To experience Labyrinth properly, one must try to replicate the original experience. The multi-room installation in the basement of the Labanque art space in Béthune, France was ideally suited to the cavernous sounds of Frédéric D. Oberland and his cohort Jules Wysock. One could wander around, contemplate the artwork, double back, hear the interactions between the music in different rooms. This is not as difficult to echo as one might imagine. One doesn’t need a basement. But one does need darkness, a couple candles, perhaps a muted TV and at least two sound sources (for example, a combination of stereo, laptop and/or phone). While these tracks are not meant to be layered atop each other, they do complement each other; I’m currently playing the fifth part in the foreground and the first in the background, enjoying the illusion of depth.
It’s impossible to translate the experience of an installation perfectly; a slightly less difficult task is to paint literature into sound. Labyrinth is inspired by the tale of the Minotaur and Dante’s Inferno, parts of which are read quietly at integral points in the narrative. Labyrinthine music is characterized by twists and turns that include at least the hope of an exit; Labyrinth qualifies. While it lacks anything resembling choruses, it does include signposts, the first of which appears late in the opening track in the form of a bell. The sharp sound cuts through the drone like a flash of intuition or a sudden clue.
The irony is that this is a labyrinth one chooses to enter, whether subterranean set or musical maze. As such, the bell operates less as an exit sign than as an invitation. Dark clouds are forming, swelling with rain, given form by a murmuration of diverse instruments. The guitar is the most obvious, but the duduk is here, along with the hurdy gurdy, mellotron and a host of buried secrets. Occasionally these clouds burst, too heavy to support their own weight. The drums warn of implosion. And while the album never breaks into the cacophony of Oberland’s louder projects (Oiseaux-Tempête, Le Réveil des Tropiques, FOUDRE!), the oppression remains.
As listeners, we are touring the underworld, marveling at the fate of its residents, not yet making the connection to ourselves. See the fate of the transgressors! C’est domage. Yet the Inferno nudges us not only toward pity, but empathy: in the stories of the fallen, we see ourselves. We came as spectators; we leave shaken, if we can find our way out. The piano notes of “Larmes de Minos” represent a shift in the direction of reflection, the chimes a spiritual self-examination. Where is the true terror found, within or without? Oberland leaves the question hanging, but we know the answer. We are all minotaurs, clutching our severed strings. (Richard Allen)