Sous le regard d’un soleil noir (Beneath the Glare of a Black Sun) dates mostly from 1979, with a further, central, movement added in 1981. Francis Dhomont based this large-scale (51-minute) masterpiece on the psychoanalytical writings of RD Laing and the work features settings of texts drawn from the French translations of The Divided Self, Knots and The Politics of Experience. These are used, alongside extracts from Franz Kafka’s The Burrow and Plato’s The Republic, to construct a fantastical acousmatic melodrama, charting a slow descent into the madness of schizophrenia. In subject matter, therefore, it forms the first part of what is currently a diptych of works dubbed Cycle des profondeurs (Cycle of Depths), in which the composer explores madness and other aspects of psychoanalytical thought.
Musically, this first panel of the diptych is considerably less harsh and not as harrowing as the same theme’s treatment in its later counterpart, Forêt profonde. It consists principally of speaking voices, subjected to computer processing (although never to a sufficient degree to render the speech unintelligible) and accompanied by a fairly gentle backdrop of electronic textures and other computer-processed sounds. And thoroughly engaging it is, too.
As is normal for an acousmatician, Francis Dhomont indulges in numerous musical puns and associative trickery throughout the work — such as basing much of the work around B natural (‘si’, in French) as musical reference to the obsessive alliteration of the conditional ‘if’ (also ‘si’ in French) which occurs in part of RD Laing’s Knots. The work’s subject matter, as well as its basis on B natural, also provides the composer with the opportunity to draw upon references to another great ‘invention on one note’, Act III of Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck. Musical quotations from that work — as well as words from Georg Büchner’s original play — appear in muted and mangled form throughout Sous le regard d’un soleil noir in much the same manner (and with similar effectiveness) as fragments of Robert Schumann’s Kinderscenen are used within Forêt profonde.
How such musical and poetic treatments can be applied to such essentially clinical source material almost beggers belief but, as ever, Francis Dhomont pulls it off completely. This work’s eight movements, which play continuously, weave an intoxicating web of sound that makes for a thoroughly absorbing listen. And, in spite of the work’s heavy dependence upon the spoken word, the musical imagery — and the sheer beauty of the soundworld — should be sufficiently vivid for even the most severely francophone-challenged of listeners to be undeterred. In any case, the bilingual booklet which accompanies the disc gives a full translations of all of the texts, together with copious programme notes.
Poetic treatments of clinical sources. Wholeheartedly recommended for the adventurous listener. 5/5
Originally the second half of a 2-CD set, Mouvances ~ Métaphores (Movements ~ Metaphors)” but now re-released as a stand-alone disc, Les dérives du signe (The Misguidance of Signs) contains four major tape works from one of the most significant contemporary composers of computer-produced sound art of our age, Francis Dhomont. Although ostensibly linked, as suggested in the CD’s title, through “the ubiquity and ambiguity of signs [which] inform us and lead us astray,” I would suggest that in reality these four works have little in common with each other beyond being prime examples of Francis Dhomont’s acousmatic output of the mid 80s. Not that this makes the release any less desirable or worthwhile, of course. In fact, the variety of the programmatic content of the four works on offer here makes for a more varied and balanced collection than is the case with some other discs of this composer’s music.
This collection opens with the 20-minute work, Novars, composed in 1989 as an homage to musique concrète in general, and specifically to Pierre Schaeffer “its ill-fated inventor”. The entire work is constructed from a series of computer-processed variations derived from just two musical quotations, one from Pierre Schaeffer’s Étude aux objets of 1959, the other from Guillaume de Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame of 1364 — although there is a passing reference to Pierre Henry’s (in)famous creaking door from his work of 1963, Variations pour une porte et un soupir (Variations for a Door and a Sigh), thrown in for good measure. The work thus combines elements of the fourteenth century Ars Nova, with those of the “New Art” of our own century (just past): musique concrète and its realisation through the application of computer technology.
The work is a slowly unfolding, contemplative study of the infinite musical possibilities on offer from its twin source materials, neither of which are ever fully revealed, but rather are eternally veiled by the shimmering and complex treatments to which they have been subjected. For those unused to works of this kind, however, the listening experience may not be a gentle one: like much of Francis Dhomont’s music, Novars is not for the faint-hearted or the lover of sweet harmonies. It is, after all, a celebration of the new; any lovers of the old, unreceptive to revolutionary ideas, will undoubtedly have an abhorrence to such as this. Fans of electroacoustic works, though, will see this for what it is: a landmark treatise of epic scope.
Somewhat easier on the ears, perhaps, is the slightly earlier (1987) composition Chiaroscuro. As its title suggests, this piece is concerned with the interplay of shadow and light, with opacity and transparency of sound, revelling as it does in the game of masking the sources of its sound materials to produce a perpetual uncertainty of meaning; a veritable assemblage of ambiguities making for an acousmatic regalement of the highest order. To quote the composer: “one believes one holds the image but it sifts between the fingers, or allows itself to be covered, engulfed by a new image closing in upon it.” This is a work that you can simply sit back and let wash over you, as it swirls and splashes and gurgles and creaks and rattles and sings and sighs its way through its 17-minute duration.
