Images nomades seems to update and transport the listener to the potentials of what 21st-century technology can add to Acousmatic music. To the very processed driven, this release presents a conundrum of sorts. Just what is synthetic and what is sampled? Frankly, it’s very hard to tell… but I’ll ask again, should we care? After all, per the classical definition of Acousmatic music, all sounds should be separated from their origin. For one to really appreciate the sound, where it came from is immaterial. While this may present an interesting “game” the listener can play, I feel that at the end of the day it’s how the sounds add to your experience while listening to them that really matters. How they were produced is of secondary consideration.
The album is split into two parts. The first part has three lengthy pieces that the composer says fall into his “abstract” work. Quoting him… “By abstract, I mean works that have no other subject than the music itself and which unfold solely along sonic criteria; rhythmical motifs; variations in density, intensity, material, shape; studies on how to occupy space; etc. They do not imply any metaphor. My figurative works, on the other hand, are those that are inspired by a non-musical theme, be it from poetry, literature, psychoanalysis, etc.” The second half of the album are shorter pieces and are all dedicated to his fellow Acousmatic voyagers.
The first piece is Phoenix XXI, named because he once again used samples from very old recordings and “reanimated” them (the Phoenix rising from the ashes) with present-day technology. The ambiguity of sounds here is in full force. After Dhomont’s sonic sorcery, these “very old” recordings sound very 21st century. There is a highly polished gleam to this piece that evokes images of a Blade Runner -esqe tableau replete with gleaming chrome androids, flying cars, alien shaped drones, and any number of Speculative Fiction tropes your brain can spin up. It’s hard to imagine that these were once organic sounds as this piece sounds completely synthesized. An unhinged Tangerine Dream or Klaus Schultz will get you to the general vicinity, but Phoenix XXI will take you further, much much further. Because of this high-tech sheen, this piece and others on this album stand in contrast to anything I’ve heard from him before. The organic way of stitching sounds together is a constant throughout his catalog but nothing sounds quite as “glistening” as Images nomades.
Here is the work being diffused on the St. Petersburg Acousmonium of all things. If the music isn’t your thing, that’s fine… but at least geek out on the sound system rig (man)!
The second longer work is Machin de machine, dedicated to Conlon Nancarrow. This is yet another feast for the ears. An Acousmatic drum solo perhaps? Maybe, but (insert favorite drummer here) would need to be neurally linked to a hallucinogenic stew to even come close to this. The dedication makes total sense as no human, augmented or otherwise would ever be able to play this.
The third piece, Perpetuum mobile (Pluies fantômes) acts as a companion piece to Phoenix XXI and everything I mentioned above can be carried over to this towering monolith of the George Jetson age. Taken together, these 3 pieces provide roughly 35 minutes of aural astonishment. At this point, I certainly wouldn’t criticize you for ending the journey since your head would surely be busting with sounds and images… however, if your ears have the gumption and the backbone to continue, there are nine shorter works each dedicated to another Acousmatic composer. Even without knowing who the dedications were on some of these (had to check the liner notes) these shorter works succeeded for me and taken as a whole, this second half of the album is very much the equal of the first. If anything, the general mood is darker, and the concise nature of each work can barely contain the ideas that are explored within.
Images nomades is an exhausting, exhilarating, and highly rewarding listening experience. The fact that Francis Dhomont, who is now in his mid-nineties and is still advancing this sonic art form is a gift that should not be taken lightly. He is considered a giant in this field and rightfully so.