Katie Gately

(Copyright © 2018 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of Use )

Pipes (2013), 7.5/10 (mini)
Color (2016) , 6.5/10
Loom (2020) , 6/10
Fawn/Brute (2023), 7/10

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Los Angeles-based electronic musician Katie Gately employ collages of processed vocals (and, proudly, no instruments) to craft the cassette Pipes (Blue Tapes, 2013), which contains two extended computer-based compositions. The 14-minute Pipes layers droning and psychedelic gimmicks of vocals and, despite the playful mood that interferes with sorties in musichall and circus territory, attains a symphonic and hypnotic quality three minutes from the end. The nine-minute Acahella is both more teasing and visceral, swinging and chaotic, a journey both to the future (the hypersonic blenders of sound shards) and to the past (echoes of the vocal trios of the 1950s), through both cartoons and dancefloor. She may have not known it, but this was the continuation of something begun in 1965 by the Fugs' Virgin Forest and a few years later by Robert Wyatt's End of an Ear.

The six-song EP Katie Gately (Public Information, 2013) opens with the harsh industrial dissonance of Ice and the gloomy loop of Last Day, signaling a mood change from the jovial capricious mood of the cassette. The spacey acid lamentation over distorted drones of Dead Referee is one of her most powerful collages, worthy of Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Gately's music was the natural consequence of a process of computer music begun in the 1950s: eliminating the performer. Which begs the question: if practice makes you perfect, what does no practice make you?

The 15-minute Pivot (2014), released on a split EP, sounds like a slow-motion time-dilated version of Pipes in which the childish verve has been replaced by a sort of cosmic languor. Melodies are intelligible and rhythms are regular. Six minutes from the end, Gately even intones a simple singalong, although an industrial marching beat wants to turn it into some kind of witchy sabbat.

The fully-arranged album, Color (2016), was a much more relaxed and user-friendly effort, more in line with the trend started by Holly Herndon than with computer music. The dancefloor novelty Lift (Caribbean hip-hop?) and the festive shuffle Tuck are hardly related to her first cassette, although highly successful in the dance-pop genre. Rive is also quite original, boasting a melody and and a rhythm that evoke the atmosphere of a French cabaret of World War II. The nine-minute Color morphs its suspenseful symphonic drones into a soulful folkish lullaby that limps on soothingly for several lazy minutes. If the seven-minute Sift is confused and pointless, and the manic Frisk tries a bit too hard to shock, Sire is a dignified follow-up to the original avantgarde project, with a thundering syncopated beat, hysterical wavering organ, a vocal melody and plenty of vocal counterpoint.

Loom (Houndstooth, 2020), ostensibly a requiem for her mother, is a minor work littered with major ideas. Allay sounds like a cabaret song as interpreted by Meredith Monk. The catchy and martial Tower sounds like Kate Bush singing world-music. Flow is a naive lullaby whispered against stately Nico-esque keyboards. Rest is a church madrigal sung while half asleep. The ten-minute Bracer is a confused collage of styles: it begins as a sort of mournful plantation spiritual, turns into a Celtic folk tune, speeds up into electronic dance-pop and dies as a distorted ethnic chant. The lugubrious and theatrical Waltz towers over the album.

Fawn/Brute (2023) feels like a fragile work. The low-key marching fanfare Seed flirts with Enya-esque atmospheres. Fawn sounds like an industrial version of Joanna Newsom. The catchy Cleave blurs the line between Depeche Mode-esque dance-music and sacre convent chants. Scale sounds like a Madonna remix of a Nino Rota movie soundtracks. Another catchy ditty, Meat, winks at Kate Bush's gothic style. Her venture into the throbbing industrial expressionism of Chaw is welcome. Tame, the most complex song, evokes Suicide's electronic threnody before mutating into a torrential jazzy Brazilian-tinged dance. On the other hand, her operatic imitation of Nine Inch Nails in Brute is less convincing. Clearly, the compositions have been carefully selected and painstakingly arranged at the computer. The quality is generally above the average. The only thing that is missing is the passion: her vocals sound artificial no matter what she's singing about.