Clocking in at just less than 13 minutes, the 1989 composition Météores (Meteors) is the shortest work in this disc. In fact, it is but the third and closing movement of a longer [work] , Chroniques de la lumière (Chronicles of Light), which presents sonic representations of visual or luminous phenomena. Météores uses an accumulation of short, tinkling bursts of sound, gently building from a sparse and austere opening, to construct an ever denser flurry of sonic events, somewhat akin to an electronic snow-storm.
The final work, Signé Dionysos (Signed Dionysus) (1986, 91), stands somewhat apart from the rest of the music on the disc. Described by its composer as an “operacousmatic”, it portrays, in a most charming and humorous manner, the dramas played out on a late spring evening in and around a small lake in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. But this is an opera like no other, for “all of the roles, from the diva to the choir, [are] taken by… frogs.” It begins with an opening scene — a kind of prologue — in which the day-time human visitors gradually finish their play and depart, leaving the stage set for the appearance of the main characters, who, I might add, sing with great gusto and passion. Joined by snippets of birdsong, and other natural sounds of the night, the voices of frogs — mostly real, but also synthetic or computer-processed — mingle with occasional orchestral sounds and other musical noises to form an intoxicating and entertaining series of tableaux.
Almost 30 minutes in length, this substantial work is entirely fascinating from beginning to end, constituting one of the very best acousmatic compositions it is possible to find. Not only a work of great beauty, it is also a masterpiece of dramatic tension and release, humour and suspense, replete with musical and sonic jokes aplenty, as well as pathos and a sense of the surreal; a veritable paradise of paradox and ambiguity. Or, as the composer puts it: “Truth or lie? Found, processed or constructed sound? All of these delusions confound the ear and, as with wine, alter the senses.” Quite so; this is heady stuff indeed! Absolutely unbeatable! The disc would be worth having for the final track alone; combined with the other works on offer here, this release should be considered well nigh irresistible.
Contrasts drawn in sonic quicksand. 5/5
Composed over a two year period, from 1994 to ’96, Francis Dhomont’s Forêt profonde constitutes the second part of a series of his works dubbed the Cycle des profondeurs, or “Cycle of Depths”, inspired by psychoanalytical thought, following on from Sous le regard d’un soleil noir (Beneath the Glare of a Black Sun) of 1979-81, ’83. (The world continues to await the arrival of a third part.)
Francis Dhomont himself describes his works as showing “an interest in morphological interplay and sense / sound ambiguities.” These preoccupations certainly come to the fore in this large-scale (58-minute) acousmatic melodrama, based on Bruno Bettelheim’s essay The Uses of Enchantment. The work is, in fact, a veritable masterpiece in the acousmatic idiom, using readings from academic texts, as well as fairy stories recounted by both children’s and adults’ voices in many languages, coupled with recognisable real-world sound recordings, all designed to invoke images from nightmares and from folk and fairytales. The whole is presented over a bed of processed and synthetic sound — at times little more than chaotic assemblages of noise — which is never anything but deeply penetrating and disturbing and yet profoundly engaging, for all that. As an added touch, tantalising threads from Robert Schumann’s Op. 15 Kinderscenen (Scenes from Childhood) are woven through the fabric of Forêt profonde. Some straight, some warped, the very incongruity of these additions adds greatly to the work’s twilit nether-world nature.
The half-understood texts combine with the sounds of rushing wind and water, forest birds and other creatures, as well as dense electronic sonorities, to make this disc a challenging musical experience, overall. Those listeners with the courage and fortitude to persevere, however, will be treated to a quite magical (and I use that word advisedly) and intoxicating “guided tour of the childhood soul,” which truly offers a chance to awaken the “magic intuition of childhood, that always sleeps in us with one eye open.” And to benefit from the experience, too.
A comprehensive 40-page booklet (in French and English) accompanies the disc, providing full details of the texts used in the work, as well as an analysis of the thinking behind its composition. This makes for a fascinating read of itself. All in all, I would say that no-one can afford to be without this release. So, then, what are you waiting for?
A work of great profundity indeed! 5/5
Find out more about Revue & corrigée #119 by Various artists, the most recent item added to our shop.
Toronto magazine Musicworks has just announced that the acousmatic work Landline by Manuella Blackburn was awarded the First prize at its Musicworks Electronic Music Composition Contest 2018. Works by the collective Chroma Mixed Media (Katerina Gimon, David Storen, Brian Topp) and Epa Fassianos were respecdtively awarded 2nd and 3rd prize. Honorable mentions were given to works by Elliott Lupp and Bekah Simms.