Robert Normandeau is primarily an acousmatic composer, and his latest disc is broken into three chunks: two smaller pieces culled from Normandeau’s work in the theatre, and a larger piece from whence the album’s title comes. Malina is an eerily effective piece for effected and looped shakuhachi, full of menacing sibilants and pressurised blasts. It’s probably also the album’s most effective composition, being one of the few to encourage a visceral reaction. Erinyes, on the other hand, is like a hyperactive version of Ligeti’s Aventures, and part of the composer’s Onomatopoeia cycle — pieces of dialog from Sophocles’ Electra are sampled and rejigged so that only the sounds of letters, not complete words, are heard. It’s startling, and often sounds like cries for help in a swarm of bees — but is undermined by its 20-minute length.
The larger, titular piece is much loftier in intent, aiming to be a meditation on elements of cinematography, by way of a photograph of the Earth from the Moon. It’s hit-and-miss, but in places (Couleurs ternaires) it’s also where everything seems to click for Normandeau, and the idea of «cinema for the ear» really does start to work.
Phillipe Henry’s work influences this disc in many ways — in fact, the track Micro-Montage is, as the name suggests, a brief selection of construction sounds, jets, thumpings and other eyebrow-raising found-sounds. However, it’s not used in the same way one finds samples in Matmos’ or Einstürzende Neubauten’s recordings: this is the sound of a train going by, a brief reminder of Earth and its kerfuffle, designed to lend more weight to the disconnection one would feel in space. This unexpected approach is one of the reasons that, despite its flaws, Clair de terre is a disc worth investigating.
As a work that says something about cinematography, I don’t think this disc cuts the mustard. As a collection of sonically-interesting pieces, it’s great. Normandeau’s tendency to either cut fantastic tracks too short, or to allow his ideas to dribble on a little too long notwithstanding, it’s a swag of wonderful electroacoustic pieces.