Review

Ingvar Loco Nordin, Sonoloco Record Reviews, April 1, 2002

Francis Dhomont is — oblivious of his noble age (born 1926) — always and forever the young at heart (characteristics that he shares with Stockhausen and Bayle and Dylan!) Check, for example, his lively participation on the CECdiscuss mailinglist. He is as active as ever in his sound art too, which this new release on empreintes DIGITALes is ample proof of.

I was looking forward to meeting this good old Maestro in St. Petersburg this coming summer of 2002, when the first “Russian International Festival of Electronic, Electroacoustic, Experimental and Avantgarde Music — Electroshock” is taking place in St. Petersburg under the direction of the proprietor of Electroshock Records; Mr. Artemiy Artemiev of Moscow. Dhomont is one of the many composers and musicians attending this exciting festival, but… Artemiy Artemiev has decided to host the event simultaneously with the Stockhausen Courses in Kùrten outside Cologne, and since I have been asked to attend there (when Stockhausen calls, you do come!), I will miss out on the encounter with Francis Dhomont, who nonetheless is one of my true heroes of electroacoustic art. Hopefully, Mr. Artemiev will check his schedule better next year, if the St. Petersburg Festival will reappear as an annual event. Once upon a time the cultural axis of Europe was an arch from Paris across Berlin to St. Petersburg, and perhaps the time to revive this cultural flow has come now. Let’s hope so, for it was a vibrant, fruitful cultural axis before the Russian Revolution.

The gentleman Francis Dhomont arrives on this CD with a humorous twinkle in his eye, and part of the shine of his art is this mixture of seriousness and humor, in an almost burlesque, Rabelaisian style. This goes straight to the heart of the listener, and the inside of Existence is repainted with the acoustician’s sonic sable brush, lots of stars twinkling and a small table with a lamp and one chair placed out in the black void of space, centering attention to words being scribbled by good intentions and seasoned with the salt of this earth…

How good it is that one of these gentlemen with a French beret and a wine glass in his hand, gauloise between his lips, has risen from the café table and walked right into our sound reproduction devices with the art of his poetic mind! Welcome, Monsieur Dhomont!

Francis Dhomont’s artistic traces go back to people like Ginette Waldmeier, Charles Koechlin and Nadia Boulanger. At about the same time as Pierre Schaeffer, in Paris in the late 1940s, Dhomont independently discovered what could be done sound-wise with magnetic wire; musique concrète being born. In the long run Dhomont gave up traditional instrumental composition to dedicate himself completely to tape work; electroacoustic composition. He lives in a flux between Canada and France; another cultural axis of today, especially in the art of acousmatic electroacoustics, which in France and Canada is especially prolific and poetic.

Dhomont also writes theoretical texts and essays, and his antecedents show an editorship of L’espace du son published by Musiques & Recherches in Belgium and Électroacoustique-Québec: L’essor published by the Canadian magazine Circuit. Dhomont has also in his career produced many acousmatic radio programs for Ina-GRM of Radio France, and he has co-produced a Canadian radio series entitled Voyage au bout de l’inouï (“Journey to the Unheard-of”)

Dhomont — in the CD booklet (which of course in the case of empreintes DIGITALes is a fold-out hard-paper contraption, which is utterly original and extremely innovative as well as… pleasant! — and packed with information) — goes on to describe the first of the four parts of Cycle du son; Objets retrouvés (“in memoriam Pierre Schaeffer”): “Both a lamento and a funeral march, this paraphrase of Pierre Schaeffer’s Étude aux objets is not without connection to ornate, figures choral style. Three voices (in the contrapuntal sense of the term), developed from elements drawn from the first movement of the Étude [Objets exposés], embroider and animate the long values of the original subjects that make up the “choral”, which constitutes the fourth voice of the polyphonic composition. The choice of a classical form, so important in Bach, was a conscious one that was designed to honor the memory of Schaeffer. […]

And so here we have one giant of this art form celebrating another one!

