Discussions of “The soul of the machine” have been going on since at least the time of the Luddites, and probably since the debut of the wheel. This is one of the reasons that I enjoy the new Nicolas Bernier album Travaux mécaniques so much. On this new DVD-Audio, Bernier explores the subject primarily through the use of electronic music, which makes for a nice bit of irony.
The five tracks that make up Travaux mécaniques are concerned with the sounds of industry in many different forms. One description of the album would be to call it musique concrete. That term certainly applies, but there is much more to this recording than that somewhat simplified musical categorization would imply. There is no doubt in my mind that each of the five pieces were deeply thought out, yet the overall effect sounds random. This speaks to the compositional talents of Nicolas Bernier, for it must be a very difficult thing to make music that sounds as if the machines are playing themselves.
For this listener, one of the most compelling tracks is Les chambres de l’atelier (10:48). As Bernier describes it in his liner notes, the piece is “The workshop. A place of sudden agitation, of ideas both clear and unclear that disappear just as quickly as they surge.” During this track, both electric and non-electric sounds converge to create a mysterious and oddly intriguing ambience.
Even more fascinating to me is Writing Machine (15:28). The piece is inspired by the famous “cut-up” writing technique of William S Burroughs, and “By some similarities between his writing, and electroacoustic composition,” as Bernier again states in his notes. The use of disconnected spoken word elements, along with a great deal of various tonal directions certainly adds up to a very interesting listening experience. It shows just how effective this music can be when a composer of Bernier’s obvious talent treats sound as an all-encompassing ecosystem.
Nicolas Bernier’s Travaux mécaniques has been released on the Canadian empreintes DIGITALes label, who specialize in some of the most adventurous electronic music currently available. Check out their website for more information about Travaux mécaniques, and other electroacoustic artists on the label.