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Monochromes Vol. 1

  • Artist: TU M'
  • Title: Monochromes Vol. 1
  • Label: Line (USA)
  • Release: 2009
  • Format: CD (DL)
  • Edition: 500 (out of print)
  • Lenght: 64:18
  • 01 Monochrome # 01 14:34
  • 02 Monochrome # 02 12:48
  • 03 Monochrome # 03 07:05 / download
  • 04 Monochrome # 04 29:49

Music composed, arranged and performed by TU M'. Recorded live at Vico Santa Chiara Studio, Città Sant'Angelo, Italy on the 11th June and 5th July 2008.

Rossano Polidoro: laptop, mixing board
Emiliano Romanelli: laptop, mixing board

Mastering: Taylor Deupree
Cover design: Richard Chartier
Cover image: TU M' (Still from the video Monochrome # V06, 2008)

“ 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 ¹

Monochromes Vol. 1 is the new sound work by Italian multimedia duo TU M'. The Monochromes series is a collection of modular audio and video compositions for electronic chamber ensemble. Fragile atmospheric colours made of sound, light, space. For more information on these works along with the accompanying video excerpts can be viewed at www.tu–m.com/monochromes. — Line, Press Release


The British magazine The Wire voted the album Monochromes Vol. 1 among the 15 best releases of 2009 in the area of electronic music. It was also voted in various ‘Best of 2009’ lists: Boomkat, Battiti / RAI Radio3, BlowUp, Headphone Commute, The Silent Ballet, Earlabs, Igloo Magazine.

Tu M's Monochromes Vol. 1 understands the virtue of stillness. From the cover onwards, this is a precisely elegant work, with the Italian duo jettisoning the edgy electronics that they were previously associated with in favour of gentle revelation. Releasing through a 12k-associated label and roping in Richard Chartier to design the artwork indicates that they are embracing the minimalist aesthetic even more than their earlier work. There is a reason for all of this, but let's get the obvious namecheck out of the way: Tu M' are not merely musicians, they are artists, and with their accompanying videos and diagrams that illustrate how Monochromes was produced (handily available on their website) it is almost as if they are playing up to comparisons with Brian Eno. But Eno hasn't produced an ambient album for at least a decade (some would argue he doesn't need to with the existence of Bloom as an iPod app), and Tu M' are, at the very least, worthy heirs - this is their Thursday Afternoon. One further connection between the two - Tu M' named themselves after Marcel Duchamp's final work and their label Mr Mutt in reference to the signatory on Duchamp's infamous Urinal, a work that Eno - presumably in a bid to reclaim it as a functional item - pissed in. But there is another artist that Tu M' reference on this work - Jean Cocteau's quote "A poet always has too many words in his vocabulary, a painter too many colours on his palette, a musician too many notes on his keyboard." In response to this, Tu M' reduce the number of colours to one or two shades in their videos, and the quantity of notes in their improvisations. As they are operating via laptops, the issue of the keyboard is academic, as is the expansive vocabulary (as if to underline this, the track titles are merely "Monochrome 01-04"). The four tracks within last over an hour between them, gradually building up in such a delicate and subtle way that the density of the tracks can be quite surprising unless you're paying attention. The shortest piece omits the long build, but even that evolves and shifts in its duration - however it doesn't sit in quite so comfortably with the overall mood of the work, sounding more like a refugee from Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works II. The other three pieces billow and waft about in a more minimal manner - perhaps the duo are sacrificing their own adventurous side in exchange for consistency of effect, for adherence to the concept, but as a whole it works. The final track takes up nearly half the album's running time, but doesn't dominate with its scale, gently ebbing away over the closing ten minutes as if to usher in silence. One of the videos for Monochromes shows an imperceptibly shifting landscape that seems to gradually change as mountain ridges rise and fall, developments so subtle that one doesn't notice it occurring at any one instant. It is a perfect illustration for the album - nothing happens, and yet everything happens. There's been no shortage of ambient records recently but Tu M' have put a lot of thought behind the Monochromes project and the result is one of the finest recent examples of an immersive piece, a tranquil auditory experience that will stay with the listener long after it is over. Score: 7.5/10 — Jeremy Bye, The Silent Ballet

The typically stark 12k artwork on this release carries a quote from Jean Cocteau: "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." That observation doesn't really apply to the Italian duo Tu m', whose 'Monochrome' series - titled with synaesthetic accuracy - is profoundly minimal. The four tracks on this first volume are steady systoles and diastoles garlanded by flurries of static and wistful, entropic motifs; as simple and organic as the rising and falling of breath. Tu m's work has a cumulative impact, acquiring emotional force as the slow-motion magic of repetion takes hold; it's as assured as it is self-effacing and, ever so quietly, rather wonderful. — Chris Sharp, The Wire

