Concrète Homage to Schaeffer

Chris Kennedy, Musicworks, no. 90, October 1, 2004

Lionel Marchetti’s work is primarily devoted to building on the legacy of musique concrète, bringing its techniques with him into the new century. Train de nuit (Noord 3-683) continues this pursuit. Dedicated to concrète pioneer Pierre Schaeffer, it even incorporates the train whistle from Schaeffer’s 1948 piece, Étude aux chemins de fer, as a recurring theme. However, Train de nuit (Noord 3-683) is no easy look into the past. Instead, it is a bracing and unsettling composition - a true cinema for the ear that brings the listener through a disruptive nocturnal slumber.

Although the sounds of train travel fade in and out of the music, the main propulsion of the piece comes out of an interlocking structure of tape collage: shortwave radio snippets, dramatic readings, white noise, and other transitive listening events. Marchetti creates a drama of expectation as barely audible whispers and sound samples are interrupted by thunderous tape splices, resonating piano keys or ominous metallic noises. Marchetti hones the piece into sharp focus by mastering the music in uncompressed mono, isolating it in the left-hand speaker, and allowing ample play between extremes of volume. As a consequence, the cumulative soundtrack pulls you into the quiet moments between jarring explosions of activity.

As a whole, the twenty-minute composition develops into a disturbing portrait of nighttime train travel. The passing snippets of sound create the illusion of a train barrelling through sleepy countrytowns on its way to its final destination. Like a fitful sleep, the listener is lulled into a calm slumber before being jolted awake by the foreign sounds of machinery, as the rough journey constantly surges forward towards the dawn.

… a bracing and unsettling composition…

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