I listened to the original Étude aux objets by Pierre Schaeffer from the Ina-GRM issue before shifting into Objets retrouvés, concentrating on Objets exposés, and it is of course really a mimicry to begin with, but then I loose myself in the beauty of it all, only waking up to clear reminiscences here and there, where Schaeffer and Dhomont act like soul-mates, though on different planets or in different dimensions — or maybe just separated by a thin, semi-transparent layer of time-lapse, through which only telepathy can penetrate, abiding to the law of non-local connections (Fritjof Capra: The Tao of Physics), which says that occurrences on the atomic level millions of light-years away affect events here, just as clear and distinct as if you yourself slammed your fist into the table to drive home a point in an argument — simply showing that things may not always — or ever! — be as they appear, because appearance is just a convenient way to work perception, which is our way of co-existing with the environment, for practical reasons, but maybe not for any other reasons…

Anyway, Dhomont’s Schaeffer-music is lightheartedly explorative, bouncing through a jumble of suddenly appearing sonic spheres and cubes, like in a Nintendo arcade game, or in an adventure of virtual reality. The sounds are classical electronic bodies, appearing, receding, reappearing, changing shapes and density, conveying a solid sonic joy of investigation, and the double vision of Schaeffer-Dhomont dances around the stage like Stockhausen’s Lucipolyp in Luzifers Zorn (“Lucifer’s Fury”) from Montag aus Licht (“Monday from Light”).

This piece is similar to the sight of a child ripping the clothes from a scare-crow out in the farm field, dressing up in the old rags and staggering towards the horizon; playful, spiritual in a special way, very magical… ceremonial even… the child of all ages…

Track 2 is AvatArsSon; a longer work of 18 minutes. Francis Dhomont has given it a lengthy subtitle: “in six connected parts: Fondation; Avatars; Voix; Aventures; Paysages; À suivre… to the inventors of the treasure… Bayle, Berio, Chion, Dufour, Ferrari, Henry, Malec, Parmegiani, Reibel, Risset, Schaeffer, Stockhausen, Teruggi, Varèse, Xenakis, Zanési… and others too numerous to name…”

Surely my heart, which largely resides in the body of electroacoustics, beats a little extra at the enumeration of all these great composers, who each and every one has meant so much…

The jolting, bouncing tendencies keep up, but joined by thermal shocks and timbral layers, as Henryean doors of French sheds creak (Variations pour une porte et un soupir) and areas are opened and closed, whooshing and wheezing atmospheres closing in and opening up; small rooms expanding, the walls shooting out in four directions to the horizon and below, the ceiling lifting into the stratosphere… and suddenly you’re in a summer meadow where a child sits in the grass, as fragments of thoughts flutter around you like a cloud of butterflies; a cloud that explodes, powder of wings setting like a mist around you… and vibrating planes and percussive electronic rhythms merge with watery ascents and descents, your fingers plucking at the spokes of a racing bike wheel at a section of Tour de France that runs straight through your cerebral cortex, where electrical charges transmit messages through the neurons like meteorites across a winter’s sky…

Thin layers of ice move in above and below each other at different speeds in this music, causing auditory hallucinatory effects, kaleidoscopically tightening and opening, in a breathe of the sound waves.

Reverse glass paints with thin lines on transparent surfaces, as the sun rises and blinds you with one single ray of light out of the Tibetan high plateau, suddenly hitting hard on your retina, like the light of enlightenment in your post-life Bardo, towards an imminent rebirth… and there’s something reassuringly magical in AvatArsSon as the boy’s voice of Gesang der Jünglinge opens up Stockhausen’s innocent face and curious eyes, penetrating your honesty down to the last drop of coffee-powered creativity…

A maze of barbed wire — or vibrating stainless pots in a restaurant kitchen — introduce voices, and then the sudden “Dies irae” of Michel Chion’s Requiem… and so many other quotes intertwined in this barbed wire existence of magnificence across the misty expanses of World War I battlegrounds…

Rolling rocks move like La Mémoire des Pierres by Gabriel Poulard, rocks and pebbles sliding, rolling, bouncing down a decline below an Icelandic glacier in one of Björk’s most gravel-haunting pieces (Aurora from Vespertine; a masterpiece if you’ve ever hiked hard to get to the edge of a glacier in Lapland or in Iceland!), until a minute section from Denis Dufour’s Bocalises — the ultimate glass music! — twists and bulges the sonic field in crystalline refractions of audio… when a terrific havoc breaks out, throwing cardboard boxes filled with styrofoam around the room, like a Picus viridis causing panic in an ant-mound…

Sirens in the distance and close-up wineglass-rim pings leave room for remnants of coarse sounds falling around you like demolition debris, and tender, tapping bounces of brittle rolling spheres sharpens your attention even more… when church bells toll and crowds in narrow lanes and hooting cars pass by in a carnival or demonstration flurry… only to submerge you into the local shipwreck in the harbor inlet, and all local fish swarm your sight…

AvatArsSon is a masterly and lustful reflection on the evolution of acousmatics!

