electrocd

Review

Ingvar Loco Nordin, Sonoloco Record Reviews, 23 avril 2003

When Francis Dhomont (1926) delivers a new CD for the connoisseurs of electroacoustics to savor, I feel almost ashamed to try to write about it. That is how much respect I have for this Gentleman of Sounds, and that is also why I decided to also include his own comments in this text. He is a true Maestro of the ordering of sonic events if ever there was one, a diligent Poet of Auditory Mirages, and what he’s done up till now is awesome if you take the time to search it out. He’s like a generous emperor handing out his valuable gifts to the people who gather around him in the courtyard, and yet he is such a soft-spoken, low-keyed man, unpretentious, unassuming, still hanging with the youngsters of the crowd, though he is getting old, if you’re into the counting of years; two years Stockhausen’s senior, three years Ferrari’s. In a slightly altered Dylan quote, he stays forever young.

This CD filled to the rim presents some very interesting works.

Dhomont explains that the title of the collection - Jalons (Milestones) - draws its meaning from the surveying of the landscape of his oeuvre over a period of 15 years, from 1985 to 2001. Track one is called Vol d’Arondes (1999, rev. 2001), and is dedicated to Annette Vande Gorne. Dhomont’s comments:“Provence. A summer evening, the window open wide on a slowly darkening sky. Through this deep, blemishless blue, the flight of swallows: a strident, constantly changing feeding dance. The delicious night continues to fall. There are the sounds of the village preparing for the night festival; the echoes reach me. A jet begins its descent into Marignanne […]”

How significant this quote from Dhomont is of his musical thinking and his musical methods, opening the soundscape on a vision, an intuitive encompassment of a situation, a moment and a place which come together in an atmosphere, a floating, passing space-time reflection of an I and a Thou that become irretrievably organic parts of each other, in a total, sensual perception of that nightfall moment in a man’s life, that completely concentrated, yet turned-away, absentminded stillness at the window, fresh air from the fields.

Those swallows streaking through the sky in kamikaze calligraphy; the backdrop of so much human introspection in summery landscapes, from pre-history through the Medieval European paintings to our present day electroacoustics and those empty-eyed moments in micro breaks at the computer keyboard…

Francis Dhomont’s delicate accuracy with his brush of many sounds somehow equals one of the earliest, perhaps, sound paintings ever done, by August Strindberg in his book Röda Rummet, albeit just in words, of his view over Stockholm one May evening of 1879.

The introductory passage of Vol d’Arondes is more of a statement of summer nights than anything else, the bee swarm audio soaring, the gleamings of secrets passing in a flash, the spiraling motion of time - and the blackbird with its unparalleled song of melancholy, first heard in spring, and later in an introspective shadow-song of premonitions of Death in late summer…

Dhomont’s elastic sounds around the bird of melancholy are wrapped in transparent, gluey layers, eventually masking the blackbird in a mass of sonic layers, which, however, retains the melancholy of the disappearing, orange-beaked featherling.

Rhythmical events emerge with the sounds of crickets, envisioning the dance of the Unseen over at the other side of the field, blocked from vision other than the inner. They seem to drink, dance and have magically fun over in that half hidden dimension of the obscurity of those than not many believe in…

Grainy events fall like flaky shreds of war all around your listening. Murky, jerky, springy jesters of sound start a havoc of short-lived comments left and right, at times overtaken by swells of more high-pitched attacks from beyond. Crunchy bits of white get caught in the action, and overtone conversations tower on high. A murmur out of the clay of seafloors tremble for a while, until we rise in the salty air of makeshift seagulls dancing on the winds of imagined oceans deep in someone’s hazy memories… Giant trees break and fall, or is this the crackle of war or New Years, or perhaps a sports game of sorts… I can’t make out what the sudden roars of an audience indicates; perhaps no more than an ingredient of sound…

Distant modal ringing, like hazescape-bells from sunken or dim-dimensioned cathedrals, paint a sky of bronze for silvery insect trajectories while tin forests in the mist harbor floating shadows of dubious origin…

Creaking watchmaker pinions beat a jerky time, out of simultaneity, chronology bending and bulging; the dream disappears like a cat’s tail behind the door…

Track 2 is En cuerdas (In The Strings) (1998), for Arturo Parra. Dhomont’s comments:“[…] [En cuerdas] is the version for solo tape of Sol y sombra… l’espace des spectres, a work for guitar and tape that was co-written with Parra. The composition heard here is completely independent from that work. Its sonic environment nevertheless remains one of strings […] made virtual, transformed by computer processes and multiplied by electroacoustic writing.”

