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Rockfort

Rockfort: French Music This November
David McKenna , November 8th, 2017 09:00

Sourdure, Opéra Mort and the Coax Collective - a roundup of the finest French releases this month plus a fantastique tQ Rockfort mix.

This column’s been on a brief hiatus so there’s quite a lot to be catching up with – too much to review in full. Fortunately I also have the mix at my disposal, so in addition to what you’ll read about in more depth below, you can also listen to Le Cercle de Mallissimalistes, whose work is ostensibly based on an artistic movement that sprung up in Russia and then Europe in the middle of the 20th century (but which, strangely, appears to have gone largely undocumented…), and Ze-ka (Jean-Philippe Feiss), whose album Ghost Planet is inspired by the Tchernobyl disaster.

Rap duo TripleGo put their latest album/mixtape 2020 out in March. They’re similar in style to French rap sensations PNL but also markedly better, their productions more enveloping, at once anaesthesia and lethal injection. That’s followed by Evil Grimace X Von Bikräv, another release from Casual Gabberz – the Parisian collective with a hankering for Holland. Meanwhile Losange represents a lighter style of techno, all pin-sharp frequencies and fractal logic, there’s some melodic grace and scrunching beats from Tiny Feet, from a lovely album called As An End To Death, and the stately, Nyman-esque ‘Desert Stilts’ courtesy of Angéle David-Guillou (who was a member of the excellent Piano Magic once upon a time). Finally, Colleen’s latest has already been reviewed elsewhere on tQ but I couldn’t resist including its spellbinding centrepiece.

Various Artists - Coax, Compagnie Nationale
(La Souterraine)

I’m delighted this compilation has appeared, if for no other reason than it’s given me the excuse I needed to put ‘Josie’ by Bribes 4 into one of these Quietus mixes; the album it’s taken from was released in 2016 but I came to it late and it may well be the track I’ve listened to most this year. Deceptively complex, melodically stirring, rhythmically unerring, it’s an enchanting and accessible gateway to the vague terrain - out where the fringes of jazz, rock, electronics and contemporary music overlap - that the musicians in the Coax collective inhabit. As it happens, that’s also the purpose of this entire collection, featuring archive material and previously unreleased tracks put together for La Souterraine: to act as a route into a field of autonomous musical activity (in France the ‘collective’, a less professional structure than an ‘association’, has no real legal standing and doesn’t qualify for public funding) in a manner comparable to the latter’s equally excellent La Nòvia release from 2015.

Coax was founded in 2008 around a core of four improvisers (Julien Desprez, Simon Henocq, Yann Joussein, Antoine Viard) and director and photographer Romain Allard. As is often the case with collectives, the musical formations can be pretty amorphous - Compagnie Nationale opens with a contribution from the Coax Orchestra and Bribes 4, who count Swedish voice improviser Isobel Sörling among their number and also exist as the Bribes duo of Geoffrey Gesser and Romain Clerc-Renaud.

That first track, ‘Discoax’ does what the title suggests, being a floaty, gently psychedelic take on disco while the next one, Hippie Diktat’s ‘Racines, Sanglantes Racines’ plunges into noisier extremes with what seems to be a slow and loose reimagining of Sepultura’s ‘Roots Bloody Roots’ - the title’s a direct translation anyway. Further in, the delightfully titled ‘Phoque Eventré’ - ‘Disemboweled Seal’ - runs the closest to IDM territory, and Radiation 10’s ‘Der Siedste Mand’ is full-on, glowering fusion.

The great news is that Coax aren’t alone out there either, but just one of numerous such ‘jazz’ (in the loosest sense) or improv-based collectives around the country - including Rouen’s Les Vibrants Défricheurs, Lyon’s Grolektif, KOA, OH, Orval Cosmique and more. Compagnie Nationale can be just the start of a whole lot more exploration.

Sourdure - Mantras
(Standard In-Fi)

Sourdure is Ernest Bergez, whose provocatively unusual work finds common ground between folk and dance music while also not going out if its way to entirely hide the joins. It makes for something like a swaying, enjoyably drunken exchange between the two parties.

