Ivan Iusco — Synthagma


Ivan Iusco, a famous soundtrack composer, has come up with an album that merges acoustic parts that resemble OSTs of sci-fi movies and electronic sounds, at times aggressive and catchy, and at times introverted. On Synthagma, Iusco addresses the early 90s with their utopian visionary imagination, driven by the discoveries in genetics, electronics, and space travelling; the same discoveries that arouse fears: the 90s were the time when cyberpunk flourished. Now that we have lived through two more decades, we can look back and wonder, what was left behind, unrealized, and to what extent we are still affected by those times. 

This kind of musical archeology, luckily, does not turn into another retrowave-like exploration. Although Synthagma may sometimes sound like an encyclopedia of electronic music genres, it is highly reflective when it comes to their subversive (or on the contrary, simplifying) potential.

The acoustic, orchestral part of the album acts like a reagent that shows new ways for music experiments and reveals what has not yet been articulated properly. For instance, the second part of the album opens up with an homage to Detroit techno, 1No1&100K, the track jumps from claustrophobic beats to vague orchestral work, that creates an additional uneasy soundscape rather than serve as a counterpoise to the dystopian sounds of electro. The B side is also full of introspective synths, that are reminiscent of ambient techno sounds of The Higher Intelligence Agency or the early days of psychill. The nervous sound/mood swings are most palpable on Invisible Drones Over Santa Monica. It begins with thoughtful synths, soon they mutate into “happy” sounds of some drug-induced (bad) trip, interrupted by an emotional, bombastic orchestral piece, that once again dissolves into kitchy beats. That may serve as a reminder: the 90s, innovative as they were, were also the time of commodification of the spectators’/listeners’ imagination. What was innovative in Space Odyssey, became kitch in The Fifth Element. These processes of imagination freeing and narrowing are inseparable, and Iusco stages their conflict in his deceptively “blockbuster” tracks.

The 90s are the point of reference in the album’s concept, but the musical influences that form contemporary (technical) imagination stretch far beyond cyberpunk aesthetics or anything else, and a close examination of Synthagma reveals these deeper layers. The synth-pop tracks that feature Kid Moxie remind us of a classic The Knife/Fever Ray sound, though less dreamy and with acid “space” synths forming the general atmosphere. These tracks are the perfect mixture of a “cold” electronic sound and a “warm” human voice: the same tension was inherent to space age pop, one of the first electronic genres, that explored cosmic imagination. In the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s, we were still dealing with that initial impulse; one should consciously evoke it in one's memory and play it more often to reinvent and reshape it – just like Ivan Iusco does on Synthagma.

The album ends with fragments of eerie voices; I like to believe, these are the remnants of opera vocals, chopped and screwed, that we hear throughout the song (Lies). This last track gives the listener the final hint about what they just heard: a kind of a deconstructed space opera, a sonic dystopia: nostalgic, kitchy, tempting and threatening at the same time.