Out of a deafening beginning, out of shape, emerges - transpires - an open space with moving objects, slowing down, leaning towards the walls, then falling out into the room, in a maze of movements across the floor; a sonorous ballet without cause, but with complex results inside the listener’s perception. Fluids are apparent, and electrically charged dynamisms… It gets more intense, events flapping around the walls like pigeons desperate for open skies and naked trees, as the hovering power of a generator shapes a mighty electromagnetic force field of layered, horizontal sounds; layer upon layer of timbres on which small spurs of tonal color vibrate, energetically… Echoes of a long-gone barrel organ push and pull at the electroacoustic film, which holds it captured, the thin, elastic surface of electronic force reflecting starlight out of the bottomless pit of space.

A tractor-beam pulls a spaceship across the galaxy, and the first Anemone Hepatica (Blue Anemone) opens its youthful and age-old petal face to the sky in the shade of a rune stone from the times of the Vikings. April washes around the living!

The whiplash of acoustic guitars start getting decipherable towards the end of the piece, and I sense erotic fandango references and spurs of foot-stomping flamenco incitements, but also more closed-in, self-centered guitarisms of a style addressed by the likes of John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, if I know what I mean…

At the end the stringed audio hints at the glorious creativity of Ernesto Diaz-Infante over in California; one of the most prolific figures of modern music.

Les moirures du temps (1999-2000) to the composers and founders of Réseaux: Jean-François Denis, Gilles Gobeil and Robert Normandeau, is the third presentation on the CD Jalons. Dhomont’s comments:“In the same way the that the eye perceives the changing play of light on various shapes and textures of a given color, the ear picks out the sparkles and shimmers that the minute variations of related sounds can produce. Instead of changes in space, changes in time. This is further pointed out by an anecdotal element, a sign of the passage of time that punctuates the sound stream in three places: the beginning, the middle and the end. Certain characteristics, techniques and types of sound were selected: harmonic timbre, accumulation, percussion/resonance, movement and dynamic contrast - the very things that give sound context and make it shimmer.

After the sudden beginning; rustle of metallic percussion and a gearing-up subway train… footsteps in a resonant space, from right to left, and… gone… as dry peas are poured on a kitchen table, a whisk rotated inside a saucepan - or simply sounds that may evoke such secular visions…

There is a wave motion at work inside this music, but inconspicuous, hardly noticeable, unless you… notice it, because it is hidden inside, behind all these minute fractions of sound that build the musical range of colors, but the wave goes through all of this, make it bob up and down as the wave itself keeps moving in sinus progressions… or maybe it’s better to say that there is a breathing going on in this fabric of sounds, an act of inhaling and exhaling, of groups of events approaching, only to recede again.

There is a chapel attention in here, a space of some holiness, in which gold dust is soaring on the vibrations of magic bells, touched by rays of light from the day outside…

Small, bending, wobbling shapes of beauty float like soap bubbles through the music; sounds are dispersed in an act of weightless hovering… and the subway train, again gearing up, returns for a short instance like a recurring refrain mantra…

The steps reappear, only to disappear once more, making me wonder whether all that I hear - this myriad of details of sound, shaping such beauty and such a soaring motion - is simply - or maybe not so simply… - the idling mind of a drunkard resting in the stench of urine and leftovers in a dark corner of a subway station.

Rune Lindblad, Swedish pioneer of electronic music and textsound composition, had a revelation during similar circumstances in the early 1950s, when he woke up in a park in Gothenburg, hung over after an artist party the night before, as the maze of impressions of an awakening city through sound and light, as he was rising towards consciousness, gave him the incentive to start working with sound! Of course; a longshot, but one of numerous ways you can associate and fantasize in this Dhomont music. Normality is an elastic concept, as I just heard a CNN reporter in Baghdad state…

Since this kind of music in most instances is absolute music, the experiences and frame of reference of each listener rub against the body of the work and produce individual visions. This music produces as many visions as there are listeners - and I am just one of those listeners, taking my time to jot down what comes to mind when listening. It is, in a way, like a shrink session!

