Stephen O’Malley‘s reputation for producing punishingly loud noise levels goes before him.

The Seattle-based artist has his finger in a number of pies but is best known for being for being one the two core members of the  grimm-robed doom-metal group Sunn 0))).

On Monday 4th July , in the picturesque grounds of the Rocca Brancaleone, O’Malley was playing solo as part of Ravenna Festival’s audio-visual shows under the heading Weird Tales (Stregonerie Sonore).

A couple near me were deciding where to sit. Initially they sat next to me in the front row of the open air arena. The man reassured his companion that the large  speakers were projected high enough to render them safe. He then looked in front of the stage where a row of 10 speakers were laid out horizontally, they looked as menacing as Count Dracula’s coffins. The couple decided on a strategic retreat to some seats further back.

Scary speakers

I took my chances on the front line. What damage could one man and a guitar do? In the event, he was loud but within manageable levels and part of the point of his music is that has to envelope the senses.

“The loss of the self is one of music’s greatest gifts”, wrote Simon Reynolds in his latest book Retromania, and this is a notion O’Malley would doubtless agree with.

Italian film director Yuri Ancarani might also extend the argument to say that the self can also be lost within a natural landscape. The two short documentary films shown at La Rocca support this concept.
The first is called ‘Il Capo’ (the chief) and was filmed in a marble quarry in Monte Bettogli, Carrara. It shows one  man at work directing heavy-duty drilling and lifting vehicles to break off huge blocks of marble so that they can be transported and cut into smaller pieces.

The deafening noise of the machinery means that spoken dialogue is impossible so Il Capo communicates by a series of hand movements and gestures. He is like a stone-faced conductor of an orchestra. His rugged features show what tough work this is. When he raises his left hand we see that three of his fingertips have been sliced off sometime in the past.

The movie was premiered at the 67th International Film Festival in Venice and captures both the spectacular beauty of the Aquane Alps and the fascinating working methods used in marble excavation.

The second film is called Bora for which O’Malley has been employed as chief noisemaker. He plays a live improvised soundtrack which is mostly just a solid drone, something that works best when the sound of the wind and amplified guitar are in harmony. However, it didn’t strike me that O’Malley had troubled much to marry audio with the visuals. There wasn’t enough variety in the tones to hold the interest for the duration of the film (about half an hour). The images themselves are not as dramatic as you would expect. There are shots of bleak landscape and rather than the gale force gusts associated with the bora; it just looked like it was filmed on a very windy day.

In the end it was a mildly interesting show but wasn’t quite the assault on the senses I had hoped it would be.

This is Ravenna Festival’s own video showing an edited version:

Related post:

Il Capo review (