Italian composer and electronic music performer Caterina Barbieri creates music that straddles the divide between psychoacoustic phenomenon and pulsing modular synthesis. Although she’s worked with more ancient sounds, including church organ music on her collaboration with Kali Malone (under the name Upper Glossa), most of her music focuses on the way electronic sounds behave in different physical spaces.
Beginning in 2014 she made a series of recordings for labels like Important and Editions Mego prior to launching her own imprint light-years, which released her latest album Spirit Exit in 2022. Her earlier work dealt with repeating and slowly morphing electronic patterns, as she created longform works whose sonic nature was impacted by the way they filled a particular performance space. As Barbieri explained in an interview by the Sound on Sound website, “I think that in first place the practice on synthesizers helped me developing an attentive and active listening attitude towards the ‘microscopic’ properties of sound. And that’s because synthesizers offer the possibility to shape timbre on a microscopic level and actively experience acoustic and psychoacoustic phenomena in first person.”
In 2020, during the early days of the pandemic when she was unable to operate and develop work in the large spaces she was accustomed to performing in, she holed up in her Milan apartment and set about making Spirit Exit. Not only is it her first recording to feature her voice as something more than another texture, the modular synth sounds are largely disconnected from the psychoacoustic experimentation of past work, instead offering a technicolor collision of sacred and club music. As Pitchfork wrote of the album, “Barbieri’s dualities—holy and profane, ancient and newfangled, ecstatic and doomed—give Spirit Exit its potency. In pinging arpeggios and harpsichord-like tones, she finds a middle ground between a hymnal and a Wendy Carlos song, and in her eerily processed vocals, she nestles newfound emotional resonance inside electronic pulses.”