Slices of tilting planes of metallic percussion reflect the light of sound into different aspects of the mind, as unfathomable halls of imagination spread sky-high and horizon-wide, harboring the many shades of light of life… and at the end the concrete situation in the subway station is repeated, but the steps now come from left, disappearing at right…

Track 4 is Studio de nuit (1992). It is a short piece of just 3 minutes. Dhomont’s comments:“Here we surprise the acousmotrope (by analogy with the heliotrope, that which turns towards hearing) engaged in his rituals and his creations, in a half-real, half-dreamed moment of nocturnal composition for Figures de la nuit, a work for radio commissioned by David Olds for the program Transfigured Night on CKLN-FM in Toronto. Along with the voice of the artist we hear (in order of vocal appearance) those of Laurie Radford, Pierre Daboval, Justice Olsson, Marie Pelletier, Jean-François Denis and Pierre Louet.

The sound of the setting up of the tape-recorder, old style, reel-to-reel, in a starting position, opens this little item, voices rushing by in fast rewind. This gives me an impression of a clean environment with lots of technology, clean shirts, subdued colors, a refined atmosphere, a gathering of assorted friends, an exclusive cadre of artists and studio windows on a control room… but that is just the environment for the little experiments of this sound painting, which, indeed, rolling back on itself in a conversational reflection on the art utilized, in English and French, sort of talks out of itself about itself, relishing and taking joy in its own sonic illustrations; birds, swooping events, flashing references, parts and bits of statements about sonic art, a few tries a history, but mostly just the games of sound art playboys finger-tipping the edges of their enormous possibilities, relaxing me in my armchair at night as spring spreads its bleak evening light out there among the thrushes… a gleaming trifle of art coloring a passing moment, like a gush of wind lifting your curtain by the window, letting the garden fragrances in…

Lettre de Sarajevo (1995 - 1996) to victims everywhere: dispossessed, sacrificed, forgotten comes at position 5 on the CD. Dhomont’s comments:“What can be said about Sarajevo that has not already been said? Faced with a deluge of triumphant cynicism, I was unable to content myself with the formal, esthetic games that are so dear to the composer. And so, naively, I wanted to speak about the horror and the shame. The title came to me, sudden and obvious: “Letter,” which can tell of the magnitude of the disaster and which at the same time can send a cry in the desert of nations; “Sarajevo,” because this city, like all too many others, symbolizes the tragic incoherency of the return to barbarity in our age. It is a pessimistic report that, six years later, recent events give no sign of refuting.

As can be expected, this work kicks off in a dark tremor, in a gesture of murky downward drifts, like a dark silhouette in rain and wind bending down towards the soil, conveying the hopelessness found in the woodcut Sorg (Sorrow) by Rune Lindblad.

The dark, tumbling unrest continues, in a vision of the dark ages, of the Great Death, the plague, passing through a Medieval Europe, the mighty Horseman treading every lane and every street of every village, leaving a trace of blood and corpses and putrefaction behind, surrounded by mourners and desperate love-makers… and the Horseman came to Sarajevo in the 1990s to stay a long time, pitching camp at the market place, the whiplashes of sniper fire taking out children playing and old men walking in their thoughts… The music is fittingly downtrodden, murky, ominous, seeping through the duration like poisonous gas at a World War I battlefield, killing through the trenches…

The ringing of bells, tiny and bigger, fill an aftermath of war with introspection and retrospect, with remorse and soul-searching, since war lives in each one of us, which is why it can ravage our societies like fierce firestorms; it glows in our minds, and we make it happen, we fuel the fire, we are the Horsemen… for we are all mixtures of Hitler and Mother Teresa… The sound of Francis Dhomont’s Lettre de Sarajevo are eerie, like cold gusts of air that make you wrap your scarf tighter around your neck as you journey through life… Dhomont‘s dark painting achieves sounds that bring Hieronymous Bosch’s terrible visions to life inside the listener… and World War II bombers cross the Channel, April 2003 B2 bombers approach Baghdad… as the threat hangs over Syria and its not yet looted museums like a Damocles sword…

