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Review

Mike Eisenberg, Avant Music News, May 16, 2021
Friday, July 30, 2021 Press

On Trilogie d’ondes, Gobeil collaborates with ondes Martenot virtuoso Suzanne Binet-Audet. Like an earlier empreintes DIGITALes release that marries the classical guitar with various Aousmatic composers (see my write-up here), Trilogie d’ondes achieves the same great synergies between Gobeil’s tape generated maneuvers and the most disparate instrument you can think of, the ondes Martenot. As you can probably guess by now, it works!

The following quote by Binet-Audet may give some clues as to why this partnership sounds so great (bolding mine):

“More electronic instruments have been invented since and are now omnipresent in our musical universe. Because of its sensory approach closely linked to the performer’s nervous system and its flexibility that allows it to respond to the performer’s slightest musical intention, the ondes Martenot remains unlike any other. It is often considered a forerunner of today’s electronic instruments, but it is actually somewhat of a slightly eccentric colleague: the rationale behind its creation keeps it closer to the great instrument-making tradition. That is probably why it made it through the 20th century and is still being included in new compositions. Thanks to its 80-year history and large and rich repertoire, the ondes Martenot has obviously secured itself a spot in music history.”

Like all the great acousmatic composers, Gobeil’s ability to organize sounds into a cohesive whole that allows the participant (you) to create their own visual / virtual / visceral narrative demands that these sounds interact with your limbic system. Being a disinterested outsider really doesn’t cut it when you listen to this music. Engagement, on a mental, and as stands to reason, a physical level is key. My bolded part above plays into what may have been the reason this pairing sounds so good. Doubting that both musicians were in the room at the same time, I’m going to hazard a guess that Gobeil supplied Binet-Audet his material, and she composed around that. I can very well imagine, as Binet-Audet was contributing her parts, the soundscapes that Gobeil created tapped into her Limbic system allowing her to “bring the music” to the ondes Martenot by way of the sensory approach that she mentions above. I can also imagine a live performance which would be a very interesting juxtaposition of her gestures on the ondes Martenot triggered off the synthetic material created by her partner. So, instead of machine triggering machine, the approach would be human triggering machine (Gobeil), triggering human, triggering instrument (Binet-Audet). In a live improvised (or not) setting, the permutations could be endlessly fascinating! Additionally, the dichotomy between what is traditionally thought of as a non-gesture form of music (Gobeil’s Acousmatic sections) is now organically attached to a human element that can change with each performance. In a case like this, the ondes Martenot sounds like the perfect tool to achieve this. (I wonder if they ever thought of taking this on the road?)

The music on Trilogie d’ondes is much more dynamically busier than Trois songes. Gobeil’s soundscapes have a rough and tumble attitude and the mood is quite a bit darker because of it. The ondes Martenot adds a celestial/cosmic element, usually when Gobeil is laying out. At times it sounds like a lonely pedal steel guitar that slowly builds in pitch and intensity. During periods like this, Gobeil brings in a slowly escalating, manic tension that succeeds in goosing the music into the stratosphere.

For the most part, Trilogie d’ondes is more of a Gobeil showcase for his acousmatic stylings with the ondes Martenot adding just the right amount of unique textures, so the pairing is not exactly equal. For me, the ondes Martenot uplifts this record from being a “great” Gobeil record to being a “special” Gobeil record, and that’s the primary reason I’ve included it in this write-up.

… the ondes Martenot uplifts this record from being a “great” Gobeil record to being a “special” Gobeil record…

Review

Stuart Marshall, The Sound Projector, July 25, 2021
Wednesday, July 28, 2021 Press

The Obsolescence of Memory

Like Smalley, Annette Vande Gorne’s compositions probes sound sources such as water to dissolve the walls between inner and outer worlds. As a former student of Pierre Schaffer, and devotee of François Bayle and Pierre Henry, she discovered in electroacoustic music the revolution that her extensive conservatory training had failed to provide, and has since gone on to promulgate it in universities and installations around the world. Illusion epitomises many of the above tendencies, but draws musical performance and spliced sound into tense proximity from the first piece. Driven by the manipulation of what Vande Gorne terms a ‘sound body’, with a seemingly organic flow of disparate sources triggered or mined by the attentive ‘musician’, Au-delà du réel is a polyphonic narrative in which internal and external events become homologous: a freeform current of bells, running water and percussion, swished around the inside of an inverted hippocampus till rinsed of the human artifices of time and logic. Bells are used, not to evoke spatiality, but for their traditional function as a summoning device, for the listener to attend to the quickly changing currents of memory.

