Tu M’ // Monochromes Vol. 1 // Line // 2009

Genre: Ambient, Drone

Tu M’s Monochromes Vol. 1 was supposed to be the first installment of a nine track electronic release by Italian multimedia duo, Rossano Polidoro and Emiliano Romanelli. Released in 2009 to critical ambient acclaim, Monochromes Vol. 1 earned the duo high praises from The Milk Factory, Brainwashed and even The Wire, as well as found its way on several ‘Best of 2009’ lists. The duo has since disbanded, leaving the remainder of the project incomplete, unreleased and unheard. The group did, however, leave us with this quote surrounding the aim of their work:

“A poet always has too many words in his vocabulary, a painter too many colors on his palette, a musician too many notes on his keyboard.” — Jean Cocteau

The album’s name itself comes from French conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp’s final work, translating into the unfinished sentence “you […] me,” leaving the viewer to decide what “[…]” means. On a related note, Duchamp was experiencing a heavy disassociation from painting in 1918 when Tu M’ was finished, and the title’s name suggests Duchamp’s sarcastic tone towards painting at the time, perhaps meaning “tu m’ennuies” (you bore me), as the flame for his passion began to extinguish towards the end of his career.

The album itself elegantly embraces minimalism in ambient design and a frigid aesthetic with four flowing compositions that stay steadfast to the album’s title by building an organic and occasionally bone-chilling atmosphere that carriers on for over an hour. While unwavering from an aesthetic standpoint, the tracks are highly variable from a composition standpoint. Aptly named for an [at the time] partially complete project of ambient sound design, “Monochrome # 01” opens the album gracefully. Warm string tones meander slowly up and down and are occasionally reset by some pulsating low frequency bass. About halfway through the 14-minute track, the pulsation of the bass washes away and creates a much more frigid texture, opening the way for the rest of the album, which is significantly less warm. It does return, however, before letting the song fade slowly away. Towards the end of the track, the bass completely dies out, revealing the true glacial nature of the sounds. The next track, “Monochrome # 02,” expands on these chilled sounds by swirling them around for almost 13 minutes, occasionally letting drifting string melodies and subtle snare brush hits come into play, but never prominently.  Static is prevalent and really expands on the hints of cold that were briefly touched on in the first track. The shortest and most straightforward track on the album, “Monochrome # 03” clocks in at just over seven minutes long, leaving little room for atmospheric potential, which has already been solidified by this point in the album. The organ swells back and forth heavily before withdrawing slowly. More than any other track on the album, rhythm’s role is huge and blueprints the pulsation of the organ’s notes. Unlike the previous two tracks, there’s a good bit of volume fluctuation here, but each time you think it’s finally going to cut out, the organ reels you back in. Very similar to some of Thomas Koner’s work with regards to organic sound design: haunting and bleak. Fittingly enough, “Monochrome # 04” is a monolithic beast of a track. Standing over 30 minutes long, the final track takes notes from the first two tracks and requires almost six minutes to even introduce itself. It is much more present than its predecessors and has a warm, full sound similar to the first track, though its pulsations are more frequent and it moves with much more haste. Elements of the rest of the album are revisited and expanded upon. Flowing strings, dashes of static, surging organ and an infrequent, washed out kick all help carry this monster to the 15 minute mark, where subtleties take over and the duo begins to experiment with much more minimalistic sounds only present for a minute or two early on in the album, gently ebbing away for almost 12 minutes.

Tu M’s relentless yet subtle sound that can only be tamed by a fade out of such incredible magnitude is something that is rarely seen in modern ambient music, yet it is crafted and unleashed so effortlessly on this album. Given the origin of the album’s name as well as the quote by Cocteau, it’s quite clear the duo was experiencing some form of information overload in conjunction with a bout of claustrophobia surrounding the creation of their work as well as their artistic potential. The endeavor to fully explore just a sliver of the entire sound spectrum is a fruit-bearing one, as the duo concocted incredibly tranquil sounds here that never charge their way into the foreground, but always remain present, and still manage to keep the listener fully submerged. Truly one of the most immersive, organic and serene auditory experiences of the last ten years.