The Mike Patton Corner: Mike Patton’s Pranzo Oltranzista
In the music app on my phone, Mike Patton sits comfortably right underneath another one of my favorite enigmatic musical geniuses, hip-hop supervillain MF DOOM. The two actually have a lot in common: both have carved out their own unmistakable and influential style with a trademark sense of humor, both have made some of their most acclaimed and groundbreaking work in high-profile collaborations with other widely celebrated artists, both are known for their playfully antagonistic public personas, and most importantly, both have made concept albums about food. DOOM’s culinarily-focused record, the anagramically titled MM.. FOOD, is underground rap at its finest, dense with funny and smartly written verses, wonderfully flipped samples, hilarious skits, and memorable song topics. In stark contrast, Patton’s is an exercise in avant-garde jazz that’s bereft of lyrics and largely of humor, and is based on the “Futurist Cookbook” by Italian poet and noted fascist Filippo Tomasso Marinetti. With the help of his pal John Zorn, cellist and frequent Zorn collaborator Erik Freidlander, unofficial Mr. Bungle member William Winat, and legendary guitarist Mark Ribot, Patton put together his second solo album, and the first Patton-helmed project to be released in my lifetime, 1997’s Pranzo Oltranzista, which translates to “Banquet Piece for Five Players.”
Though I did listen to it, I chose not to review John Zorn’s project Elegy because, while I am planning on reviewing many of his collaborations with Mike Patton, I did not think Patton had a strong enough presence to justify an entire essay. This is, after all, the Mike Patton Corner, not the Zorn Corner (which is admittedly a better name). However, Patton seems to have taken some cues from the minimal compositions and spacious production of that project, creating an album experience that’s much more atmospheric than the harsh noise of Adult Themes For Voice. The placement of Patton’s name on the cover art suggests that this record is some kind of continuation of the experimental spirit of that album, only this time with a much more cinematic soundscape, and makes Patton’s move into scoring films seem like a completely logical progression.
The opening track is Elettricita Atmospheriche Candite, or “Candied Atmospheric Electricity,” which growls and crackles with ambient noise amid minimal guitars and strings, like a “Sounds of the Jungle” sleep aid tape set to a horror soundtrack. Buzzing flies, snorting pigs, and Patton’s own beastly chittering punctuate the tense cello lead, and the guitar shivers with tremolo like it’s got the heebie jeebies. While it’s just a brief intro, it sets the stage for an album of eerie compositions, and Patton allows the influence of Italian music to creep even more into his writing.
Next we get Carne Cruda Squarciata Dal Supno Si Sassafono, or “Raw Meat Torn Apart By The Sound Of Saxophone,” which definitely delivers on the concept promised by its title. Opening with some munching sounds (accompanied by classy dining music), the track very suddenly devolves into avant-garde. A dull roar of noise sounds off like an alarm in the background as squeaking sax and loud drums cause chaos in the forefront, which eventually calms down into a section much like the intro, where you can hear some plastic crinkling as the snacker rifles around in his chip bag. The last minute of the song is taken up by a barrage of noise that sounds like an airplane full of zoo animals and marching band equipment falling out of the sky. Saxes blow like terrified elephants as Patton’s screams are buried underneath a loud, smothering rumble, adding up to the kind of hellish cacophony that sounds like it could rend flesh with ease. One of the secrets to Patton’s ability to subject his listeners to these atonal sound experiments without them becoming stale is that he doesn’t let them go on too long before shifting to something totally different, keeping things engaging while still maintaining the level of indulgence necessary to make avant-garde music. Sometimes though, he can tend to underbake certain tracks on this album, making them less satisfying than they could be.
On the next track, Vivana in Scodella, or “Magic in a Bowl,” Patton milks all the different sounds he can out of what sounds like a metal bowl to create a contemplative ambient piece. He hits the rim of the bowl and lets it ring, smacks the underside like a drum, pours water out of it, and even though the high-pitched noises in the end might be vocals or strings, it sounds like he’s scraping the bowl with a fork. Like any good track in the genre of dark ambient, there’s an evolution that keeps it interesting when listened to intently, but it’s not so intrusive that it can’t hang in the background (until the ending, anyway).
The next track is Guerra in letto, or “War in Bed,” another ambient-ish piece, but one in which Mark Ribot brings his signature style that made Tom Waits songs like Shore Leave so eerie and immersive. The beginning features a lot of very minimalist percussion before suddenly moving into the next section. Weeping strings, ticking clocks, and smashing plates weave together with the guitar for the majority, and the ending features some barely audible hi-hats accompanied by what sounds like a toilet being plunged. It’s a brief but affecting track, although it would have been nice to hear it fleshed out a bit more.
