Rustica, or how Amazing Genius is Blissfully Unrefined

Raw. Primal. Deliberate. Mindful. Centered. Whole. Those words came to mind when listening to Golden Salt’s “Rustica” for the first time. The first few notes are basic and primitive. Intuitive. A riotous, fierce lead-in makes one feel curious, alert, and aware of something uncommon – within reach but not quite. Harsh, unsettling – yet captivating.

It takes a few seconds before the listener is swept into a unique atmosphere. The apparent dissonance becomes resonance; it settles into a comprehensible rhythm – similar to finding the pulse just underneath the skin and being able to feel, with a sense of relief, a familiar and known beat. The vitality is palpable and identified. As that sense of ease and understanding washes over, it is harshly interrupted by the abrupt sparring between the violin and the electric guitar – though neither prevails over the other.

The instrumental repartee ceases just as quickly as it began, replaced by a deliberate, profound, and down-to-earth pace that invites reflection on what you are hearing. A fragmented – even if mindful – sequence forms: a string of notes, a part of a stanza, a pizzicato, a thunderous distortion, a mirrored and illusive response that seems to span four octaves. Where did it come from? Where is it going? Pay attention, listen to the clues, and you may find the key to what perplexes the brain but incomprehensibly and simultaneously completely gratifies the soul.

And then there it is – the combination of those fragments results in a centered, effortless, and cohesive melody added to that natural, raw, primal, guttural base tune that has been there all along; the pulse never changed in tempo, only in strength. The overlapping melodies provide insight into an innate but often ignored harmony between seen and unseen, heard and unheard, both always present – while each retains its concurrent identity: it becomes whole – the very essence of Golden Salt.

The video was released shortly after the audio track and made me smile. What I heard, pictured, and felt simply listening to the composition found its counterpoint in Golden Salt’s visual sense – my mind glimpsed the definition of those overlapping melodies.  The visual cues translate intrinsically. Eleonora Loi, the guitarist of the duo, said leading up to the release of “Rustica”: “If you want to survive, stay focused. I have been practicing karate since I was a little girl. First rule: “karate ni sente nashi” which roughly translates to “karate is not about attacking.” “Rustica” is a wild soul, a simple soul, and the concentration needed to survive.” Thank you, Sensei.

For those who wonder about the martial arts component in “Rustica” and why it is even there: Golden Salt has made a few mentions over time of their private life and the pursuit of things other than music. One consistent activity parallel to music is karate, a martial arts discipline that Funakoshi described in these words: “True karate is this: that in daily life one’s mind and body be trained and developed in a spirit of humility, and that in critical times, one is devoted utterly to the cause of justice.” Eleonora Loi is 4th Dan Black Belt, and Arianna Mazzarese is 2nd Dan Black Belt. This side of the Golden Salt duo may be relatively unknown, but it is an essential element of their way of life (and makes them even more fearless and admirable).

Eleonora’s statement, the kata, the free movements, and the undercurrent of meaning are straightforward, organic, natural, and aware of their counterparts. The choreography is thoughtful and detailed but free. That golden rule of karate Eleonora refers to, and its true meaning has been debated since Gichin Funakoshi defined it as one of the 20 precepts. Widely understood as “there is no first attack in karate,” Funakoshi intended it as “attacking should not be the first course of action in karate.” Similar but different. I will not get into that discussion but merely refer to the meaning of karate as I understand it and perhaps bridge the intention/action concept in this video.

It is well known and understood that the balanced harmony of mind and body is powerful. No amount of physical strength can match the power of wholeness and completeness the mind allows. If it is true that the body knows how to move, then the mind knows how to be still. Kata (pattern of martial arts movements or forms) represents that ideal balance between body and mind. Result of natural, effortless action combined with confidence, humbleness, openness, and peace. Then the meaning and contrast in the video choreography become clear; the message is compelling.

“Minuet of Madness” has taken us from land into the sea, from rationality to madness. “Rustica” takes us to the shore, to the pursuit of balance and the focus to achieve it.

I wrote the preceding sentences from a first impression, impulsively and without thought – as it formed while listening to the piece and watching the video production later. There are so many more things to add and discover. From a musical standpoint, the harmony is achieved by preserving the rough, unsophisticated notes that set the tone for the composition throughout and then adding a higher, deep-rooted level of understanding on a lyrical and remarkable level. Akin to an imposing tree, there is a continuous return and respect for its roots and tender shoots, growing from a sapling into a pure, bursting expansion of branches, finally becoming a peaceful, shade-lending, strong tree.

Golden Salt is working with luthier Amerigo Gozzi (Instagram @liuteriagozzi) to finalize a handmade electric guitar built on Eleonora’s specific requirements, one of which was for the guitar to be as light as possible. You can see the quasi-finished prototype in action in “Rustica,” as well as a sister concept for Arianna’s violin, which is going to be worked on by another luthier. Not only is the guitar attractive and distinctive, but it undoubtedly reflects Eleonora’s personality. It has been a project in the making and is almost complete at the time of writing. Eleonora is hoping to be able to play the instrument live as soon as possible.

This constant pursuit of excellence and distinctiveness defines Golden Salt. Their music is distinctive, they are brilliant musicians, and they continually strive to dig deep into what makes them so unique and deserving of a rightful place in the music scene of today – and tomorrow. Their drive and energy are infectious – regardless of what the listener does or pursues: whether it be music or any other art or form of expression. The determination and desire in everything the two set their minds to are unmistakable – from the composition to audio and video production to their lighthearted, fun, and candid behind-the-scenes bits. There is a healthy amount of pride but also humility and sincerity.

As we are all aware, in the music industry, the road is bumpy, often dotted with detours if not outright closures, many a disappointment, and few realizations of dreams of success and gratification. Golden Salt’s resolve is steadfast and continues unrelenting throughout the creative process. They will be returning on the stage this month for the very first-time post-pandemic, a couple of years without the opportunity to play live, which is what they love to do and do best. I hope this will only be the beginning of tour dates and the utterly different synergy a live concert creates – those who have had the opportunity to attend their gigs know their power and brilliance even more on stage.