Another solid set of electro-acoustic compositions by the great Monique Jean on Troubles. This particular genius deeply impressed Stuart Marshall with her 2012 album Greffes, when he dug the “violence apparent in these audio autopsies”. No less dark is today’s Troubles, with a nice grim abstract art cover and two heavyweights slugging it out in the musical arena.
T.A.G. had me rooted for 25 mins with its solid, mesmerising push of sound; one thing that struck me was her stark lack of baroque detail, by which I mean the digital frills and curlicues which often beset other composers on this label when they overcook their work in the studio. This piece delivers its stern message with no fancy preliminaries. I often get lost reading the highly abstract descriptions on these Canadian releases, but this piece has a meaning I can just about fathom. The acronym T.A.G. unpacks into Trottoir, Ashpalte, Goudron, and the work began by making observations about the weight of people on the streets agitating the gravel. Observing a crowd of protesters may have been one starting point for Jean’s ruminations, but she ended up seeing the mass of people dissolve into “energized shapes”, evidently transfixed by their errant movements; she saw a world of collisions, tensions, and forces moving down bifurcated paths. Urban malaise is a regular theme for phonographers (Philip Sulidae comes to mind), but Monique Jean never settles for bland recordings of street vistas, and does it with conviction, and strong ideas about society and mankind. It ain’t a pleasant vision, but there’s a lot of hard-nosed reality baked into these digital cloppings. It ought to be required listening to anyone who dreams of taking up architecture, or town planning. They’d soon learn what they have to contend with!
Out Of Joint may not have the immediate bone-crunching faculties of the above, but its generally macabre tone and pessimism are welcome elements, to say nothing of its majestic sweep. The starting point was something to do with Shakespeare, but this is not an attempt to “re-present” that canon of literature in modern compositional form. Monique Jean began by deconstructing a number of interpretations of Macbeth across time — movie versions, stage versions, rewrites. This isn’t to mean she directly sampled the soundtrack of Polanski’s Macbeth for instance; the process that is relevant is “across time”. She’s attempting nothing less than a compression of several different viewpoints and interpretations, attempting to “graft” them together in her music (the Greffes album was full of such grafts). How has history dealt with the “moral and ethical issues” raised by Shakespeare? That is the theme that interests her. At the same time, it’s the multiplicity of voices that she likes, moving away from the attempts to form a single critical consensus of the canon (a problem that has arguably bogged down English literary criticism for at least 100 years). In doing this, she reflects some of the great contradictions and contrasts that are embodied in Shakespeare’s work, what is referred to here as an “entwining of the coarse and the sacred”. It’s much to her credit that she conveys this without using any spoken word at all; Out Of Joint is mostly abstract sound, though with some suitably eerie sound effect recordings such as rainfall and crows calling. A detailed, blackened suite of sheer genius.
T.A.G. se compone de dos piezas acusmáticas de una duración aproximada de 24 minutos compuestas en 2013 y grabadas en el estudio de Monique en Montréal
T.A.G. es una obra inspirada por tumultos de manifestantes y, más particularmente, por las enérgicas formas que se convierten en inundación, deriva y multitud. La masa se desplaza y se ondula, sujeta a repentinas bifurcaciones, avances y tensiones cargadas de colisión de seres multitudinarios y heterogéneos. Los sonidos, principalmente sintetizados, son orgánicos y urbanos a la vez en sus movimientos subterráneos, en sus escapadas, aceleraciones y muros de resistencia.
La versión que nos llega de T.A.G. esta masterizada por Christian Bouchard entre los meses de febrero y marzo de 2018 en Montréal.
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
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