Consistent with the 12k sublabel's aesthetic, Tu M' are a duo of multimedia artists that work not only in the realms of sound, but in the video arts as well. Monochrome is four long tracks of laptop improvisations, recorded live by the duo. The video accompaniment is available via their Web site, but is unnecessary to enjoy the music. The album lives up to its title and is an intentionally minimalistic piece of ambient sound. - The opening "Monochrome #01" drifts glacially on gentle reverberated string tones. The tones are offset by some lower frequency bass pulses and what sounds like the occasional slow, quiet cracks in an arctic ice floe. There are the occasional moments of denser layered sound, but it stays mostly soft and melodic throughout. The change and variation is present, but it's not a dramatic shift at all, and it has a consistent feel from beginning to end. "Monochrome #02" is even more stripped down then the first, a buried ambient melody far, far in the distance that slowly comes into focus, but never dominates or becomes forceful. Instead, the swirling notes are content to haunt in the background under a gauzy layer of sound, like a thick fog around the entire piece. "Monochrome #03" is the shortest piece, clocking in at just over seven minutes. Unlike the prior two, it is a bit more forceful in its opening, with overt organ like notes swelling and then retreating like waves on a beach. There is less of a sense of sprawl here, as it feels more concise and rhythmic in its structure. The closing "Monochrome #04" is nearly half of the album at almost 30 minutes. Dynamically, it follows the first two pieces more than the third, opening with almost pure silence, only the most miniscule tones lurk far off in the distance. The long, quiet opening resembles Bernhard Gunter's hyper-minimalistic compositions, but constructed with more melody and musicality rather than digital glitch fragments. Through the slow build, bass textures and reverberated space enter, the former like thunder far in the distance, but never really become loud. The sound begins to peel away about 2/3rds through the track, fading away into a glassy silence. There are some very beautiful sounds here, but Tu M' seem almost intentionally set on keeping them in the distant background rather than being a captivating force. Perhaps that is the intention all along, given that this is music intended for gallery installations. It is extremely difficult to listen to this while devoting full attention to the music. However, in the background while doing other activities, the frigid ambience seeps in subtly, but is not easily ignored. — Creaig Dunton, Brainwashed

The Jean Cocteau quotation accompanying Monochromes Vol. 1– ‘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’–speaks volumes about the refined, minimalist aesthetic Italian multimedia duo TU M' brings to its latest project. Armed with laptops and mixing boards, Rossano Polidoro and Emiliano Romanelli recorded the release's four ‘Monochromes’ live on June 11th and July 5th, 2008 at Vico Santa Chiara Studio in Città Sant'Angelo, Italy. As a project, Monochromes constitutes a collection of ‘modular audio and video compositions for electronic chamber ensemble,’ with this sixty-four-minute volume the first in a presumed series. Atmospheric, fragile, and anything but monochromatic, the material is ambient soundscaping of an exceptionally ravishing kind. In the first setting, a gently wavering melody cycles amidst a vaporous mass and muffled percussive accents; in the second, faint, flute-like tones gracefully unfurl like the slow lifting of a veil as a tonal cloud smeared with static swells in volume. In the see-sawing arrangement that follows, soft whistles alternate with lower-pitched exhalations. The least melodic and most reduced of the settings, the fourth ‘Monochrome’ moves like an immense cloud formation across the sky for a full thirty minutes, with speckles of static and crackle popping alongside its billowing tonal mass. Unusual for a piece of this kind, a shift occurs two-thirds of the way through when the mass quietens, allowing celestial tones to assert themselves more audibly. As previously noted in the textura review of the duo's 2005 Dekorder release, Just One Night, Polidoro and Romanelli named themselves TU M' after the title of Marcel Duchamp's last painting and chose Mr. Mutt as the name for their CD-label in homage to the artist too (in 1917, Duchamp, under the name Richard Mutt, submitted his infamous urinal-known commonly as Fountain-as a sculpture in a New York exhibit). But, just as Just One Night evidences little in the way of dada-like mischief, so too is Monochromes Vol. 1 a wholly straight-faced collection . That it documents a more ‘serious’ side of TU M' doesn't take anything away from the beauty of the recording's material. — Textura