He was asked to create this series of ‘mantras’ for the 2016 edition of the Échos festival, which takes place on the Faï farm in Le Saix in the French Alps. The festival (which is taking a break this year), makes use of a system in which three giant horns pump soundwaves in the direction of a 2km high, parabola-shaped cliff face, and Bergez’s creations were designed to be played back between live performances throughout the 24-hour duration of the event. He then went back later in the year to capture the pieces in the same setting, and those recordings form the core of this release.

The process brings to mind the Deadalus album by French industrialists The Grief, keening and groaning in damp caves in Caumont and Fourmetot, but Mantras really is something else – a sublimely eerie, often ecstatic conjunction of sound installation, extraordinary outdoor acoustics and ritual. The natural echo makes these sounds, all produced by multi-instrumentalist Bergez himself and Julien Dessailly (on uilleann pipe, low whistle and gaida bagpipes) expand, ripple and writhe around each other in one dense, pulsing stream. Mantras will leave you uplifted, comforted (especially with the sound of birds and insects a constant in the background), occasionally terrified but utterly transported.

L’Ocelle Mare - Temps en terre
(Murailles Music/Kythibong)

Thomas Bonvalet’s last album under the L’Ocelle Mare name was Serpentement back in 2012. Since then he’s featured with groups like Powerdove and Arlt who have welcomed him as a fly in their ointment, a provider of grit and metallic tang to counterbalance their sweeter melodic tendencies. These have been wonderful collaborations but it’s good to get a bit of uncut Bonvalet again, especially when he’s sounding as good as this.

Those who’ve seen him live know how intensely physical he is as a performer - slapping, stomping and wringing jagged peals and click-clacking rhythmic patterns from tuning forks and scraps of instruments; a one-man band conceived by Beckett. To date, Temps en terre is the L’Ocelle Mare recording that has best captured that energy. Serpentement was mostly recorded in a Protestant temple, and the reverb suited that album’s peregrinations. For this, his fifth album, Bonvalet recorded in a studio for the first time and it brings a textural immediacy that was absent previously, a clangorous weight particularly in evidence on ‘Temps en Terre 5‘ and ‘Temps en Terre 9‘. (The album does have the lack of individual song titles in common with its predecessors.)

This new, up-close approach also helps emphasise how purposeful and assured Bonvalet’s gestures are, and brings home how much contrast and variety he’s able to extract from his set-up as he ranges across the Tin Man Machine music of ‘5’ and ‘9’, the carefully managed tension of ‘2’ and ‘4’, and ‘3’s sugary-then-sour bell chimes.

Delphine Dora & Mocke - Le Corps Défendant (Okraina)
and Midget! - Ferme Tes Jolis Cieux (Objet Disque)

Two albums featuring guitarist Mocke (Dominique Dépret). For the music enclosed in a typically lovely Okraina package, he and Delphine Dora play with ideas like so many threads to be loosely woven together or unravelled. Most of the ‘songs’ hover in intermediary zones, between becoming and unbecoming, form and formlessness, with only ‘Pluton s’eloigne’ touching near-total abstraction. Structures and even language come in and out of focus, with Dora sometimes employing existing words and texts, and at others inventing her own or wordlessly extemporising. Within the humid forest ambiance of ‘Des nôtres’, you catch glimpses of her voice through the branches and swaying vines that Mocke’s playing brings to life.

Midget! is a more traditionally song-based project with Claire Vailler. But what songs they are - Ferme Tes Jolis Cieux is ravishing from the very start. And though Vallier’s fluted tones may not be entirely unique among French singers (or even among French singers Mocke has worked with), I can’t think of many other vocalists this year who have conveyed cosmic weariness and solitude so successfully and with such poise.

