Closing the Rome theme that’s been accompanying us for the past couple of months – see Dressel’s Mons Testaceum and Leo Anibaldi’s freezing countryside techno out last month on Future Primitive – is Piero Umiliani. The Roman icon makes it onto this column for the first time with Il Mondo dei Romani, a collection of one-minute bullets of synthesised toga-clad imperialism. Working on commission for an early 1970s Italian public broadcast documentary about the Romans, the maestro cooked up a distant past seen from the distant future, with synthesised approximations of ancient instruments – lyres, citharas, organs, drums – that are touching in their dedication to imagining the ‘world of the Romans’ for the still black and white cathode tubes of modern Italy.
Glossy military fanfares give way to bucolic melodies, epic soundscapes of bells and tingling metals open onto enchanted sonic gardens worthy of some horrific ritual sacrifice. But besides the record’s intrinsic and sensually narrative ability to transport, what’s shocking about Il Mondo dei Romani is that it’s infused with a kind of ultra-concrète proto-techno, clearly visible in Umiliani’s astounding use of drum machines, sequencers, and ‘his’ futuristic oscillators. Tracks like “Roma Opulenta”, that sounds like something Das Ding might have made for his breakfast, the freezing flutter of “Para Bellum”, where war drums pierce through layers of what feels like digital granulation, and “Delenda Carthago”, which pushes the BPMs to very unlikely highs for 1972 will have you staring at the orange vinyl full of wide-eyed wonder.