April 18, 2015 | Rome, Italy | Partly Cloudy 11°C

Exile's return

By Patrick Masterson
Published: 2015-04-17

Daniele Ciullini returned to the music scene in 2011.

verything old is new again. At least that's the impression one gets listening to a recently released compilation by Florentine "mail artist" Daniele Ciullini featuring music he composed about the time the movement was transformed by the introduction of the fax machine. Domestic Exile Collected Works 82-86 (Ecstatic Recordings) adds several tracks to the original Domestic Exile cassette released in 1983, and despite low quality and dilettantism the recordings still sound remarkably fresh.

Ciullini's past is tied closely to the Italian TRAX collective of artists and musicians helmed by photographer Piermario Ciani and journalist Vittore Baroni. The idea behind TRAX emerged from the birth of public faxing in 1980, a fundamental change after more than a century of mail art exchanged through traditional postal methods. The pre-web ability to send bulk correspondence country-to-country permitted TRAX group members to communicate with likeminded artists beyond Italy, particularly in the Britain. Ciullini released music both under his own name and as part of the duo The Cop Killers.

Like many other artists in this orbit, Ciullini was featured on the 2013 Strut compilation Mutazione with the song "Ancora Icone." This 16-track release is in a similar vein, but the artistic vision is less scattered. Despite the variety of sounds, you can tell the man behind the machines is the same. Ciullini has said that these songs were "sonic Polaroids," each one capturing a moment at a time when he says he endured "a rift with the world." Musically, their take on synth minimalism and early industrial is raw and economical.

Powered by Boss DR-55 and Roland TR-606s, songs like "Trance" and "The Shadow Whisper" feature muddied melodies with significant reverb between notes. "Deep Water" is all crusty low-end thuds. Later, "Notte Rossa A" and "Bloody Machine" hint at the shoegaze movement of the late 1980s (the British press came up with the moniker when live performers seemed to prefer looking down). "Silence 3" is almost Dadaist in its abstractions. "Soft Marble" puts deadpan vocals over an entrancing new wave track. There are also traces of Suicide, Cabaret Voltaire, and the earliest synth-pop artists. Given Ciullini's mention of Polaroids, it bears mentioning that only one track exceeds four minutes.

"Domestic Exile, Collected Works 82-86" (Ecstatic Recordings): Ciullini tracks from a cassette-era time.

Domestic Exile is significant in a way that's similar to Mutazione. Neither release rewrites history but their context sheds additional light on the Italian underground of the early 1980s. They also help connect the dots on electronic music's recent obsession with "outsider house," powered primarily by the L.I.E.S. camp in New York. Listening to these tracks, I was struck by the remarkable likeness to what's now being released by producers working in the same sphere.

I'm not sure what Ciullini, now 62, has been up since his TRAX days (journalist Baroni provided most of the liner notes for this compendium and Ciullini's comments suggest he's returned to music after a near 40-year break). But Domestic Exile is a wonderful little snippet of a time when underground music of this stripe was beginning to gain cohesion and find its footing across Europe.

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Patrick Masterson

Patrick is a New York-born freelance writer and DJ who lives on Chicago's West Side.

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