You can't say, not anymore at least, that Tu M' are overproductive. In their early years they had a whole bunch releases (on labels as Headz, Fallt, ERS and Phthalo) but its been a while since I last heard their music. I am not sure how they arrived from the last point to this new point, but the four pieces - ranging from seven to thirty minutes) are fine examples of monochrome sounds. Highly atmospheric, deep, ambient, a bit hissy. Just a simple set of loops set forward to play music. Not unlike the recent Celer or the elsewhere reviewed Yui Onodera & The Beautiful Schizophonic, but Tu M' seems to play even longer and more stretched. Ambient music with the big A of course. If Brian Eno has artistic children then their names are Tu M'. Here too, nothing new under the sun, but its great late night music. — Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly

Italian multimedia duo TU M' issues the first volume of their Monochromes series and it comes off as quite a lengthy, yet celestial journey, stretching across miles upon miles of bone-chilling Arctic tundra as the haze of the golden sun dissolves into thick gray clouds. Composed of four mammoth tracks, the album mirrors the gauzy, droning placidity of William Basinski's works on The Disintegration Loops, arcing serene tones of ambient blur over a dusky mist and warping it ever so slightly into a loop. Every few measures, a faint ping will ricochet through the fog, like a rock skipping down the belly of a canyon-but prepare for mostly dim scenery. 7.5/10 — Chris Sabbath, XLR8R

Album of the Week - This disc represents the auditory component of a mixed media project from Italian duo Tu M', who describe Monochromes as "a collection of modular audio and video compositions" which create sound and light vibrations that reverberate around the performance space, resulting in "an atmosphere to be contemplated". This being an audio-only CD, Tu M' have in a sense shifted the goalposts somewhat, and the only clue to the visual element you have is the album sleeve, which lifts a still image from the project. Having listened through the disc, it's actually pretty difficult to imagine how any sort of corresponding video might enhance the experience. These compact, finely worked pieces construct an enveloping ambience in their own right. 'Monochrome 01' immediately provokes comparisons to William Basinski with its looped, heavily enshrouded loops and ghostly piano gestures, but there's a more digital, less gritty feel to this album that sets it apart from that oft-copied sound. Next comes 'Monochrome 02', which is far less concerned with constructing any explicit melodic presence, instead content to cast sonic shadows for twelve minutes or so - it's all characterised by a disconcerting intangibility, vaporous and strangely... absent in tone. More overtly musical is the shortest entry here, 'Monochrome 03', which unfurls chords that gently swell and fall away like a distant orchestra, only for the final piece to present a more solid block of sound, casting a veil of digital smudges over your ears for a hypnotic half-hour. Abstract and immersive listening from the reassuringly challenging Line stable. — Boomkat

Over the past few years Rossano Polidoro and Emiliano Romanelli, perched on their mountain top in Città Sant'Angelo, Pescara, Italy, have surveyed the landscape of contemporary electronica in all its diversity, swooping down like birds of prey into the fields of glitchy post-techno and dreamy J-pop to grab tasty morsels from the undergrowth. On Monochromes Vol.1 they stick to the sky above in four spacious, contemplative tracks, characteristically elegant and polished, content to let their sounds fly like kites instead of chopping them up into bits and stitching them back together into amazing technicolor dreamcoats. The disc comes with a quotation from Jean Cocteau ("a poet has too many words in his vocabulary, / a painter too many colors on his palette, / a musician too many notes on his keyboard"), which might lead some folk to expect a move into Sachiko M less-is-more territory on the part of our Italian adventurers. Not at all – the music is as rich and colourful (I wonder about the album title though) as anything Tu m' have released in their career so far: it's just more leisurely and serene. Looking forward to Vol.2, lads. — Dan Warburton, Paris Transatlantic Magazine

It was on their 2004 release for the Irish-label Fallt, the curiously titled 'Pop Involved [Ver 3.0]' that I discovered the joyous works of Rossano Polidoro and Emiliano Romanelli aka Tu M' (named after the painting by Marcel Duchamp, but you knew that). Occupying the same sonic space as William Basinski; this is intense, processed work that possesses an off-world beauty. Controlled use of decay and difussion results in four tracks of contemporary ambient music; from slow burn drone pieces to ghostly orchestration and looped guitar. An overwhelmingly emotional experience. — Sheikh Ahmed, Failme

