Benjamin Jarry ~ Splendid Isolation

Drone Sweet Drone Records is a delightful new French label that came into existence at about the same time as our site.  While drone is their raison d’être, many of their artists tend to wander into the arena of modern composition, testing the porous boundary that lies between them.  The label has also been brave enough to package one of their discs with a DVD and to sign a Moondog side project.  The stark uniform packaging is a sign of forethought and defined vision.  We invite our readers to peruse the entire catalog through the link below.  Digital versions are available via Bandcamp, and physical copies by contacting the label.

Splendid Isolation is the sort of release that jumps immediately into the listener’s heart and makes one wonder how one could have lived without it for so long.  This three-track effort is a lesson in cello dynamics, a blend of processed and unprocessed instrumentation that brings the instrument to life through plucking, bowing and light electronic adornment.  The cover image implies that the triptych may be inspired by life on an oil tanker, but instead it’s simply a reflection of Benjamin Jarry‘s interest in minimalist structures.  Still, the cover image was chosen for a reason; perhaps the artist is communicating that even in the middle of the ocean, ensconced by whites and greys, one can find meaning and hope.

The cello notes come through clearly here, as the mastering is pristine.  Layering is a big factor, first apparent in the complementary movements of “Scapa Flow”.  Different sources make their nests in different speakers, then move between them like families of birds.  The sprightly opener is followed by the album’s centerpiece, “Level 9”, a 14-minute selection that fills half of the release.  The track builds from quiet origins, at first merely implying the presence of a drone through a softly insistent sustained note.  When the actual drone arrives in the sixth minute, it immediately electrifies the sonic field, acting like a weather front, altering the humidity.  On the other side of the front lies the active cello, a foil to the opening minutes of damp passivity.  When four minutes remain, the timbre changes again as slower harmonic patterns emerge.  When three minutes remain, a sonic boom brings in an even thicker pattern.  When two minutes remain, the latter source enters a slow fade.  When a single minute remains, the listener is left with only contrails.  These shifts keep the listener engaged far past the point one might expect, justifying the length of the track and setting up a vastly different finale.

“Whale Fall” plays with scales at the start, enhanced by the cellist’s breath.  After a few minutes, a lonely melodic passage becomes the central sound.  Just past the midsection, a stuttering electronic pulse develops, offsetting the strings with atonal murmurings.  While this last addition seems more experimental than musically fitting, it demonstrates that Jarry is willing to push boundaries.  Such boldness can only lead to even more successful hybrids.  But for now, the artist is already worthy enough to compete with the best in his field.  (Richard Allen)

Drone Sweet Drone Records

Available here

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