The 1969 semi-autobiographical novel Papillon (later a movie starring Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen) was an instant sensation on its release, as it purported to tell one man’s story of an escape from a brutal French penal colony. Whether or not the tale is true, its images were seared into readers’ minds. Nearly fifty years after its initial publication, the book has inspired Discrepant head Gonçalo F Cardoso to record an aural reflection of its jungle themes. The combination of field recordings, synthesizers, and occasional poetry lends the project a disorienting nature, which is true to the source; while lost in the jungle, the protagonist discovers imminent danger and sudden beauty.
Fortunately, Cardoso is not alone. Cédric Stevens, Kink Gong and others catch a touch of jungle madness as well. Natives chant in the bushes; chains drag like a reminder of the prison that lies behind. Tribal drums boom in a fevered frenzy. Static crinkle suggests the annoyance of mosquitoes. Every aspect of the recording is meant to suggest a facet of the book; this would be a lovely soundtrack to reading.
“la cavale des chinos” begins with well-captured water sounds crashing against the hull of a creaking boat as it escapes downriver. Even in the context of this album, it’s an atypical track. The strangely spoken/sung words sound like a hallucination. The rustles in the background may be benign, or they may be the preparation of water in large pots for boiling ~ boiling what or whom is the question. In like fashion, footsteps and marketplace sounds launch “petite viande”, followed by whispers; even the kindest sounds are undercut by suspicion. Lacking any frame of reference, the listener begins to empathize with the protagonist, who lacks either compass or comprehension. The listener clutches at any familiar note: a thin sliver of passing guitar, a child’s cry. And there at the end, the waves again, bracketing tracks two and three. The closing track bursts with fires and flares, chants and drones. Is this a celebration or a farewell? We don’t want to give away the ending. Discover the book, watch the film, buy the album; for the full experience, try all three. (Richard Allen)