Jean Cocteau once wrote that "a musician [always has] too many notes on his keyboard." Tu M' will likely never be accused of having such a problem. Ambient music must always allow for introspection, but few albums have carried this goal further than Monochromes Vol. 1, which almost legitimately sounds like music from the womb. The duo has been plying its trade for almost a decade now, but with its first release for Richard Chartier's Line label, it appears to be seeing the fruition of its hard work and is well on the way to hitting a comfortable mid-career stride. As an audio/visual project, the album is somewhat incomplete without its film accompaniment, but I'll be damned if it isn't still incredibly satisfying on its own. This is one of the slowest and most majestic albums of the year. — Tom Butcher, The Silent Ballet

Rossano Polidoro and Emiliano Romanelli have been at the helm of the multimedia project Tu M' for over twelve years now, experimenting with music, video and photography for works going from records, released on labels as diverse as Phthalo, Headz, Fällt, Bip-Hop, Dekoder or ERS, to installations in museums and galleries around the world. One of such projects is Monochromes, which the pair describe as 'a collection of modular audio and video compositions for two laptops, two mixing boards, two loudspeakers, one video projector, one room', with the performance revolving around sound and light reverberating across a room. Monochromes Vol. 1, which collects four of the nine compositions documented on the band's website, focuses solely on the sonic dimension of the project, and offers no real clue as to what the accompanying visuals are, apart for the washed out blue image of the cover, taken from a still of one of the accompanying videos. Yet, the resolutely eerie aspect of the picture, showing the vague outlines of what appear to be a landscape in the distance, resonates through the slow build up of soundscapes that characterises the four tracks collected here. Shrouded in dense clouds of reverbs, from which vague contours of looped melodies occasionally rise, it is impossible to identify with certainty any of the components used by Tu M'. Occasionally, one could be forgiven for hearing a distant orchestra, a lone organ or a heavily processed wall of guitars, but the composition of the sonic fabric of these pieces is a close guarded secret. What matters here is not so much the content of these as the atmospheric context resulting of the process applied. While Monochrome # 01, #02 and # 03 rely on fairly clear melodic themes, which, developed over their respective course, slowly build up layers to show increased relief, the thirty minute epic Monochrome # 04, with its long overlapping drones, is totally devoid of any recognisable musical feature, and instead accentuates greatly on the purely textural aspect of the work. Recorded live over the course of two different performances, Monochromes Vol. 1 is a fascinating journey through particularly dense and enigmatic soundscapes. With the visual side of the project removed, it is difficult to evaluate it in full, yet the four compositions presented here actually work particularly well as stand-alone ambient pieces. 4.2/5 — The Milk Man, The Milk Factory

Released under the moniker Tu M' (Rossano Polidoro and Emiliano Romanelli), an interesting and all Italian mixed media project is unraveled in a rather airy and meditative way for the prestigious Line label. Since 2000, Line has been curated and directed by Richard Chartier, a sound/installation artist and graphic designer among the greatest names in the microsound scene. The environmental structures are very effective and reverberate in a very dilated and modular way, in delicate and atmospheric disturbances, converging in vivid laptop articulations, synergic in their poetic iterations and audio-video confluences. The scores of the four different "monochromes" are organized in the manner of hypnotic digital sketches, though it is the continuum that stands out from the overall structure, vibrating with airy loop-based montages. The textures are only apparently static, but are in fact rich in layers and resonances, perhaps stemming from a crystalline desire for synthesis, of a newfound lightness or a state of grace, unintelligible in their deep orchestral resonances, but definitely evocative and rich in multidisciplinary suggestions. — Aurelio Cianciotta, Neural

