One to Watch: Caterina Barbieri

Locked in the audio waves which reside somewhere in between space and the gravity which ties our feet to the ground lies Caterina Barbieri. An Italian musician who performs minimalist magic on sound.

While often described in shorthand as simply a composer for the synthesiser, this barely does Barbieri justice. She is an electronic psychologist of sound who informally uses synthesisers as a tool to explore the human state. Barbieri challenges the body to adapt with her hypnotising sounds, trapping your mind and soul within its cyclical patterns and forcing you to transcend within each track’s minor alterations. Working through a uniquely subtractive state, she takes the energy that continuously flows through a synthesiser and gently splits it apart to form a galaxy constructed in her mind’s eye through vibrant notes of space dust.

How Barbieri became this magician of sound almost seems like a fabled tale told at the start of every review, feature and interview. Nevertheless, it is the classical groundwork which she gained while studying classical guitar and electro-acoustic music at the Conservatory of Bologna and the discovery of the Buchla 200 synthesiser in 2013 whist at the Elektronmusikstudion in Stockholm which has allowed her to flourish into the precise artist she is today. 

Finding the Buchla allowed Barbieri to uncover the hidden psychic potential of synthesisers. Changing her whole interaction with sound, it provided a way to escape the boundaries of acoustic instrumentation. It allowed her to negotiate between the human soul and that of the machine through sustained notes, manipulated through the slightest of gestures. 

Her first polyphonic and polyrhythmic release came in the form of 2014’s Vertical. A six-track LP, minimal in tone but vast in its expanse. Creating a planet full of sound, each long-form track adapts with the seasons to move the soul. Yet, it wasn’t long before she expanded her solar system, premiering her guitar-led electronic collaboration with Kali Malone (named Upper Glossa) in 2016 and releasing a collection of stripped-back compositions using Roland TB303 and TR606 synthesisers with Carlo Maria in 2017.

That same year (2017) also saw Barbieri release her acclaimed sophomore album, Patterns of Consciousness under the label, Important. Firmly rooting herself in the world of experimental electronic, this body of work is one of reimagination and contemplation, taking the cyclical phrasings and recreating itself through an anti-thesis partner track. Regardless of whether the specific song glides on the edge of angelic or demonic, each one is completely immersive. You’re left hypnotised in a state of zero gravity amongst its turpentine airwaves.

In the years which have followed, Barbieri has only grown stronger. Still standing firm to her analog roots, she talks in defiance of (what she calls) the male sphere of digital modulars wherein the equipment can outnumber the sounds being made. Not adhering to their technocratic power, she reaches a more powerful sound through her analog simplicity. 

With another solo album, Born Again in the Voltage, released from the archives of her time at Elektronmusikstudion in 2018 and, more recently, Ecstatic Computation in 2019, she is still evolving in sound. Her new album reaches more vibrant, turbulent landscapes than ever before. Entering meteor showers of overlapping beats, this is the start of a more guitar-led approach to her sound. 

While this year has been tough on everyone, Barbieri seems to have been thriving; collaborating with Drew McDowall on a single for latest album, Agalma, and with the visual artist Ruben Spini for live streams at an empty Officine Grandi Riparazioni in Turin. Barbieri has used this time to make new art, whilst motivating others to do the same. 

Unquestionably, Caterina Barbieri is an artist at the forefront of the new wave of electronic. A thought leader and visionary to keep an eye on. But with everything going on I thought it best to leave you with some eloquent words from Barbieri herself: “I hope people realise that this is a lifetime opportunity. The distance that keeps us apart is unbearable now, but it will make our community stronger, as we will learn how to value all those moments of communion that we usually take for granted and that we are sadly deprived of at the moment. Music is always much appreciated after silence!”