Déluges et autres péripéties continues the poetic bent of Vande Gorne’s previous release, Haïkus, by showcasing the work of Belgian poet Werner Lambersy. However, where once drawn to the playfulness of the fixed structure Japanese poems, here Vande Gorne is compelled by the horror of Lambersy’s poem, and its claim that ‘death is the only way for our civilization to be reborn under different auspices’ acting as a troubling reminder that as bad as the present day seems to be, things can still get worse. Thus, Vande Gorne projects onto the droning background of this multi-stage, epic psychodrama a mood of visceral horror in which every manifestation of the human voice is collaged into a multi-vocal sound salad of screams, cheers, cries, shouts, narration and more, like Mike Patton’s Adult Themes spray-painted over Michel Chion’s Requiem.

Finally, Faisceaux appears in two versions, the first fully ‘acousmatic’, the second adding ponderous piano chord progressions that might set ears of Anthony Pateras / Oren Ambarchi fans twitching. The first uses gentle oscillations to pull the ears through viscous air in which a distant piano reverberates into forehead in variations that insistently probe the combination lock to the dreaming mind. The ‘version mixte’ assumes a more dramatic scale, shifting between dense atmospheric dynamics to a point of chaos in which the ‘fixed’ piano enters what sounds like full-blown improvisation, closing with a dissonant, post-Feldman syntax. The complexity of the pianist’s (Ana Cláudia de Assis) challenge of accompanying the electroacoustic section till becoming, as Vande Gorne sees it, a soloist, is belied by the apparent linearity of this trajectory, but Vande Gorne assures us that it is anything but.

Annette Vande Gorne’s compositions probes sound sources such as water to dissolve the walls between inner and outer worlds.

Review

Stuart Marshall, The Sound Projector, July 25, 2021
Monday, July 26, 2021 Press

The release schedule of Canadian label empreintes DIGITALes — electroacoustic music specialists — continues apace. Keeping up pace and penchant for excellence, this pair from 2020 arrive in empreintes DIGITALes’ customary card wraparound, but subtly differentiated by colour scheme and subject matter, spanning everything from abstract philosophy to concrete studies of instruments. Fascinating as these documents often are though, they are not above criticism. For one thing, given how standardised the tropes, techniques and themes in circulation, there is a risk of uniformity between practitioners, although on a good day it’s easy to lose oneself in the dynamic vortex. The tension between these positions informs my listening to today’s CDs.

Another problem, specific to releases of multi-channel music, is that they are better suited to live settings than the home, so these CDs can only hint at the mind-boggling experience of listening in situ. That said, the recordings are resplendent in their own charms. Denis Smalley‘s Portail makes for particularly immersive listening as it deep dives into the waters of Claude Debussy’s La cathédrale engloutie (‘the submerged cathedral’) in the second part of its centrepiece, Fabrezan Preludes (2015-16). In the custom of many diverging interpretations of this piece (Isao Tomita and John Zorn among these), Smalley deftly repurposes the source material by setting some of the piece’s ‘resonant chords’ adrift in an underwater realm of ‘Debussian intervals and scale patterns’, where even the dim performance of an organist (Smalley, presumably) assumes a naturalistic character.

The hazy image of the organist originates in Smalley’s early musical training in New Zealand and in 1970s Paris, when he studied church organ under no less an authority than Olivier Messiaen. The same period saw him learning the tools of the fixed medium composition trade at GRM studios, and was followed by a move to computer composition — and the UK — in the ’80s, wherein the seeds of Portail could be said to have been planted. Since then, Smalley has released only sporadically, but the respectable quality of his work as well as his prestigious associations attest to the kind of pedigree that distinguishes practitioners in this field.

The other Fabrezan Preludes exhibit similar preoccupations with water and meteorology (vapour clouds, storms, rainfall, tidal currents), evoking parallels between numinous inner spaces and those of nature, and a similar act of ‘engulfing’ occurs in the other highlight, Sommeil de Rameau (‘Rameau’s sleep’; 2014-15). Herein, faint, sunlit memories of Smalley’s church organ studies glimmer through another undulating, underwater dream in glistening modal phrases. So hazy and dreamlike are its slow, lilting lines of ‘airy instrumentation’ that I actually mistook this for the Debussy piece on my first few listens.