Track 6 is Un autre Printemps (2000), for Uli A. and Antonio V. Dhomont’s comments:“In composing this music for film I had to follow rules that differ from those of non-identical music: there were thematic directions that had to be respected, constraints that were imposed by the material (Vivaldi, the viola, a dog, the sound of a stream, naturalism) and by the timing, allusions and references that had to be incorporated, and so on. Un autre Printemps does, of course, echo Vivaldi’s famous concerto, which forms the thread that runs through the film. But the thread wanders, changes and is recycled. The important place accorded the movement of water and its mutations corresponds to the metaphor of the effusiveness of spring that is so present on the screen. But here the sound of nature questions the nature of sound. This approach to finding the beauty in sound as a means of organizing and structuring it reminds me of when I carved wood to earn my living, drawing my inspiration from form inherent in it. I tried in both cases to reconcile will and chance, conception and perception, and nature and artifice. With a dark thud and a splash we’re in a Vivaldi sphere with strings and crow and dog - and water, running water, wind through trees (aspens?) and a brook, frogs, airy landscapes… and a close-up brook trickling; then high-pitch dream-streaks through the ether, one characteristic of water taken on a soloist joyride, speed-freaking through the audioscope.

The sounds whirl and flake, in and out of the music; the music in and out of the dreamscape, Vivaldi’s red hair entangled in strings through the centuries; Malcolm Goldstein fiddlings fragmented in hasty sprays of string sounds, bits and pieces of violin atmospheres splintering like freshly cut wood at a settler’s cabin in 19th century Minnesota, in Vilhelm Moberg’s Chisago… and it whirls and sails around the listener; a renaissance dance, lightly trodden in absentminded daydreams of summer… rays of sunlight pouring down through leafy crowns, reflecting off of fairies’ wings…

Drôles d’oiseaux (1985-1986, 2001), for Françoise Barrière, Christian Clozier, Jean-Claude Leduc and Valia and Patrick Lemoine, is number 7. Dhomont’s comments:“Fifteen years after I composed this purely electronic work - the only one I ever produced - I exhume it, as a curiosity. But a more poetic image was guiding me, that of the forest as a magical symbol of our unconscious. This was my first foray into the deep forest that I had already been thinking about; in it a few reminders of that first effort can still be found.”

A whirring as of insects, but electronic ones; the turning of a shortwave dial, but not crude like in Stockhausen’s Kurzwellen, but rather smoothly elastic, dynamo humming, trembling along in a layer of brown currents, little figurines of glaring gestures signaling above the surface of the forth-welling progression of events.

Even in this non-concrete piece of electronic music Dhomont’s musique concrète poesis permeates the sound, in electric mimicries of insect level life under the microscope; a minuscule world of unnoticed movements on the underside of leaves of grass; those micro worlds of daily life, springing to full size life in Dhomont’s electronics!

These circuits are inhabited by birds and insects in virtual existences. We observe a mix of entomology and electronic circuitry, chirps and sparks and welling sinus waves… Fluttering, chattering rhythms sound like a recording I once heard of a feverishly rotating super nova way out in deep space, moving around its axis at an unbelievable speed. I try to imagine this super nova in black space, emitting this rhythmic message through the rainforest of birds and monkeys of Dhomont’s Drôles d’oiseaux… and its like nothing I have ever heard before. Sometimes the atmosphere densifies into super-charged force fields, and then it thins out into a glittering, shimmering haze of ornithology! It makes me wish Dhomont had given pure electronics some more attention than he has. This is one of the most compelling electronic works I’ve come across, devastatingly creative, bursting with sonic ideas that come at you in high-speed beauty!

The last piece is very short. It’s L’électro (1990) for Marie Pelletier. Dhomont’s comments:“This piece is a little vocal game, resolutely optimistic, about the ineffable beauty of electroacoustic music. It is also a brief stylistic exercise that mixes fragments of ancient voices with the voice of Marie Pelletier in order to recapture the spirit of Puzzle, a 2’10” clip realized in 1975. Twenty-eight years ago - how time flies!

Yes, a sure sound-poetic smile out of the corner of Dhomont the Jester’s mouth, a graffiti of vocals descending lightly like confetti over a Park Avenue parade, delivered with the humor and benevolence that is a second nature to this Poet of Sounds!

He is a true Maestro of the ordering of sonic events if ever there was one, a diligent Poet of Auditory Mirages…