The fact that Biota release an album every seven years or so certainly hasn’t helped in generating the attention that their work fully deserves. Half A True Day – released quite a while ago, but only recently arrived in my hands – stands proudly amidst the corporation’s absolute best. Yet the same destiny of its predecessors seems to be awaiting. It’s called virtual obscurity.
Ever since the very first records under the Biota/Mnemonists marks (the latter used today for the collective’s visual counterpart, which adorns covers and booklets with splendidly imaginative artwork) the group has been dealing with cross-pollinations of genres, improvisation, folk-ish song forms and studio manipulation, the latter an absolute point of strength. Over the last two decades, the reports from the musical research department has been signed by Biota which, starting from the 1989 masterpiece Tumble (RéR), progressively shifted the weight of the compositions towards a limited access zone where knowledgeable tampering of raw materials and memories of declining beauty secretly meet. The anarchic unpredictability of earlier albums like Horde or Tinct (both on RéR) has finally left room to a world of treated acoustic sources, taped ghosts and recollections of non-existing stories that William Sharp’s masterful editing and processing elevates to rarely found levels of awareness.
Similarly to other fruits of Biota’s creativity Half A True Day is a suite of sorts, seventeen tracks seamed in a 70-minute flow, almost no time for a listener to memorize a scene, just the glimpse of a few basic concepts appearing somewhere in the mix and instantly fading away. The problem is that this usually happens in parallel with four, five additional frames, all equally uncatchable. Peculiarly gripping themes intersect amidst amorphous reverberations and unstable chords apparently generated from detuned machines; that’s not the case – the superimposition of aural planes and ever-mutating colours is actually doing the work. We follow an allegedly regular figure or pattern, soon finding ourselves catapulted into a whirlwind of contrary-motion tapes and extraneous themes, then avalanched by strata of hissing phonemes and looped layers, each of the constituents contributing to a displacement that can’t be fought but, strangely enough, feels like a most welcome sensation. This goes on for the whole program, the music gifted with a graceful poignancy able to literally prick the proverbial cynic’s detachment.
Mixing normal instruments such as guitars, piano, violin, flugelhorn, accordion and exotic percussion with the likes of “biomellodrone keyboard” and “small battery-powered devices”, adding a charming vocal ingredient with Kristianne Gale (“Where No One Knows” is maybe the album’s top in terms of pure aesthetics) and Rolf Goranson, Biota manage to subvert the rules of expectation while remaining in proximity of an accessible method of expression. There lies their unacknowledged artistry, the ability of setting people’s mind in a comfortable position to let them enjoy music that for sure couldn’t be described as “comfortable”. The incomprehensible invisibility that accompanies this ensemble is a veritable puzzling issue. Still I wouldn’t be surprised if, all things considered, Katsimpalis, Whitlow, Sharp & co. revealed a preference for this status. After all, the purest form of art is necessarily incorruptible.