By contrast, the 12-minute closer (The Pulses of Time (1978)) could pass itself off as a lost cousin to Aphex Twin’s Bucephalus Bouncing Ball. Preceding the preceding pieces by over four decades, Portail ‘s outlier is an ever-shifting flux of pulses, plucked and percussive, from a battery of incognito sound sources, alongside ballistic shards of atonal matter from clavichord, EMS Synthi and such. Smalley categorises these pulses into 3 types: slower ones to establish pace; those more accelerated to accentuate iterative variation; and finally ‘compacted pulsing grains’ for texture. While standing out like a sore thumb from the rest of the collection, this shuffled deck of rhythmic variations adds a wild card element to proceedings, lest the listener become too complacent in the sacred confines of Debussy’s cathedral.

… the recordings are resplendent in their own charms. Denis Smalley‘s Portail makes for particularly immersive listening…

Review

Mike Eisenberg, Avant Music News, February 9, 2021
Thursday, April 29, 2021 Press

Images nomades seems to update and transport the listener to the potentials of what 21st-century technology can add to Acousmatic music. To the very processed driven, this release presents a conundrum of sorts. Just what is synthetic and what is sampled? Frankly, it’s very hard to tell… but I’ll ask again, should we care? After all, per the classical definition of Acousmatic music, all sounds should be separated from their origin. For one to really appreciate the sound, where it came from is immaterial. While this may present an interesting “game” the listener can play, I feel that at the end of the day it’s how the sounds add to your experience while listening to them that really matters. How they were produced is of secondary consideration.

The album is split into two parts. The first part has three lengthy pieces that the composer says fall into his “abstract” work. Quoting him… “By abstract, I mean works that have no other subject than the music itself and which unfold solely along sonic criteria; rhythmical motifs; variations in density, intensity, material, shape; studies on how to occupy space; etc. They do not imply any metaphor. My figurative works, on the other hand, are those that are inspired by a non-musical theme, be it from poetry, literature, psychoanalysis, etc.” The second half of the album are shorter pieces and are all dedicated to his fellow Acousmatic voyagers.

The first piece is Phoenix XXI, named because he once again used samples from very old recordings and “reanimated” them (the Phoenix rising from the ashes) with present-day technology. The ambiguity of sounds here is in full force. After Dhomont’s sonic sorcery, these “very old” recordings sound very 21st century. There is a highly polished gleam to this piece that evokes images of a Blade Runner -esqe tableau replete with gleaming chrome androids, flying cars, alien shaped drones, and any number of Speculative Fiction tropes your brain can spin up. It’s hard to imagine that these were once organic sounds as this piece sounds completely synthesized. An unhinged Tangerine Dream or Klaus Schultz will get you to the general vicinity, but Phoenix XXI will take you further, much much further. Because of this high-tech sheen, this piece and others on this album stand in contrast to anything I’ve heard from him before. The organic way of stitching sounds together is a constant throughout his catalog but nothing sounds quite as “glistening” as Images nomades.

Here is the work being diffused on the St. Petersburg Acousmonium of all things. If the music isn’t your thing, that’s fine… but at least geek out on the sound system rig (man)!

The second longer work is Machin de machine, dedicated to Conlon Nancarrow. This is yet another feast for the ears. An Acousmatic drum solo perhaps? Maybe, but (insert favorite drummer here) would need to be neurally linked to a hallucinogenic stew to even come close to this. The dedication makes total sense as no human, augmented or otherwise would ever be able to play this.

The third piece, Perpetuum mobile (Pluies fantômes) acts as a companion piece to Phoenix XXI and everything I mentioned above can be carried over to this towering monolith of the George Jetson age. Taken together, these 3 pieces provide roughly 35 minutes of aural astonishment. At this point, I certainly wouldn’t criticize you for ending the journey since your head would surely be busting with sounds and images… however, if your ears have the gumption and the backbone to continue, there are nine shorter works each dedicated to another Acousmatic composer. Even without knowing who the dedications were on some of these (had to check the liner notes) these shorter works succeeded for me and taken as a whole, this second half of the album is very much the equal of the first. If anything, the general mood is darker, and the concise nature of each work can barely contain the ideas that are explored within.

Images nomades is an exhausting, exhilarating, and highly rewarding listening experience. The fact that Francis Dhomont, who is now in his mid-nineties and is still advancing this sonic art form is a gift that should not be taken lightly. He is considered a giant in this field and rightfully so.

Images nomades is an exhausting, exhilarating, and highly rewarding listening experience.

