CD Reviews

Wednesday 22nd July

July 23, 2009

Late home again tonight, been a pig of a week so far but I am off work tomorrow so hopefully it will get better from here. Tonight I listened to the first disc of a two CD compilation album called Au Clair de la Lune released on the Infrequency label. The compilation is a nicely packaged set that contains pieces “based on” the earliest known recording of the human voice- ten seconds of a woman singing Au Clair de la Lune way back in 1860. The compilation contains nine tracks, six of them appearing on this first disc.Â

I actually bought the album because it contains a new electroacoustic work by Bernhard Günter, something of a rarity these days. That track is on the second disc though, and despite the incredible temptation to play it first I haven’t, but will come to the second disc tomorrow and write about it then. This first disc then opens with a brief track by Steve Roden, clocking in at just under two minutes. Its ages since I heard any Roden, despite being a big fan once upon a time. In fact its been a while since I listened to anything in that vague area of lowercase sound-arty type music, so the jaunty, cheerful melodic loops he created around what may or may not have been samples from the original recording were actually quite welcome to these ears. The second track though, named A short story by Lionel Marchetti and Yoko Higashi is a much more substantial and rewarding piece. Between ethereal tones, pings and crackling sounds a voice can be heard singing the song in question, but it is far too clear and modern a recording to be the original archive voice. Small snippets of a more warped, nasal voice can be heard too, maybe these originate somehow from the 1860 recording. Baby-like voices also seem to be in there somewhere, and there is an uneasy, spooky quality to the music, despite its airy lightness. This ten-minute piece, which falls somewhere between musique concrete and minimal electronica could easily be the soundtrack to a ghostly horror film. It works really well indeed. I have long been an admirer of Marchetti’s music, but Higashi is a new name to me. Apparently there is more music out there by these two as a duo, I will try and track it down.

There follows a twelve-minute long piece by someone called Sleep Research Facility, which begins with what must be the original recorded voice, (similar to what was heard in the previous track) which is then looped and allowed to decay dramatically into a looming dark ambient wash, the like of which we have heard many times before from people like Thomas Koner or Lull; not really that interesting musically, but on this occasion, mainly because its been a while since I heard anything like it I quite enjoyed the track’s cavernous swells of isolationist sound. The Creature that drank sound is the odd name of the next track, by Lance Olsen, anther new name to me. This track sort of combines elements of the last two, children’s voices singing, bits of audio detritus, that same voice singing from 1860 and more clingy, dreamy drones. Good use is made of sudden cuts away from densely layered parts of the music into sole voices singing Au clair… (the tune actually starts to become annoying after a few tracks!) This is another example of the kind of up-to-date musique concrete utilised by Marchetti and Higoshi, but there isn’t the same degree of subtle atmosphere to this piece. One part of the track, nearer the end suddenly blends odd party-like crowd sounds with what resembles machines in an amusement arcade for some reason, and this section works well from a purely obscure, juxtapositional perspective, but overall its a bit of a mixed bag.

Stephen Vitiello and Molly Berg’s Claire Song Sung is a bright, pulsing piece, reminding me of Fennesz’s more poppy work and the fragmented melodies of Oval’s earlier music. That same fuzzy voice can be heard throughout. This is a nicely composed piece, with the shards of melody and drifting voices working in harmony with the Au Clair tune without just replicating it. Like everything else on the album its a work put together on a computer, and this track feels the most accomplished from a purely technical perspective, but it actually became a little boring very quickly. The final piece on this first disc is named Breathe and is by Christophe Charles. What sounds like heavily processed fragments of the 1860 recording warble softly in the foreground of this track, with a gentle hiss, like the steady exhalation of air evident behind it. The piece does not really try and go anywhere else, and is a study in gentle refinement and simplicity of materials. At around five minutes in length it doesn’t outstay its welcome either, and overall is quite a classy little piece and a nice way to end a mixed, but generally quite interesting first disc. Part two tomorrow.

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