Thursday 7th OctoberOctober 8, 2010
Today was a good day. As well as being able to catch up on no end of domestic chores it was good to take a gentle trip into Oxford to spend a few hours with Patrick and Sarah again, browse the usual bookshops and enjoy the slow drive home, windows down, some Radio 4 play or other on the car stereo. I also listened to quite a lot of music today, including the recent CDr by Marc Baron released on Goh Lee Kwang’s Theme Park label, a piece of music divided into eight parts named Une fois, Chaque Fois, which my somewhat basic French tells me means something along the lines of Once, each time.
Baron seems to be one of a few French musicians that have emerged over recent years with strong interests in the conceptual side of music. To quote the press release for the forthcoming Instal Festival up in Glasgow, which has a definite French lean to it, “Music is about more than just music” and while that is certainly the case for all music, I wonder here if this CD is actually “about” music, our perception of it, our expectations from it. As with a few other other recent releases (Unami and Krebs’ Motubachii is the one that springs immediately to mind) this new CDr seems to be partly about the construction and nature of a CD- what we expect to hear when we press play, what the human contribution to a piece of music should involve, how sounds can be repeated or arranged in strict order.
Although Baron has worked often in the pastas an improviser, Un fois, Chaque fois is not improvised. The disc is a carefully, rigorously structured set of eight pieces, each lasting exactly seven minutes that link together to make one longer work. The music is made up of no more than two elements at any one time, a series of three long, loud saxophone tones, and field/seemingly random recordings placed alongside the tones. In fact, after a couple of runs through the disc it became clear to me that all of the elements are carefully placed in a recurring pattern that restarts at the beginning of each track. So the first track opens with a heavy, clean, feedback-esque sax note and a recording of a woman reading something in what sounds like Russian, maybe a newsreader? The tone drops away after about fifteen seconds leaving the field recording to run alone, which it does for most of the remaining track. At the one minute and forty-five second point we get a further fifteen second blast of what sounds like the same tone, while the recording continues until the five minute mark, when a twenty second long slightly higher note appears. Then a final lower note can be heard for the last fifteen seconds of the track, which turns out to be the same note that opened the piece. As the track ends, so the next immediately begins, using exactly the same sequence of saxophone notes, placed in precisely the same places, but with a different recording used, this time a quiet stream of white noise.
The remaining tracks then follow suit, the third piece uses some kind of barely audible bubbling and scraping recording that I think is of Baron gurgling into his sax but recorded in a quite lo-fi manner. The fourth utilises a field recording of a crowd chattering away, the sort of thing you might overhear at an airport waiting lounge or similar, the sixth contains traffic and street sounds on a rainy day, the seventh a quietly playing early baroque recording lead by a flute, and the eighth a series of tiny clicking sounds, as if Baron flicked his fingernail at the sax once every five or six seconds. The one missing track from that list is the fifth one, which doesn’t seem to contain any sound other than the regular sax intrusions at all, the field recordings replaced by complete silence.
So this album, which is actually quite an enchanting and interesting disc to listen to just as a piece of straight music, is a carefully arranged work that, track five apart obeys a very strict structure that isn’t immediately obvious, because of the space of time between events. Approaching this release as a listener, without prior knowledge of the music’s structure and composed nature it feels like a fluid, constantly surprising work, albeit quite sparse in nature. I put the disc into the player without realising that the music consists of eight equal length tracks, and because there is no silence between the pieces I took the work to consist of one complete whole. When the early music recording kicks in at the start of the seventh piece it comes as a complete shock, and it was only when it cut off suddenly at the seven minute mark that it occurred to me to look for timed patterns in the music.
So is there a significance to the timings? Have the field recordings been chosen randomly or is there a link between them? The music feels very finely crafted, the sounds carefully chosen, the sax tones very cleanly played n a skilful manner, but beyond the choices of sounds made do their organisation or order signify anything? Certainly at first glance this is a peculiar album, some very nice sounds combined in a slightly uncomfortable un-artistic manner, but more consideration makes me wonder if there is a code to be cracked, a reason for the placement of the elements that I haven’t clicked upon yet.
Whether there is greater meaning to be discovered or not, this album certainly had me thinking again about how we listen, what we expect from a CD, from a piece of music, from a saxophonist. The process of listening and learning, deciphering, applying potential meaning to this music is a delightful exercise. If you enjoy music that can be a puzzle as much as a sensual pleasure then I thoroughly recommend this release. Available here.