Home Masthead Milo Fine: Damnatio Memoriae

Milo Fine: Damnatio Memoriae

Photograph by John Whiting

All the music that Milo Fine makes might beg the question: How exactly to interpret his fracturing lines, sometimes disembodied note heads as sound may be left hanging? Free improvisation refuseniks invariably raise the objection that no matter what the music, performers are left to their own devices and therefore, the argument goes, invariably default to doodling approximations of imagined ideas and other stick figurations suggested or implied by Mr Fine.

But never have before I heard music like Milo Fine makes, which would suggest that Mr Fine has refined his improvisational ideas and methods for a deeper psychological impact both on musicians and on listeners than perhaps even they realise. Instantly you become aware of an intensity of listening from these alert and sensitive players – winds, strings, keyboards and, of course, percussion – as players tiptoe towards orienting themselves around a structure that is yet to reveal itself. That distinct concentration and energy which derives from the musicians’ feeling, rather than from ‘reading’ their way forwards is the whole point of the music of Milo Fine.

Milo Fine’s improvisational schematics (evidenced on the “Upstairs” and “Downstairs” sequences on Nothing Is Not… and the alphanumeric titles on You will not be pressed to buy) build a network of association by continually spinning feeder pools of sounds, bold lines, scattering of dots, architecturally centring circles – into fresh contexts, mashing up permutations and altering perspective between foreground and background. Thus various versions of “Upstairs” and “Downstairs” around piano, marimba and alto clarinet by Milo Fine (foreground) and guitar, alto clarinet by Erkki Huovinen (background) shifts spatially, exchanging positions as the music coalesces and begins to feel explicitly composerly. Add to all of these marvels on the music of Milo Fine, played by him, Steve Gnitka, John O’Brien and Erkki Huovinen – as well as sung by Viv Corringham – on these discs, are the radiantly delicate textures that come alive throughout; a welcome assault on the senses.

In January of 2017 Milo Fine turned in a series of solo performances on drum set and percussion, B flat, E flat and alto clarinets and Bösendorfer Imperial piano. Plunging headlong into three sets recorded on the 17th, 21st and28th of January, Milo Fine drew power, as usual, from the depths of his being for each session. The result is raw and visceral music that often sounds as if it has sprung into being from a point before or beyond the modern world, evoking elemental human or natural forces, whether the stylized violence of Greek tragedy, the elemental cycles of the natural world or the destructive march of time itself; or as is in the case of The Only Dignity is Oblivion (Shih Shih Wu Ai Records, 16-18), the paraphrase of a line from Luis Buñuel’s autobiography The Last Breath (translated by Abigail Israel). Like much of his earlier music, these solo sessions possess the massive, rough-hewn quality of a prehistoric monument, as well as music of spare, lyrical and haunting delicacy.

Raul da Gama is a poet and essayist. He has published three collections of poetry, He studied at Trinity College of Music, London specialising in theory and piano, and he has a Masters in The Classics. He is an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep technical and historical understanding of music and literature.


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