Pep Llopis

Poiemusia La Nau Dels Argonautes

Dig around most European countries and you will find at least one band or musical movement that played a vital role in the development of electronic music, from Kraftwerk in Germany to the Mediterranean wonders of Italodisco. Spain is a curious exception to this rule: Aviador Dro, the Madrid band rather fancifully referred to as “the Spanish Kraftwerk”, are little known outside of their homeland, while the fact that Granada had a vibrant experimental electronic music scene in the early 1980s (home, for example, to the nascent EBM of Diseño Corbusier) seems forgotten by almost everyone.

I say “curious” because Spain itself – and in particularly Ibiza – played such an important role in the history of dance music, with Paul Oakenfold and co.’s 1987 visit to the Balearic island and exposure to DJ Alfredo helping to birth rave culture in the UK. Alfredo’s eclectic musical selections, a mixture of anything and everything from Art Of Noise to The Residents, went on to form the basis of what is still known as Balearic today. But of Spanish music, there was barely a sniff.

And yet, as Oakenfold and crew were joining hands in a fountain to the sounds of ‘Moments In Love’ during that epochal visit to Ibiza, some 200km away in Valencia Pep Llopis, a former prog rocker mourning the dissolution of his band Cotó-En-Pèl, was putting together an album of salt-fresh, Mediterranean-breezed proto ambience that would have fit right into their Balearic excursions.

Poiemusia La Nau Dels Argonautes, one of three albums released in 1987 by Llopis, would instead have to wait until the mid 2010s and a considerable softening of attitudes towards New Age music for record collectors to wake up to its dreamy charms. Now RVNG sub label Freedom To Spend has made Poiemusia its third release, thwarting the €100 mark up merchants who have been selling the album on Discogs and giving a new lease of life to one of the most vividly Mediterranean pieces of music ever to see the light of day.

The story of Poiemusia is unusual in itself: Llopis made the album after spending time exploring the islands of the Mediterranean, the experience reawakening his creativity after the break up of Cotó-En-Pèl. The five lengthy songs were originally created for a performance at the 1986 Poiemusia festival in Valencia, where they would back the poems of Valencian poet Salvador Jàfer. The following year, Llopis made a studio recording of the set accompanied by the voices of Jàfer and Montse Anfruns, Perico Sambeat on flute, Josep Ángel Murillo on clarinet, Aleixandre Abad on cello and Joan Cerveró on percussion, vibraphone and marimba. Perhaps the key element to the album’s unique, enduring sound, however, is Llopis’ delicate synth work, which winds a proggish, hypnotic path around the music, drawing the listener in like a benevolent python and laying the groundwork for the other instruments to reflect off.

Or should that be “seawork”? For, the work of Dexciya aside, rarely has an album felt so spectacularly aquatic. Poiemusia is rooted in the language of the sea – the title refers to the Argo, the ship on which Jason and the Argonauts sailed to retrieve the Golden Fleece – while Jàfer’s poetry makes frequent reference to the aquatic. More importantly, perhaps, the music itself feels bathed in salt water, floating on layers of undulating sound which shift and shimmer like the waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

Llopis was influenced by American minimalists like Steve Reich and La Monte Young but the music here is simple rather than sparse, with layers of sound slowly building into a glorious whole where there are no sharp edges and few real surprises. Opener ‘Muntanyes de Granit’, for example, fades in slowly on a wave of entrancing triplets, picked out on the synth like the patter of rain on the open sea, to which are added dabs of flute and vibraphone, glinting like the sun reflected on water, then the voices of Jàfer and Anfruns reciting poetry in Valencian, all rolled “r”s and sibilant “s”s. These element ebb and flow over the track’s 10 glorious minutes, adding a cello here or vibraphone there, but anchored throughout by Llopis’ addictively simple synth work. The effect is like floating on a gentle sea, the wind blowing gently in your hair, the sun on your face and the clean tang of salt in your nostrils.

The feeling of the album is calm then, but not entirely indolent. The second song, ‘El Vell Rei De La Serp’, starts a great deal like ‘Muntanyes de Granit’, all lazy synth baths and flute whispers, only to switch up half way in, with the airy ambience giving way to rippling marimba runs and piano chord stabs, suggesting if not quite panic in paradise then at least a degree of urgency in getting to the bar before closing time.

It is a trick that Llopis pulls off again on ‘Jardins Aquatics’ and the closing ‘La Nau Dels Argonautes’, two tracks which manage to be simultaneously relaxing in tone – all soft synth sounds and marimba – and rousing in execution, swept along by undulating synth tones which feel like sailing on a choppy sea. With the exception of ‘Nits De Cristall’ – a rather dull number for piano and voice – the musical texturing on this album is exceptional, the layers combining to create a gloriously sumptuous mix of sound, while Llopis clearly has an ear for a classical melody.

The result is a fascinating album, a landmark in Spanish musical history and a release that bears little comparison to its 1980s contemporaries. There is a touch of Tangerine Dream’s new age waft to Poiemusia – no surprise, really, given Llopis’ background – mixed with the classical elegance of of Wendy Carlos’ work. But Llopis brings a Mediterranean ambience to proceedings that has has little to do with the Germanic stylings of Tangerine Dream. Its closest comparison, then, might be the Latin-influenced work of another German, Manuel Göttsching, on his landmark E2-E4 album (later reworked, of course, as ‘Sueño Latino) but even that doesn’t come close to evoking the salty, sunny atmosphere of the Spanish coastline that Llopis captures on Poiemusia.

And yet Poiemusia carries the root of its failures within its triumphs. The album is a paradise of soft edges and sun, comforting like a new towel or freshly-made bed. But into this paradise no darkness can enter, there’s no shade to its light or vile sea creatures lurking in its aquatic utopia. And that’s both a charm and a problem: If you were blissed out on a lilo under the Mediterranean sun you would never want Poiemusia to end. But back on the harsh reality of land such relentless – if beautiful – serenity can get a little wearing.

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