Coming to this recording, I knew I was going to experience something strange. Cirque (1994) pays a more direct homage than most musique concrète to the Schaeffer / Chion school of paysage sonore, with ghoulish scenes forged from looping horses, laughter, applause and angular cutouts from what must have once been a real scene. Over the 36 minutes, 5 movement work (prefaced not surprisingly by: Allegro, Andante, Scherzo, Galop and Finale (Parade) following the tradition of Schaeffer), we are a witness to the dance of a strange mannequin formed out of spare parts from an otherwise used image. What makes this work special is this method (if you can call it that) of representing the outside environment in such a way as to conjure the inner spirit of a circus long passed. This mechanistic approach of loops, irregular montage and unnatural envelopes gives the work its disembodied feel as well as offering us one clear level of audible structure albeit at a primitive level. Cirque is primitive but hints at the mythical in the same way as Wishart’s Red Bird (1973–77) and the mystical in a manner similar to Jacques Tremblay’s La robe nue (1995). Even the cover design of the same name by Christian Daninos tends towards the grotesque: Scaramouche and the commedia dell’arte mixing not always that comfortably with Barnum, Cooper and Bailey. Francis Dhomont talks about the psychology of depths: the intersection of projected mental images and the imagination (cover notes to Forêt profonde). Bokanowski points us towards these paths of suggestion.
Cirque opens with a horse galloping round and round the empty circus ring with a disembodied crowd emerging and re–emerging as if contained within an old viewing carousel. Sounds hover in the air like trapeze artists awaiting the moment where time stands still. This is a circus of long ago, a dark time where one gasped in horror at the devilish beauty of the performing troupe as they defy the rules and conventions of normal life. There is a strange empty suspense; the street just outside the butchers shop in Delicatessen or the ballroom in The Shining seem fitting analogies. The Finale (Parade) is perhaps the least effectual of the movements as it tries to present some conclusion to the previous sections while being continually hindered by the pitched underpinning of material. Maybe much is meant to be left unanswered; our imagination balancing tentatively upon the high wire. I do not mean to do Cirque an injustice by suggesting that it harkens back to a musique concrète of the past. On the contrary: In a time where much electroacoustic music seems to be an exercise for the sound–system, Cirque comes as a drop of Mr. Schaeffer’s magic elixir.