The sound of vegetables being chopped introduces the next track, Contorno Tattile (Per Rossolo), or “Tactile Contour (For Rossolo).” It’s only about two minutes long, and the majority is taken up by what sounds like a bunch of stuff falling off a shelf. There’s a small bit of cello at the beginning and end, but it’s mostly a percussion-based track with the “instruments” being what I’m guessing are household objects. It’s pretty interesting, but not as exciting as some of the other tracks.
We then get the longest track, I Rumori Nutrienti, or “Apertief in Sound,” which literally translates to “Nourishing Noises,” and boy are they ever. Accompanied by nothing but an airy, warbling drone and a small amount of bass, the entirety of the track is a (presumably improvised) sax solo from John Zorn that drips with the blood and coffee of a murder mystery. This track wouldn’t sound out of place in Twin Peaks: The Return, you can almost see Agent Cooper wandering through the Black Lodge to Zorn’s extremely expressive and emotional playing. The solo has a very nice arc, remaining ethereal and exploratory while still seeming like it’s going somewhere. This song is extremely cool and an album highlight, though Zorn’s creative mind briefly takes the spotlight from Patton.
In the first moments of Garofani Allo Spiedo, or “Geraniums on a Spit,” we get what sounds like a fire cracking with various creepy sound effects going on around it. The track has a few distinct sections, moving into a more ambient sound before transitioning into dissonant guitar chords and rapid picking that resembles some tense music from a martial arts flick. None of the sections are particularly long, but it definitely ends on its more interesting ideas. It seems like most of these tracks are soundscapes that evolve with purpose but usually don’t dwell on the concept of the individual sections, sometimes to the album’s benefit but other times to its detriment.
Next is Aerovivanda, or “Aerofood” which opens with a speedy cymbal groove and energetic free jazz sax soloing. Some smashing and crashing sound effects build up the intensity of the song, which slowly starts to devolve into a noise experiment with shouting and crashing all piling up and driven by the increasingly erratic sax. Some loud plane sounds end the song off, making for a fitting and climactic end. Again, even though it’s basically a cacophony, my main complaint is that it’s too short, and I think with some patience and a little more time to build up the madness into something truly harrowing, it could have been a lot more of an experimental monolith instead of burning out so quickly.
After that is Scoppioningola, or “Throat Explosion.” The first minute features very spare percussion and some squeaking sounds, which transitions into Patton making weird throat noises accompanied by more squeaking and what sounds like coins clattering. The booming drum hits continue into the last part, becoming the focus of the track before dissipating. This album is apparently meant to be listened to all together in one sitting, so I’m unfortunately not finding much to say about how the individual tracks make me feel since they mostly maintain the same vibe. That being said, since this was intended as a solid, 30-minute musical statement, Patton probably could have put more thought into how these tracks transitioned into one another.
The penultimate track is Latte Alla Luce Verde, or “Milk in Green Light,” which opens with dripping noises and light, pinging percussion. As an ambient drone becomes louder and more prominent, some faint vocals can be heard, which gently increase in volume and intensity until they become almost sexual. The string section and Patton’s falsetto mimic a high-pitched, alien-invader melody in the latter half, accompanied by some Tom Waits-esque muted percussion. Like many of the tracks, it makes its way through about three distinct “movements” over the course of about three minutes before petering out.
On the final track, Bombe A Mano, or “Hand Grenades,” Patton vocally simulates falling bombs before his vocals devolve into sputtering gibberish that duels with squawking, free jazz sax. It then hard transitions to cello bows being dramatically shaved down, violently and rapidly rubbed against the strings to nightmarish effect. There are blasts of eerie squealing that resemble the late Krzysztof Penderecki’s composition Threnody For The Victims Of Hiroshima (speaking of Twin Peaks: The Return), as well as a repetitive guitar freakout, and the main focus of the song becomes the sections of spare percussion, and the album concludes with more noise that’s as strange and inscrutable as most of what’s on this record.
Pranzo Oltranzista is not Patton’s finest hour by any means, but it’s a pretty daring exercise in atmospheric avant-garde that allowed him free reign to create supernatural soundscapes with little regard for structure. In a way, Patton was creating his first film score, albeit one for a horror movie that existed only in his head. Its biggest flaw is that it will probably always be more significant to its creator than its listening audience, but fans of ambient and avant-garde music will probably find it to be an inventive and interesting listen, even if it’s a somewhat less unique experience than Adult Themes For Voice.
I give Mike Patton’s Pranzo Oltranzista a molto inquietante 5.5/10
Best Songs: Carne Cruda Squarciata Dal Supno Si Sassafono, I Rumori Nutrienti, Bombe A Mano