In the autumn of 1996, the Montréal electroacoustic label [empreintes DIGITALes] released two new compact discs of the French [/] Canadian composer Francis Dhomont. These recordings present the two parts of a large-scale diptych, Cycle des profondeurs (“Cycle of Depths”), which the composer says may eventually expand into a triptych. The first CD is a new edition of Sous le regard d’un soleil noir (“Under the Glare of a Black Sun”), an acousmatic melodrama of more than 51 minutes in duration, realized between 1979 and 1981. The second is entitled Forêt profonde (“Deep Forest”), a more recent melodrama of more than 58 minutes in duration, composed between 1994 and 1996. For those who have followed the work of this important composer of rich electroacoustic works in the French acousmatic tradition (sometimes called “musique concrète”, though the two terms are not really equivalent), it is also worth noting the reissue of the out-of-print 1991 double CD containing his other major opus, Mouvances—Métaphores (“Mobility—Metaphors”). This work comprises two cycles: Cycle de l’errance (“Cycle of Wanderings”) and Les dérives du signe (“The Drift of the Sign”).
Here, the black sun can burn the wings of those such as Icarus, who come too close. This is a tormented work, spotlighting the schizophrenic vertigo of the anguished self. It is not, however, a musical adaptation of a thesis about insanity; rather, this is true program music, extracting from its extramusical subject an expressive substance of a quality rarely achieved in acousmatic music. The probing of the depths, characteristic of psychoanalysis, has inspired this magisterial work in eight sections. The fine quotes heard throughout are taken mainly from the writings of British psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Ronald D Laing.
In Sous le regard d’un soleil noir, Mr. Dhomont creates an enigmatic and dreamlike atmosphere, with the subject matter centered on the self. The drama is built up as the barrier crumbles between the self and the external world. The inner being is then invaded, or better, sucked into the black hole of schizophrenia: “One is inside then outside what one has been inside. One feels empty […] to eat and to be eaten to have the outside inside and to be inside the outside. But this is not enough […] and inside oneself there is still nothing.”
This is the worrying black sunrise, as torrid as the intensity of the drama it engenders. The drama takes many forms in the work. Among others, there is an obsessive pitch, B, whose timbre serves to express a searing anguish. There is also the breakdown of the self, evoked in the Engloutissement (“Engulfment”) of Section 2 by the immersion in fluid sonorities that are driven on to an asphyxiation of the personality, until only an inarticulate shadow remains at the bottom of the abyss. Then there is the Implosion of Section 4, and the progressive Pétrification of the personality in Section 7. The first sound of Citadelle intérieure (“Interior Fortress”), a heavy door that suddenly slams shut symholizes the walled-in isolation of the personality. Finally, there is the vocal counterpoint at the end of the same section, spread out in space as if this distant voice, fragile and almost inaudible, symbolizes the loss of contact between the self of the individual and the consciousness of its own existence.