Review

Simon Cummings, 5:4, May 23, 2016

When it comes to acousmatic music as its finest, though, Francis Dhomont remains one of the best of the best. Le cri du Choucas (the Cry of the Jackdaw) is a 70-minute work that forms the third and final part of the composer’s Cycle of Depths (following Sous le regard d’un soleil noir and Forêt profonde). As one expects from Dhomont, it’s a bold statement that comes across both as a continuation of and an ongoing reinvention of the acousmatic ‘tradition’ (for want of a better word). Quoting Michel Chion, Dhomont calls the piece an “electroacoustic melodrama”, an extremely appropriate description for a piece founded upon and musically elaborating fragments of text both by and associated with Franz Kafka. The emphasis is psychoanalytic, Kafka’s words being expanded by considerations from Marthe Robert’s As Lonely as Franz Kafka and RD Laing’s classic The Divided Self. It takes a little time to get used to its dramatic approach, declamatory spoken passages alternating with and inserted throughout extended musical meditations, but one soon acclimatises to this rhythm, and the results pass quickly from merely fascinating to deeply moving. Dedicated to Dhomont’s father, the text and music confront very complex and painful aspects of Kafka’s own paternal relationship. In response, Dhomont regularly fashions material that’s beautiful but barbed, sometimes arranged in multiple layers of dense activity, sometimes shot through with thin splinters of razor-sharp pitch over roiling depths. Le cri du Choucas is often startlingly vivid (the opening industrial soundscape of third movement La colonie pénitentiaire is like being plunged into the prologue of a Terry Gilliam dystopia), but without any sense of calling on easy associations from ‘anecdotal’ sources. Put another way, sounds — as they so frequently do in Dhomont’s work — usually remain just out of recognisable reach, yet retaining enough recollective proximity to trigger both memory and imagination. Coherent and organic throughout, the drama in Le cri du Choucas is just as much to do with the way musical materials are judged and handled than with the work’s more immediately tangible text component. Eighth movement Un message impérial is a masterclass in poised tension; despite being situated in the middle — and background, the steady increase in pressure is heart-poundingly riveting. Considering the difficulty of the subject matter, Le cri du Choucas contains music more dark and uncomfortable than one expects from Dhomont, even in the work’s closing moments; far from offering a reassuring conclusion, it passes instead through angular, awkward, even ugly passages, surrounded on all sides by ominous glowering layers of sound seemingly coloured different shades of black. At its end, Le cri du Choucas sounds stunned, which is precisely how i felt too. It’s another spectacular creation from an undisputed master of the art.

It’s another spectacular creation from an undisputed master of the art.

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