Monochromes Vol. 1 is the first volume of archival installations by the Italian multimedia duo, Rossano Polidoro and Emiliano Romanelli, performing under the moniker TU M'. The name, taken from Marcel Duchamp's same titled painting, is a French expression in which the verb is missing (tu m'…). This literally translates to ‘you […] me’, where the missing verb must be provided by the viewer (of the painting), or, in this case, the listener. The album, released on Richard Chartier's LINE Records, features the first four (out of nine) audio compositions, created for ‘two laptops, two mixing boards, two loudspeakers, one video projector, [and] one room.‘ These pieces were recorded live at Vico Santa Chiara Studio, Città Sant'Angelo, Italy in the summer of 2008. For the installation, the duo create an atmosphere where ‘sound and light vibrations reverberate inside the room, blending together in an enveloping monochrome, that creates an atmosphere to be contemplated." The visuals, available as excerpts on the TU M's website, are composed of drawn out monochrome landscapes, resembling distant mountain silhouettes and sluggish geometric figures, visible in change and movement only through sporadic skipping through the captures. Attempting careful observation, or trying to make out patterns that are not there, is futile. It's like watching yourself age in the mirror. It's like watching the clouds… The audio compositions paint the same picture. Over a slight white noise hiss and endless loops, the melody swells in ambient waves of sound, sparkling in the light of distant piano notes. Like the waves of an ocean that have been crashing against this beach for thousands of years, and many years to come, this music is new and ancient – it exists _all_ the time, somewhere completely on its own, only to be summoned into this moment with the press of a button. The sounds fade in and out with the rhythm of my breathing. Inhale soft pads. Exhale minor chords. Let this pattern wash away all worries. And when the [almost] 30 minute track ends, the melody is still there, in the background of my mind. To round off this exploration of space, sound, and light, intertwined together to create this minimal composition, the duo includes a quote by Jean Cocteau: "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." Check out previous numerous releases by TU M' by rummaging through their sound and visual works, carefully catalogued on their website. Their project under the name of Steno, for example, describing themselves as ‘a world made up of second-hand music‘, is released on their own, Mr. Mutt label, which, not coincidentally, is the name Marcel Duchamp signed on the upside down urinal, and named his found art as Fountain. — H.C., Headphone Commute

There's a Cocteau quotation accompanying Monochromes Vol. 1 which, along with the title, signals its ambit: ‘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.’ This points to the deliberately reduced palette deployed by Tu M', and a clearly minimalist flag flown over its aesthetic. On the linked video material, Tu M' reduce the number of colours to one or two shades, and limit the quantity of notes in their creations, further underlined by the terse track titles. Despite the minimalist manifesto, and their ostensibly undeveloped nature, its vistas are far from monochromatic in their veiled enigmatic quality. One of the videos is of an imperceptibly shifting landscape that gradually changes as ridges rise and fall; it's so subtle you hardly notice it in its instance of occurrence - a nice illustration of the album's dynamic: little seems to happen, yet your ears are on guard to pick up the minute microvariations as they come. To tweak Eno, it's music that can be ignored and remain interesting, but becomes more interesting the less you ignore it. There are beautiful sounds here, but they're deliberately obscured, emplaced with the most liminal of presences. The likes of ‘Monochrome 02’ may be Basinski indebted, but to speak in terms of its being derivative would be misguided, as these days in the ambient drone and neoclassical minimalism ambit, it seems increasingly like we are dealing with a shared sonic lexis of gentle motion and diaphanous timbres - one that doesn't belong to anyone, and at their best, as on the gorgeous elegiacs of "Monochrome 03", Tu M' show themselves worthy of consideration among its most eloquent articulators. — Alan Lockett, Further Noise

Rossano Polidoro and Emiliano Romanelli, operating as Italian multimedia duo Tu m', rounded off the first decade of the twenty-first century by kicking off an audio-visual project featuring "chamber music [of] fragile atmospheric colours". Four of the first audio pieces have been gathered on the compact disc Monochromes Vol. 1, while glimpses of the video are archived here: http://www.tu-m.com/monochromes/ The great canvas of each monochrome consists of pale background which conveys the feeling of both distance and vastness, upon which layers of detail and texture are laid. What seems monolithic from a distance proves stippled and intricately detailed the closer you get. Though composed solely with decidedly unsensual laptops and mixing board, the effect is volumptuous rather than austere. Imagine wine spilled out onto a table cloth, which both absorbs it and spreads it along its weave, lending the liquid fiber. So does the music spread ever outward rather than horizontally or vertically. These are sounds that cut thorugh the noise in the radio environment, begging comparison with Eno´s "Music for Airports". Music this expansive and enormous might best be deemed ’Music for Earth’. Though it neither ebbs nor flows, waxes or wanes, it breathes, and it seems to go on breathing long after the listener has departed. — Stephen Fruitman, Sonomu

L'arte sublime del loop. Che ben conoscono e praticano i pescaresi TU M', qui al loro rientro dopo un lungo periodo di assenza discografica (ancor più notevole, considerati i prolifici standard del duo). Una programmatica raccolta di composizioni monocrome, tessiture dormienti, interminabili, smagliate fino all'inverosimile. Fluttuanti nella zona quieta del vuoto anecoico che contribuiscono a creare, palpitanti della stessa tremolante malinconia ambient dell'ultimo Stephan Mathieu. 8/10 — Nicola Catalano, Blow Up

An interesting discussion about ‘Monochromes Vol. 1’ at Disquiet. — Various Authors, Disquiet