and has openly paid tribute to Italian composers in his work in the past.
It is said that Berio composed “Laborintus II” whilst teaching in California, and was listening at the time to jazz, pop and folk music. Careful listening to all three sections of the piece featured on this recording would suggest that these influences have been skilfully woven in to the texture of the set.
The opening choral passages are delicately interspersed with mutterings of brass and woodwind, before the narration, in the composer’s native tongue, enters to unnerve the listener. Background voices add to the restrained cacophony. As a non Italian speaker, the language appears to add an ominous quality to the recitation, which by the first five or ten minutes, has lost the “novelty” value of being spoken by the former lead singer of Faith No More, and to his absolute credit, becomes coherent within the piece as a whole.
Part 2 begins antagonistically, suggesting violence and anguish, and progresses mournfully and poignantly into the third and final short piece. The production throughout is crisp, even during passages where the dissonance of electronic noise, voice and traditional chamber orchestra instruments bicker for acknowledgement. The narration is intimate yet fervent. Styles of composition and delivery vary wildly, but combine to construct a piece of work that deserves attention.
It is to be hoped that, rather than dismissing an artist for involving themselves in a wide range of incongruent projects, releases such as “Laborintus II” and “Mondo Cane” on Patton’s Ipecac Records, will convey music, that would probably never be considered under normal circumstances, to a new, receptive audience. The cultural landscape needs innovators such as Patton to champion works such as this that may otherwise be overlooked.