Track 3 is Novars, of which it has already been said that it is the first of the pieced herein to be composed (1989), and that it has been released before. Dhomont has given this also a subtitle: “to music concrète and Pierre Schaeffer, its unfortunate inventor” — and I believe it was Schaeffer who called himself that; “the unfortunate inventor of musique concrète”, and it is a well-known fact that Schaeffer in his older age stood back from his earlier achievements…

Soft and polished, gently swirling tonalities open this long (19 minutes) work, clearly mirroring some of Schaeffer’s Étude aux objets, but this time around bringing Schaeffer’s aspects way up to the present moment, in high class, reflecting, introverted strands of audio; Dhomont gently and swiftly applying precise timbral nuances with his electronic brush, as the light of day falls in through the many colors of the tinted church windows of his music, projecting rectangles and rhomboids of colored light across the stone floor of the spiritual expanse of the church association… where cats would lick their paws, were they only let in…

The sacral illusions keep up, as the music gets a bit rough, retreating into a side-crypt filled with brown, unshapely sounds of unsettled arguments and bitter feelings, the furniture moving in kinetic automation in this ill-spirited force-field, almost like in Ákos Rózmann’s Crypt With Table and Chairs or La Monte Young’s Poem for Chairs, Tables, Benches etc. There is furniture at un-rest in this section of the music. An exorcism of sorts is called for… if we’re going to sweat this out, tepee style, medicine man style… and sure enough, a relative calm returns, with minor glitching frictions appearing between time-layers, between now and right before and a long time ago… but the landscape opens up in fresh-air views of canyons and mountains, as vibrations of stylized woodpeckers salute the forested north, be it in Canada, Scandinavia or Russia; many creatures live there which we will never see, and the smell of resin greets us in fresh fragrances out of the awesome expanses of coniferous forests in Dhomont’s sound-painting.

A wild, almost medieval dance — a gigue of brutal, harsh upheavals — follows, in which love and death grab at each other in an almost even show of force, while shooting grains of sharp, metallic audio move outwards in gravitational trajectories — and it gets calmer again… after the catharsis…

Indian sandalwood incense rises towards the ceiling of my Scandinavian room, and in the music torch lights flicker in a cave in France, where prehistoric paintings are about to be discovered… and life is richer than can ever be understood by the living…

The concluding last track of the four is Phonurgie, which Dhomont has equipped with a dedication: “to Inés Wickmann and her found objects”. Inés Wickmann is a Colombian sculptor and artist who lives in Montréal, Canada, married to Francis Dhomont. An interesting project that Wickmann has participated in is the Breathe Project, which also has a bearing on the reviewer’s native Sweden.

The initial gesture is the same, but then an eerie ring rinses your mind like Harpo Marx’s handkerchief, as thudding, drilling sounds even mimic all too familiar mobile phone irritations… but maybe this is simply reminiscences of short-wave communications… Many grainy properties appear here, like were you emptying sacks of green peas on the industrial conveyor belts of earlier and almost forgotten decades…

Jet engine magnitudes fill the space completely, big fuselages taxiing out on concrete runways until flapping birds’ wings envision feathered bodies dispersing in all directions…

Hectic jumbles of entrapped sounds move about madly inside the sonic magicians electronic bottle, reaching speeds that in real life would heat up the confined space to melting of the glass, which would flow out in gluey shapes, like Salvador Dali’s melting watches…

Dhomont’s sound art has many properties in common with Gaudi’s architecture in Catalonian Barcelona; the prohibition of bourgeois, degenerative 90 angles, the unexpected and uneven distribution of weight and mass, nonetheless balancing out in mysterious calculations of mechanics of materials, like in Sagrada Familia’s exclamation of a joyous, triumphant “Sanctus! Sanctus! Sanctus!”

… the shine of his art is this mixture of seriousness and humor, in an almost burlesque, Rabelaisian style. This goes straight to the heart of the listener…

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