Review

Steve Benner, Amazon, April 22, 2002

Sous le regard d’un soleil noir (Beneath the Glare of a Black Sun) dates mostly from 1979, with a further, central, movement added in 1981. Francis Dhomont based this large-scale (51-minute) masterpiece on the psychoanalytical writings of RD Laing and the work features settings of texts drawn from the French translations of The Divided Self, Knots and The Politics of Experience. These are used, alongside extracts from Franz Kafka’s The Burrow and Plato’s The Republic, to construct a fantastical acousmatic melodrama, charting a slow descent into the madness of schizophrenia. In subject matter, therefore, it forms the first part of what is currently a diptych of works dubbed Cycle des profondeurs (Cycle of Depths), in which the composer explores madness and other aspects of psychoanalytical thought.

Musically, this first panel of the diptych is considerably less harsh and not as harrowing as the same theme’s treatment in its later counterpart, Forêt profonde. It consists principally of speaking voices, subjected to computer processing (although never to a sufficient degree to render the speech unintelligible) and accompanied by a fairly gentle backdrop of electronic textures and other computer-processed sounds. And thoroughly engaging it is, too.

As is normal for an acousmatician, Francis Dhomont indulges in numerous musical puns and associative trickery throughout the work — such as basing much of the work around B natural (‘si’, in French) as musical reference to the obsessive alliteration of the conditional ‘if’ (also ‘si’ in French) which occurs in part of RD Laing’s Knots. The work’s subject matter, as well as its basis on B natural, also provides the composer with the opportunity to draw upon references to another great ‘invention on one note’, Act III of Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck. Musical quotations from that work — as well as words from Georg Büchner’s original play — appear in muted and mangled form throughout Sous le regard d’un soleil noir in much the same manner (and with similar effectiveness) as fragments of Robert Schumann’s Kinderscenen are used within Forêt profonde.

How such musical and poetic treatments can be applied to such essentially clinical source material almost beggers belief but, as ever, Francis Dhomont pulls it off completely. This work’s eight movements, which play continuously, weave an intoxicating web of sound that makes for a thoroughly absorbing listen. And, in spite of the work’s heavy dependence upon the spoken word, the musical imagery — and the sheer beauty of the soundworld — should be sufficiently vivid for even the most severely francophone-challenged of listeners to be undeterred. In any case, the bilingual booklet which accompanies the disc gives a full translations of all of the texts, together with copious programme notes.

Poetic treatments of clinical sources. Wholeheartedly recommended for the adventurous listener. 5/5

Poetic treatments of clinical sources.

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