The final piece of our empreintes DIGITALes triptych demonstrates the diversity of the label, as well as the intelligence of its artists. Québec’s Gilles Gobeil has over 25 years of recordings under his belt, but has not released a solo album since 2008. On Les lointains, he returns with a vengeance, with tracks inspired by Virgil, Hesse and Liszt, and subject matter ranging from the golem to the hydra. Lest we take it all too seriously, he also includes a piece that incorporates the sounds of dishes, a refrigerator and a coffee maker.
The title track is a joy to decipher, as every sound is sourced from the home of sponsor Folkmar Hein. Inside the apartment, a grandfather clock ticks; outside, the bells of the Rathaus Schöneberg ring. Imagine testing the sonic properties of one’s home: tapping on every surface, sliding every door, testing every appliance. Most people have their favorite sounds (the hum of a refrigerator), as well as some they are less fond of hearing (the rattle of the air conditioner as it shifts from cool to fan). Subconsciously, we suspect that a home is a sort of system, a micro-version of a jungle, filled with mysterious mechanical beasts that creak or whirr without warning. And yet, a strange comfort can be derived by their confluence of sounds. While Gobeil’s treatment emphasizes the crashes and crunches, over time it becomes a tribute to a home and the man who lives within.
Inspired by Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, “Castalie” starts with the sound of an alarm, then an electronic gate opening, freeing all manner of sounds from their containers. At points harsh and in between gentle (faint birdsong occupying the open spaces), the piece toys with expectations, hiding its moments of transition. Even on repeated listens, one is not exactly sure where the pathway will bend. Composed in 2008 to mark the 60th anniversary of musique concrète, “Castalie” is a blend of sounds that exist in conjunction nowhere else: take for example the appearance of a crop-duster just prior to the reappearance of the alarm. In the final minute, a melody tip-toes through the background, hoping not to be noticed, outdone by the more abstract foreground.
“Bol-Hydra” utilizes the sounds of the bol while adopting the hydra’s menacing mythology: cut off its head and another (or two, for those who read Kirby) will take its place. The percussion continues while the bol howls and moans its low-toned warning. And yet, there are also bells, along with the sound of passing traffic, as if to suggest danger hidden in plain sight. One would be intimidated even without the prose. At this point, the album seems destined for darkness.
Gobeil gives into the impulse, introducing “Sibylle” with a brass blast, followed by a whisper: the gaping maw of the underworld. If Aeneas hopes to descend, he will also need to resist: the hydra was nothing compared to what awaits. Again a bell tolls, like a final plea. Do not do this. Gravel loosens from the path. A voice squeaks like a rusty swing. Clouds of soot obscure the steps. Waves lap at an unseen shore. The sibyl alternates between prophecy and onomatopoeia. The bells return in echoes, until all is devoured in smoke. “Golem” follows, footfalls colored by construction and percussion, enhanced by film strip and bicycle bell. In the distance, a minyan chants. The שם remains intact.
As Gobeil closes his collection with a tribute to Liszt, one imagines him opening the curtain a bit. Indeed, a choir seeps in, as do soft horns; the piano enters in the fourth minute. Yet the composition is less a reflection of tempestuous ivory as it is of a tumultuous life: I carry a deep sadness of the heart which must now and then break out in sound. One hopes for Gobeil a happier ending; if at times Les lointains sounds like notes stolen from the underworld, on “Des temps oubliés” he seems to have borrowed from heaven as well. (Richard Allen)