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The Mark Of Infinity: Tomaga's Intimate Immensity
Antonio Poscic , March 25th, 2021 08:54

The final album by the duo of Valentina Magaletti and the late Tom Relleen deftly sums up what made their live shows so thrilling, finds Antonio Poscic

Tomaga, the improv rock duo of Valentina Magaletti and Tom Relleen, had felt like home for the London-based musicians from its inception in 2013 and right until Relleen’s passing in 2020. Outside of Tomaga, multi-instrumentalist Relleen was best known as half of The Oscillation, the fuzzed out psych rock project with Demian Castellanos, and as founder of the Phonica Records label. Magaletti branched out even further playing drums and percussion with quirky pop outfit Vanishing Twin, performing with the London Improvisers Orchestra, and collaborating with a number of avant-music luminaries. But it was Tomaga where their musical personalities came fully into being.

Starting with 2014’s debut Futura Grotesk, the band’s prolific discography superficially appeared to be an extension of Silver Apples’s variety of psych rock. In reality, they played with a freer style, confidently incorporating downtempo electronics, jazzy inflections, and post-rock crescendos in their spontaneous compositions. By adding a hint of mystery, the music projected a secret epistemology of the world through boundless motorik explorations and subliminal psychedelia. Self-evident, but somehow endlessly elusive. Their themes danced a similar dance, collecting fragments of everyday life, philosophy, and inner experiences into intimate narratives.

When Magaletti’s oblong tank drum cycles emerge from the dark to form a tuneful skeleton for ‘Idioma’, the opening cut of the duo’s final release, it’s a sound at once known and unknowable. Evolved from 2016’s The Shape of the Dance, yet embedded with a deeper meaning in light of Relleen's passing. On Intimate Immensity, the breathless reverberations of his Buchla synthesizer are just that bit more incisive than before as they saturate the sound space and grow emotional branches around echoing polyrhythms. Bass textures bubble up and wash over lurking, shy noises with newly discovered weight. An electronic pulse whistles for the first and last time.

“We rushed to master the album in his final days because the release was important to him,” Magaletti revealed to tQ after Relleen’s passing. This urgency is felt throughout. While released posthumously, the record is not burdened by thanatological considerations, but rather feels like an inspirited spark of creation. Within this context, its ten vignettes become microcosms capable of surviving beyond the heat death of the universe. Each of them builds upon idioms of kinetic syncopations and expanding swarms of effects, but also allows itself increasingly melodic, uncomplicated forms of expression. This newly discovered sense of immediacy makes the album breathe with intensity, encapsulating the dynamism of Tomaga’s live performances. There, the almost psychic interplay between the two musicians created a mesmerising exhilaration as they meticulously built loops, swallowed attention with phrases, and pulled the audience into revolving progressions.

Magaletti’s drumming is the engine behind most of the tracks here. But Relleen’s effects – sourced from a variety of analogue instruments, electronics, drones, and found sounds – are not lost in the spaces between rhythms. Instead, they tether themselves to Magaletti’s evolving beat forms. Informed by the textural and rhythmic approaches of her recent solo work (A Queer Anthology of Drums) and collaborations (Due Matte with Marlene Ribeiro), she concocts deceptively simple patterns, stretches her drum kit to its timbral limits, and extracts the strangest of noises – flutter of butterfly wings, treading ruckus from neighbours on the floor above, ASMR-ready bristling – from her percussive elements.

Case in point: on ‘Mompfie Has to Pay’ she rolls nimbly over the kit, resulting in a mutant sound of West African music traditions and gamelan. Relleen’s booming bass undulations, buzzing guitar riff, and synth glissandi open it up into a blissful tropical romp. Then things get serious. On ‘The Snake’, tom hits gain distorted edges on a dusty trek through Anatolia, accompanied by equally dirty organ lines and punctuating plonks. ‘Very Never (My Mind Extends)’ finds a secondary hypnotic anchor in a mantra by Vanishing Twins’s Cathy Lucas. “My mind extends into the world my mind extends”, she chants in a cyclical trance, ushering the band into territories of vintage krautrock akin to CAN and Embryo, roamed by ensembles of seductive cymbal hits, sawing frequencies, and xylophone rides.

Elsewhere, things get harder – if not quite dance floor-ready – thanks to the droning, scratchy hip-hop beats of ‘More Flowers’, the glitchy industrial deconstruction of ‘The King of Naples’, and the Vatican Shadow-evoking scorcher ‘British Wildlife’. The latter is made complete by Martin Tomlinson’s disgruntled grunts and an insistent sideways rhythm. For a moment, the mechanical flutter evokes a card flapping between the spokes of a bicycle wheel, like one of French composer Pierre Bastien’s intricate DIY instruments heard on his 2019 collaboration with Tomaga, Bandiera Di Carta. Between these self-confident cuts, live ‘Non Sia Mai’ and ‘Reverie for Fragile Houseplants’. The first is an immense, flute-haunted drone, which wanders through weird lost sounds, insecure of its own existence. The latter stands in contrast as an optimistic ambient piece reminiscent of Mort Garson’s Mother Earth’s Plantasia. At least until Tomaga trample over it with hollow thumps mimicking a child’s feet stomping in tantrum.

The closing ‘Intimate Immensity’ resonates emotionally and sonically with hefty beats and swelling violin glides (courtesy of Agathe Max), weaving contemporary classical aesthetics around a more muted electronic core. But while the atmosphere is bittersweet, this final piece is without a sense of finality. Its name and unspoken cosmology instead recollect French philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s thought: “Daydream transports the dreamer outside the immediate world to a world that bears the mark of infinity.” In the impressive body of work that Relleen leaves behind with Tomaga and his other projects, Intimate Immensity feels special. A meticulously constructed resting place for his dreams.