This is one beguiling record. It starts with opera and ends with poetry, and in the end, only silence remains. The opening soprano segment makes an immediate statement: this is not conventional music. By the middle of the set, one may forget this fact, but on “Tempête” it returns with a vengeance.
The storied career of Christine Ott provides clues to understanding her approach. She’s been part of Yann Tiersen’s band, collaborated with Radiohead, worked alongside Oiseaux-Tempête, and is currently opening for Tindersticks. She’s also one of the few people in the world who can be considered an expert on the Ondes Martenot, a strange keyboard invented in 1928, which can sound like anything from a theremin to a screech of strings. For most of the album she holds back on this instrument, but sneaks it in, bit by bit, until it takes over the sound field. Those early moments are instead occupied by more melodic piano pieces, and a single (“Sexy Moon”) which contains samples of mission control dialogue from Apollo 11. In this instance, the single is not indicative of the album, and how could it be? In the space of 44 minutes, Only Silence Remains travels from melody to mystery to fear to comfort, and no single component contains the DNA of the entire set.
In “Raintrain”, harmonium and field recordings occupy the launch pad, but when bass and drums enter the fray, the album begins to change. When she shifts from composition to improvisation, Ott seems freed from any earthly tethers. In “Tempête”, all connection to convention is lost like rocket boosters from a spaceship. The descending glissandos glisten like burning metals falling from the atmosphere; the ascending glissandos like hopes sent to the heavens. But escaping the atmosphere is unpredictable, which is why these notes are so insecure, swirling about like solar storms. As the least accessible piece on the album, “Tempête” is also the most important, setting up a surprising finale.
“Disaster” can be interpreted in numerous ways, akin to the conclusion of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “One Art”: it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.” Casey Brown’s confident intonations imply that something can be salvaged, even after the desolation of environmental apocalypse. His final words (written by Ott) are open-ended: when I look into your eyes, I can see the light, I can see the sky full of stars … you just open your eyes . The tempest ends, the wind subsides, the melodies tiptoe back into the sound field. Could Ott be writing about love? Could love be the last thing to leave before the final silence, or the first thing to fill its void? The answer lies in the ear of the beholder. (Richard Allen)