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The Rita – Ballet Feet Positions

Ballet Feet Positions

Ballet Feet Positions

Apparently modern ballet began as a royal pastime of 15th Century Europe, presented as a means to keep the court entertained between banquet courses. Quite apart from its art and beauty, it was a decidedly elite pastime; a way for European royalty to demonstrate how cultured and wealthy they were.

Contrary to the best efforts of modern companies, it remains an exclusive affair enjoyed by the upper-middle class. And of course, the veneer of elegance and refined beauty belies the strict physical demands placed on the dancers. The very idea of pointe work, in which dancers put the full weight of their bodies on the vertically extended points of their feet, makes me wince.

Canadian noise veteran Sam McKinlay takes a cerebral approach to much of his output as The Rita. From his breathless odes to women’s stockings, to his giallo cinema homage, he also brings an obsessiveness to his work that few are willing or able to. The austere beauty, discipline, and strict physicality of classical ballet makes for natural subject matter.

Ballet Feet Positions, co-released by Old Europa Café and Elettronica Radicale Edizioni, comprises of two tracks, the first of which spans an exhausting thirty-eight minutes. In it, the sounds are derived from the contact-miked legs of trained dancer Kelly Davis, the output from which McKinley has processed in real-time. Initial sounds in the early part of the track are fairly innocuous and somewhat tedious to these ears, but the sounds themselves are clearly not the point. They are fragile and scratchy, speak of bones and bruises, and evoke the strength and fragility of the human body.

Sam McKinlay

Sam McKinlay

Interspersed with the sounds are recordings of a dance teacher describing correct technique and training—how to isolate and activate very specific muscles in the feet, for example—and suggesting various pieces of restrictive equipment to refine that technique. It echoes the fetishism and intense granularity of McKinlay’s own study on the album. The voice recording itself seems almost surreptitious in nature, bringing a vaguely voyeuristic flavour.

As Davis’ workout continues, the sounds become increasingly distorted and the intervening silences increasingly overdriven. Given the length of the recording it’s easy to imagine the dancer’s increasing sweat and fatigue from the intense physical activity. By the end of the track, the raspy sounds are lengthy brushes of grit and distortion: a much more recognisable harsh-noise-wall sound.

Second track ‘En Pointe!’ is a remix by Marco Deplano as Caligula031, presumably taking McKinlay’s original recordings to produce a lovely piece of power electronics nastiness. As always, Deplano’s unmistakable vocals are fantastic. His characteristically bullish lyrics are printed inside the cover: it’s all cruelty, shame, self-loathing, and disappointment. Ballet may have its origins in the courts of Europe, but at the end of the day we all lie in the gutter.

Also printed in the twelve-page booklet are very personal reflections from ex-dancer and writer Simone Paget on her experiences with the art form. As a young girl she was seduced by the beauty and romance of ballet, but by her late teens the ‘impossible quest for perfection’ drove her away. ‘What many people don’t understand is that ballet is equal parts art-form, athleticism, and psychological warfare’. The text adds a good deal of angst to the recordings.

I was initially wary approaching this release, wondering if it would be too impenetrable to enjoy, but on the whole it’s an excellent release, and a huge amount of work has clearly gone into it. It’s conceptually airtight, beautifully presented, and sonically interesting.


Track List:

01) Ballet Feet Positions
02) En Pointe!

Rating: 8/10
Written by: David Tonkin
Old Europa Cafe ‎(Italy) / OECD 193 / CD
Elettronica Radicale Edizioni ‎(Switzerland) / EREAU004 / CD

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