Review

Mike Eisenberg, Avant Music News, February 9, 2021
Thursday, April 29, 2021 Press

This write-up was just going to be about Francis Dhomont’s latest, Images nomades, but then it occurred to me that since I detected some changes in his overall sound from the 80’s material, of which Les dérives du signe is primarily comprised of, it may be of interest to look backward and examine the earlier album as well. This would leave the door open to say a few words about some differences my non-professional / non-practitioner ears have heard. Without a doubt though, both albums are nothing short of brilliant, and why wouldn’t they be coming from one of the genre’s most accomplished professionals?

Les dérives du signe was originally released as the second disc of a two-CD set called Mouvances-Métaphores in 1991 but later released as a stand-alone disc in 1996. To quote the composer regarding the four pieces on this album, “These four works play with diversion. The diversion: of musical discourse in Novars, of sound sources in Chiaroscuro, of sensory perception (synesthesia) in Météores (Meteors), and of nature in Signé Dionysos.” He then further ties things together by saying that the “works are united around the common theme of movement as with virtual displacement of sound in geometric space, or metaphorical transferences of meaning into the realms of imagination”.

That last quote is telling because I consider both of the “movements” he references germane to all Acousmatic music. The most obvious example would be in the piece Météores. Dhomont’s use of panning techniques as well as volume manipulation and dead silent space is masterful here. The whole sound field is used as a stage, and this stage is as big as the night sky itself. The sense of constant movement is palatable, and the rising, and subsequent falling intensity in this work creates a sense of wonder and awe that acts as a key to unlock whatever celestial vision your mind can conjure.

Signé Dionysos, the longest excursion on the album (28 minutes) brings you back down to earth, at least for a little while. This piece exudes a sense of the organic. Here we have recognizable sounds such as chirping birds, children running/playing and, in a prominent starring role, frogs… possibly many frogs doing whatever frogs do down at the local pond. All this is augmented by longer, more processed sounds of indeterminate origin (or quite possibly of the natural sounds referenced above… but does it matter?) which serve as a darkened pathway towards realms more mystical. Suddenly the pastoral mood of nature morphs into something substantially more menacing. Dhomont’s talent for stitching disparate moods together in a biologically pure way is on full display here.

Novars, which is actually the first piece on this album consists primarily of two sound sources; a quotation from Pierre Schaeffer’s Étude aux objets and, what was surely a big hit in ’64 (and I’m talking about 1364 here) Guillaume de Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame. There is also a guest cameo appearance of Pierre Henry’s famous creaking door from Variations pour une porte et un soupir. To me, Novars is a great example of organizing sounds within a traditional musical structure. I hear reoccurring themes coming back to act as a prelude to another (usually lengthy) passage of dark and somewhat disturbing sound mutations only to resolve themselves back to the “safe” bridge of what occurred earlier. The surprises happen after these short interludes and it’s these long passages that free the mind to wander within unfamiliar landscapes.

The piece Chiaroscuro is my favorite of this set. As the title suggests, it’s the play between shadow and light. Dhomont might be asking the question of what happens at the murky borderline where the two meet? Using sounds plundered from some of his earlier compositions but processed in ways preventing any recognition on the listener’s part, he creates a stunning sound world that I would suspect even the most imaginative person would find challenging to navigate. For me, every listen (and there have been many) yields a new, fresh, and completely mind-expanding experience. Dhomont’s ability to creatively (an understatement) organize sounds leads the listener on an endless journey of changing moods, landscapes, and emotions… one that is not soon forgotten!

Dhomont’s ability to creatively (an understatement) organize sounds leads the listener on an endless journey of changing moods, landscapes, and emotions… one that is not soon forgotten!

Review

Antonis N Frangos, To Periodiko, March 30, 2021
Wednesday, March 31, 2021 Press

To Vues spectrales, του Νεοζηλανδού ηλεκτροακουστικού συνθέτη και οργανίστα, Denis Smalley, συγκεντρώνει τρία απ’ τα πολυκαναλικά του έργα γραμμένα μεταξύ 2001 και 2011, τα οποία μετάτρεψε σε stereo ήχο. Υπάρχει, επίσης, ένα ακόμη από το 1982 (“Vortex”). Περίπου 15’ το καθένα τροχοδρομούν μέσα σε αμπιεντικά και ατμοσφαιρικά ηχοτοπία εμπλουτισμένα με field recordings γεμάτα κελαηδίσματα πουλιών, ήχους άνεμου μέσω φύλλων —μεταλλικά χτυπήματα, κρουστά από άδεια μπουκάλια, κουδούνια και sci-fi ατμόσφαιρα. Το παλιότερο κομμάτι, περισσότερο χαοτικό, θυμίζει μάλλον σάουντρακ του Doctor Who!

… ambient and atmospheric soundscapes…