French musician eRikm has certainly moved far beyond being simply labelled as a “turntabler”. We heard one of his serious compositions Doubse hysterie in 2016, released on Monotype Records; now here are three recent-ish works, published on the Canadian electro-acoustic label empreintes DIGITALes. Of these, Draugalimur scores high for ambition, criss-crossing themes of fantasy story-telling, epic science fiction cinema, and landscape audio-painting of the wilds of Iceland, all the above underpinned with whispered texts drawn from traditional Nordic sagas. Erik’s aiming for a huge sense of scale, a panorama that can include old whale-slaughtering quays in its sweep, yet he never loses sight of the tiny details that give it all substance. Despite the rather grim tone, this piece does indeed convey the intended “journey” sensations that are the goal of so many composers in this area.
Poudre contains field recordings of fireworks, a topic which has been used by so many phonographers in the past I often wonder what mileage is left in it. 17 minutes of explosions, treated with studio processing, are combined with the happy whoops of Berliners who set off fireworks on New Year’s Eve; eRikm takes a pessimistic quasi-philosophical view of the entire episode, and sees it all as an indicator of alienation in society. Not much listening pleasure in the piece either.
More successful, and another with grand ambitions, is L’aire de la Moure 2, another semi-fantastic piece that combines a survey of an area of natural beauty with dreams of flying. The area in question may be in Australia, since he refers in his notes to the sacred rock of Uluru (more popularly known as Ayers Rock). The site may be under threat in some way; there are vague allusions to risk management and natural disasters, but clearly the monumental scale of the place has stirred the composer’s imagination. He drew further textual ideas from Bruce Chatwin, Paul Virilio, and the writings of Paul Eluard, and his own childhood dreams of flight. A heady mix, then, of fantasy, dreams, sacred sites, and even magic — all bubbling away in the forge of his imagination. The extremely dynamic and textural electro-acoustic sheets of sound are mixed with planes flying overhead, and texts in French read by insistent male and female voices. L’aire de la Moure 2 thus succeeds in connecting with the “greats” of musique concrète composition, with its strong resemblance to works by Parmegiani, Luc Ferrari, and Pierre Henry.
A fairly ponderous release, with its weighty ideas embedded in the music and the printed text, but a solid and rewarding listen.
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.
T.A.G. se compone de dos piezas acusmáticas de una duración aproximada de 24 minutos compuestas en 2013 y grabadas en el estudio de Monique en Montréal
T.A.G. es una obra inspirada por tumultos de manifestantes y, más particularmente, por las enérgicas formas que se convierten en inundación, deriva y multitud. La masa se desplaza y se ondula, sujeta a repentinas bifurcaciones, avances y tensiones cargadas de colisión de seres multitudinarios y heterogéneos. Los sonidos, principalmente sintetizados, son orgánicos y urbanos a la vez en sus movimientos subterráneos, en sus escapadas, aceleraciones y muros de resistencia.
La versión que nos llega de T.A.G. esta masterizada por Christian Bouchard entre los meses de febrero y marzo de 2018 en Montréal.