Opener ‘Premier Soleil’ is a masterpiece of decayed luxury, a room in Miss Havisham’s house, echoes of happiness smothered by dust and regret. That said, given its title and the flickers of light described by the exquisite arrangement, it could also be a song of renewal. The album is clearly intended as a cycle – ‘Premier Soleil’ mentions ashes, linking it to the title of the last song (‘Les Cendres’), which itself concludes with the words “premier soleil.”

Perhaps only the jaunty melody and massed vocals of ‘Les Cérémonies’ seem as though they belong elsewhere, specifically on a record by Mocke’s old group Holden. It’s still a fine song, and possibly makes sense in terms of the album’s trajectory, but also feels a little ill-fitting in the midst of the heart-stopping beauty all around it.

Opéra Mort - Film Works
(B.A.A.D.M.)

A welcome return to the column for Èlg (Laurent Gérard), in partnership with Jo Tanz. After a live cassette and a release, Dédales, on Luke Younger/Helm’s Alter label, Film Works compiles new soundtracks composed for two different films, James Broughton and Sidney Peterson’s The Potted Psalm and Peter Tscherkassky’s Dream Work. The former is a surrealistic silent short from 1946, while Tscherkassky’s is from 2002 and in its original form already featured an unsettling soundtrack.

The score for The Potted Psalm initially plays on the contrast between horror movie organ bass and a high-frequency trickle, the second movement arriving on a pulse-quickening sine wave, before the final section concludes on a squall of organ tracked by a steady, ominous thump. Dream Work is similarly minimalist to begin with but fills out with a low drone (that feels as though it could be vocal in origin) and bursts of scratchy static before a sudden tilt into white noise with the sound of a human voice struggling to break through, caught like an angry wasp under a cup.

Final track ‘The Potted Work’ is a brief outtake that features deliberately (I think) hesitant keyboard soloing and is traversed by thick, fast-moving, electronic rivulets. Another fine product of the Opéra Mort lab.

EYE - Cocktail Mexico
(Knekelhuis)

EYE (Rennes-based Laurène Exposito) runs her own tape and 7-inch minimal/lo-fi electronics label Waving Hands. Her work, with its charming immediacy and naive melodies, relies on the sounds of electric organs like Bontempi Eclipse (used for almost the entirety of the Mécanique Calypso release). Titles like that, Fou De Bossa and this latest one also suggest an interest in exotica, or at least ‘exotic’ rhythms in so far as they are available as presets on vintage organs.

This release on Amsterdam-based Knekelhuis is a move on from the delicacy of Mécanique Calypso. No longer exercises in what you can with the bare minimum, the four tracks here – in particular ‘Yellow Density’ (on which Exposito’s deadpan delivery of the line “sans aucun artifice” makes you reflect on the nature of artifice) – are more danceable but also more abrasive. The mood at the cocktail party has shifted to ‘anxious’.

Rockfort Quietus Mix 9
Le Cercle de Mallissimalistes – ‘Il Martello’ (Kythibong)
Tiny Feet – ‘Like Lovers Do’ (Les Disques Normal)
L’Ocelle Mare – ‘Temps En Terre 5’ (Murailles Music/ Kythibong)
Eye – ‘Yellow Density’ (Knekelhuis)
Opéra Mort – ‘The Potted Work’ (B.A.A.D.M.)
Colleen – ‘Summer Night (Bat Song)’ (Thrill Jockey)
Ze-Ka – ‘Fission (Tribute to the Liquidators)’ (Opa Loka)
Losange – ‘Techno Fleuri’ (Jonkôôl)
TripleGo – ‘New Balance’ (N/A)
Evil Grimace X Von Bikräv – ‘R.A.G.E’ (Casual Gabberz)
Sourdure – ‘Obsidienne: Appel Aux Solides’ (Standard In-Fi)
Midget – ‘Sur Le Premier Matin’ (Objet Disque)
Bribes 4 – ‘Josie’ (Coax Records)
Delphine Dora & Mocke – ‘Des Nôtres’ (Okraina)
Angéle David-Guillou – ‘Desert Stilts’ (Village Green)

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