Seven years ago, experimental composers Gilles Gobeil and René Lussier etched out an informal contract to collaborate on a work inspired by Goethe ’s Faust, to be composed in sync with the structure of the poem. In the seven years this project took to complete, the duo cultivated a painstakingly slow work ethic which, combined with their ravenous perfectionism, allowed the project to undergo a number of conceptual divergences. Goethe took more than 30 years to write Faust, making Gobeil and Lussier’s seven-year effort seem comparatively speedy. And in what have their prolonged efforts resulted? A truly baffling musical/sonic odyssey that incorporates spasmodic guitar jerks, aeroplane noises, bangs, rattles, reverberated voices and long, long moments of static silence — a sonic experiment that nestles itself in the listener’s anticipatory space and just sort of hovers there.
Consisting primarily of protracted inertia interspersed with swiftly swelling blasts of noise, Le contrat will test your patience as much as it rewards it. La nuit la plus longue (The Longest Night), for example, is a twelve minute onslaught of jet blasts, distorted voices, eerily subtle strings, quiet gasps, reverberated bangs, pan flutes, altered church bells and other unnameable found-sounds, spliced into a piece that nests itself in the memory as a fractured, elongated hum. When the sounds finally arrive, however, Gobeil and Lussier create a genuine sonic tension that occasionally verges on anarchy. About ten minutes into “The Longest Night”, a cloud of hissing noise gathers (appropriating what sounds like a choir of mutants), and then a giddy piano sample is pitch-altered, bashed and stitched into a crescendo-heavy explosion of maddening sonic chaos, coming to settle on some truly wonky-sounding church bells. Indeed, Gobeil and Lussier’s propensity for sudden explosions of noise often seems to mirror the manipulative shock-tactics of cinema horror: once a sense of placidity is established, it’s quickly blown apart. On Le cabinet d’étude, a solemn, sporadic strum of nylon guitar is paired with the sound of meowing cats and some truly horrifying, guttural growls.
Heavy-going stuff, and not for the weak-hearted, Le contrat might seem like a manipulative venture into silence/noise dynamism, but Gobeil and Lussier’s unerring commitment to the form makes for a stealthy, undeniably intense listening experience.