CD Reviews

Thursday 23rd July

July 24, 2009

So tonight to the second disc from the Au Clair de la Lune compilation on the Infrequency label. There are only three tracks on this disc, one each from two musicians whose work I had not come across before, Jamie Drouin and Yann Novak, either side of the piece by Bernhard Günter, whose music I know very well indeed, and in all honesty was the primary reason I purchased this compilation. Drouin’s piece that opens the album is a sixteen minute long piece entitled Soot and paper. The track follows a similar route to others on the first disc in that it takes the original Clair de la Lune tapes as its starting point (though right from the start all trace of the tune has gone) and liquidises them down to a sparse, hissy, gravelly drone of the kind that would not have sounded out of place on the 1994 Virgin compilation Isolationism, a very important album for me as a listener. The density of the layered drones builds slowly as the track progresses, and it is nice harmless listening, but beyond the soporific qualities of the shifting plates of sound there isn’t much of substance here.

Sorry to be predictable, but he Bernhard Günter track is great, easily the best thing on the compilation. The piece is named (rather unhelpfully to a reviewer!) Les voix du passe / chantent l’avenir / Clair de lune. It lasts a little short of fifteen minutes, and has the 1860 voice present throughout, looped continually, drifting in and out of focus maybe, twisted about quite a bit and more dominant in some places than others, but there in one form or the other from start to finish. Around and through this strange semi-human mantra Günter weaves a series of clean, clear sounds, some of them reminiscent of instruments, other perhaps derived further from  the 1860 recording again. It is hard to describe what sets this track apart from the others here, as simple description will only highlight the methods used for its composition, which are probably not all that different to the other tracks on the album. The difference lies within the choice of sounds however, and their placement alongside others to create the structure of the piece. There is nothing that sounds generic, nothing that allows the track to fall into any convenient category. Günter offsets the degraded qualities of the main sample with clear, tonal sounds and semi-melodic elements, but in a way that creates tension and challenge within the music rather than allowing it to slip into any degree of ambience. It is also quite unlike much else we have heard from Günter, and a very welcome change to the semi-acoustic improvised music he was most recently involved in.

The final piece on the compilation seems to return to type, and is a complete let-down after the centrepiece of the disc.Yann Novak’s Time forgot is another minimal drone presumably created by treating the 1860 tapes to the degree that all that remains is thin slithers of icy tone that gather in intensity as they progress through time. Yesterday, when I first heard the similar track by Sleep Research Facility I quite welcomed it because the music fell into an area I hadn’t paid attention to for a while, but now having heard two more very similar pieces on this second disc the idea gets boring very quickly, and I only just managed to make it through Novak’s twenty minute piece. I personally think there is a shortage of ideas these days at this acute end of minimal electronic composition. Anything worth doing was done very well years ago by the likes of Thomas Koner, and while every now and again a spot of dark ambience might sound fresh again it won’t do for long.

So across the two discs the highlights were certainly the Bernhard Günter track, and the piece by Lionel Marchetti with Yoko Higashi. Whether the compilation is worth purchasing for those tracks alone is up to you, but I personally took from the release what I expected to get, and am quite happy with that.

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