Review

Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector, April 17, 2019

Another solid set of electro-acoustic compositions by the great Monique Jean on Troubles. This particular genius deeply impressed Stuart Marshall with her 2012 album Greffes, when he dug the “violence apparent in these audio autopsies”. No less dark is today’s Troubles, with a nice grim abstract art cover and two heavyweights slugging it out in the musical arena.

T.A.G. had me rooted for 25 mins with its solid, mesmerising push of sound; one thing that struck me was her stark lack of baroque detail, by which I mean the digital frills and curlicues which often beset other composers on this label when they overcook their work in the studio. This piece delivers its stern message with no fancy preliminaries. I often get lost reading the highly abstract descriptions on these Canadian releases, but this piece has a meaning I can just about fathom. The acronym T.A.G. unpacks into Trottoir, Ashpalte, Goudron, and the work began by making observations about the weight of people on the streets agitating the gravel. Observing a crowd of protesters may have been one starting point for Jean’s ruminations, but she ended up seeing the mass of people dissolve into “energized shapes”, evidently transfixed by their errant movements; she saw a world of collisions, tensions, and forces moving down bifurcated paths. Urban malaise is a regular theme for phonographers (Philip Sulidae comes to mind), but Monique Jean never settles for bland recordings of street vistas, and does it with conviction, and strong ideas about society and mankind. It ain’t a pleasant vision, but there’s a lot of hard-nosed reality baked into these digital cloppings. It ought to be required listening to anyone who dreams of taking up architecture, or town planning. They’d soon learn what they have to contend with!

Out Of Joint may not have the immediate bone-crunching faculties of the above, but its generally macabre tone and pessimism are welcome elements, to say nothing of its majestic sweep. The starting point was something to do with Shakespeare, but this is not an attempt to “re-present” that canon of literature in modern compositional form. Monique Jean began by deconstructing a number of interpretations of Macbeth across time — movie versions, stage versions, rewrites. This isn’t to mean she directly sampled the soundtrack of Polanski’s Macbeth for instance; the process that is relevant is “across time”. She’s attempting nothing less than a compression of several different viewpoints and interpretations, attempting to “graft” them together in her music (the Greffes album was full of such grafts). How has history dealt with the “moral and ethical issues” raised by Shakespeare? That is the theme that interests her. At the same time, it’s the multiplicity of voices that she likes, moving away from the attempts to form a single critical consensus of the canon (a problem that has arguably bogged down English literary criticism for at least 100 years). In doing this, she reflects some of the great contradictions and contrasts that are embodied in Shakespeare’s work, what is referred to here as an “entwining of the coarse and the sacred”. It’s much to her credit that she conveys this without using any spoken word at all; Out Of Joint is mostly abstract sound, though with some suitably eerie sound effect recordings such as rainfall and crows calling. A detailed, blackened suite of sheer genius.

A detailed, blackened suite of sheer genius.

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