Cartes postales sonores

Andrew Jones, Montreal Mirror, no 9:3, 17 juin 1993

“It’s a mix of two cultures, but not a fair one, because one is over the other,” explains a disembodied Mexican voice in Juan et Cecilio. “In this case, it’s the European culture over ours.” The point raised is as old as Columbus, but it takes on a new significance considering the voice (Juan or Cecilio?) was captured, sampled, and spliced into a new electroacoustic work, Corazón Road, by the French electroacoustic duo, Kristoff K.Roll.

When David Byrne and Brian Eno sample a Southern preacher, a muezzin signing the Koran and other ethnic sources in their landmark 1980 recording My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, the juxtaposition of the bush and the ivory tower opened up a theoretical can of worms previously untouched in the annals of pop music. This was no longer a matter of Elvis copying R&B singners. It sparked an ongoing discussion about the ethics of blatantly appropriating the music of indigenous cultures to serve western compositionals ends.

Byrne and Eno’s methods seem crude, almost passé, given today’s consumer eclectism and studio technology. Everyone from the high-profile WOMAD organization in England — who record Qawwali signer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan with western studio musicians — to the little-known Italian composers Roberto Musci and Giovanni Venosta — who deftly dovetailed Ravel with choral singing from Zimbabwe on their record for the ReR Megacorp label — freely partake on the wealth of indigenous world music available to them, creating new forms of music that inevitably decontextualise the original sources in the process.

Kristoff K.Roll’s Corazón Road is neither an exemple of ethnological forgery nor a subjective soundtrack. Shooting for, as they put it, “The poetry of everyday life,” Carole Rieussec and Jean-Christophe Camps began reaserch for their sprawling work during a trip to Mexico City in 1990. Ovr the next year, they made a circuitous path through Central America, recording everything from a New Year’s celebration in Guatemala City to cascading waterfalls to a morning stroll in Uxmal to young rappers in Belize. Hours of field recordings and notes resulted in a work in three “tableaux” with interludes.

Corazón Road is the latest adventurous release for SONARt, a subsidiary of Montréal’s flagship electroacoustic label, empreintes DIGITALes. Where empreintes DIGITALes concentrates on textbook electroacoustic works, having released works by Francis Dhomont, Alain Thibault, Robert Normandeau, Daniel Scheidt, SONARt borders more on “musique actuelle.” Their first release was Michel-Georges Brégent’s radiophonic creation, Atlantide, followed by Alain Thibault’s science-fiction opera for folo soprano, Ne blâmez jamais les bédoins.

Corazón Road opens with an electroacoustically-derived pulse, a heartbeat with samples of children laughter, religious ritual, circus hurlyburly and rustling papers mixed in with the beating sounds. Troughout the recourding, the present intrudes on the past. A deep cultural rift runs through the idyllic countryside in Aqui en Yucatan. You can hear it in samples of a carnival’s calliopes and laughter, kids selling Coke and in the bullhorns of police directing the bus ride to Belize.

A few young rappers in Belize City have their raw rimes distorted and treated, a document of life in a large port charged with the tense atmosphere of films like A touch of Evil and Under the Volcano. A collage of hip-hop and reggae blaring from a radio gives way to recordings of the river and muted airplanes motors in Guatemala, wich employs repetitive voice loops like Zoviet France. Corazón Road ends where it began: with the primordial pulse of the sea as the waves crash against Pacific coastlines.

The sonic topology of Corazón Road triggers the other senses. You can hear, smell and taste the cofee, cigarettes, oranges, firecrakers and saltwater breezes. Troughout the work the liquid, shifting sonorities conjure up that curious sense of suspended time and dislocation we feel when we are in the grip of a totally unfamiliar place far from our home.Think of it as the soundtrack Godfrey Reggio should have had for the powerful images of the Third world in his film Powwaqatsi, instead of Philip Glass’s static minimalism. Corazón Road functions much like a mnemonic device: It has the power to evoke, yet leaves the listener to fill in the rest.

The sonic topology of Corazón Road triggers the other senses.