CD Reviews

Monday 13th December

December 14, 2010

Screen shot 2010-12-13 at 23.42.29A brief post tonight then as after a tough day at work I’m tired and want to get up early to get a lot done, including answering the eighty or so emails I have sat in my inbox right now. I will get back to you in the morning if you are waiting for a reply from me! Leafing through CDs to find something I had already listened to a couple of times to write about this evening then, I found a CD by the French musician/artist/turntablist/ex-percussionist Pascal Le Gall, the somewhat mysterious character that performed a strangely evocative set at the Instal festival this year. The CD I have played is one I picked up for free from a table at the festival right after hearing Le Gall perform his set. It is a disc housed in a roughly sewn up piece of thick, soft plastic on which a number 6 has been spray painted through a stencil. On the table there had been a number of these items, with different numbers, but no explanation (and nobody there to ask, they were just left with a “free CDs” sign). I didn’t want to be greedy so I just took one disc, but following the link printed on the small business card also found in the sleeve I found that this is one of thirteen discs that might be linked together under the title Électrophones, but then might also just be how Le Gall chooses to introduce himself on his business card..!

At Instal, Le Gall had presented three “pieces” in quick succession that had basically just involved him playing vinyl records at odd speeds, with no adjustments or interventions, just letting the records play. the set had been oddly affecting, and a little uncomfortable, a strange nostalgic experience for the crackle of old records and old life in general… This CD though, the audio of which seems to be also available to grab for free, along with the other twelve recordings in the series, from this page at Le Gall’s site, is quite different.

The Cd is actually really hard to listen to, but only because it is somewhat annoyingly uneventful. The disc, which clocks in at a fraction under seventy minutes contains one constantly playing sound, mixed very loudly. The thing is, despite listening to this one sound continually for ages (I have played it through twice tonight, four times in all) I can’t quite pin down what it is I am hearing. I think, but I am far from certain, that the sounds might be hydrophone recordings, but then I keep wondering if in fact I am over-guessing, and all I am hearing is the static of a needle on a piece of old vinyl. Or maybe rainfall, or just rushing water, or none of the above. If you go to the site and stream the audio now you can make your own mind up. Let me know what you think it is!

So, what is there to say about a seventy minute long recording of something that might be water? In particular, what is there to say about one CD that seems to be separated from the other twelve in its series? If there was ever a test of my ability to write enough words on one piece of music and still make it even slightly interesting then this really must be it… Listening carefully, I don’t think i am hearing looped sounds here, so although the sound is constant and the dynamic of the piece does not change at all, maybe we are indeed listening to something natural but never ending here, such as the majesty of running water. Listening with any kind of attention is a hypnotic experience however. The sound just comes at you, continually, relentlessly, and while the immediate defence mechanism of allowing it to slip over you and become something ambient in the background seems the way to go, the gain levels on the recording have been set so high that it is difficult to turn the CD down low enough for it to not penetrate everything you do. Given the choice of try and let it pass by, or try and listen to it carefully, I tried the latter option for a good half an hour this evening, and found the recording sending me slightly mad as I began to hear all kinds of shapes and sounds in the music that probably are not there. Like much drone music the recording on “number 6” seems to try and trick the brain into thinking there is more to hear than is there. Listening is not a particularly pleasurable experience, but it is however quite interesting as a test of your ability to stay focussed without letting your mind wander.

Anyway, the CD seems to be available from Metamkine, but it also is there to listen to for nothing along with the others at Le Gall’s site, so why not join in with this special interactive edition of The Watchful Ear and see how long you can listen without getting bored, how much you can hear in the music that isn’t really there, and can you figure out what any of it is all about?

Comments (3)

  • ryan

    December 15, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    i’m very glad that you reviewed this disc, else i’d not know about the site. i spent a long time there yesterday (in active and passive listening modes) and have two observations: i think that these recordings are sourced from old vinyl on turntables (or _something_ on turntables); and no. 6 is sonically the most rich and complex of the bunch. you lucked out when you picked it. i wonder if no. 6 is a composite of numerous recordings? or if it has been processed more than the others? headphone listening reveals an incredible low-end… i can understand why you wonder if sound sources reach beyond records and record players, and of course, i can’t say they do not! but i do wonder if the vinyl packaging is a hint to sound sources?

    i also particularly enjoyed nos. 1 and 9. there are others in which you can hear repeating features in the noise, and these i find harder to take. still, i find the project and site fascinating, on the whole.

  • Richard Pinnell

    December 15, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    HI Ryan, thanks for your thoughts. Nice to know someone had the time amidst the silly season to listen to all of these. I heard the first few seconds of each of them, and while I think you are probably right about the use of vinyl, the similarity to hydrophone recordings is remarkable for me.

    When I saw Le Gall live there was definitely no processing really going on, apart from the records being played at the wrong speed. My head tells me that their probably isn’t any processing on these discs either, but my ears keep saying otherwise! 😉

  • Jacques Oger

    December 16, 2010 at 9:42 am

    I’ve seen him performing live several times. Very intersting.
    Pascal Le Gall deserves a wider recognition.

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