Passepartout Duo ~ Vis-à-Vis

When listening to music, many of us seek to be be transported.  Passepartout Duo recently took this thought a step further, debuting their new album on a month-long train trip from Switzerland to China.  The very idea is a luxury right now, but we can live vicariously through their experience.

Before we get to the music, we feel compelled to highlight the intriguing die-cut design, courtesy of China’s AnyOne.  The five layers can be shuffled and recombined to make all sorts of patterns, a reflection of the music found within.  Interpretation is in the eye of the beholder; the first time I saw the cover, I thought of laptops, but then again I’ve been spending a lot of time on my laptop lately (haven’t we all)!

Pianist Nicoletta Favari and percussionist Christopher Salvito are at their very best here, producing two thoughtful, side-long pieces that continue to develop until the grooves run out.  The opening minutes of “Heartwood” are like a slow, stunning sunrise, each piano note like a glint of light on a placid ocean, as soft static charges roll like foam.  Bass tones enter and the sky fills.  Then in the fifth minute, nearly everything drops out, save for a single sine wave that won’t stay put.  At 6:40, we begin to hear some of the wonderful homemade instruments that the duo constructed out of “scrap wood and metal.”  Beeps and bleeps accumulate with taps that sound like underwater wood blocks.  By the eighth minute, the generous prelude has run its course, and the day has begun to dance.  The segment that follows is pure exuberance.  One can picture a video made with the geometric shapes of the physical album, frolicking in computer-generated fields.

In the eleventh minute, deeper notes blow like a train horn.  One imagines a steam engine, pistons churning, passengers falling into an aural trance.  One might go way back to find a counterpart: Banco de Gaia’s 1995 classic “Last Train to Lhasa” is filled with different timbres yet produces the same feeling of tranquility through movement.  Finally it all settles down again, setting up the title track on Side B.

This time the percussion begins right away through a combination of wooden and metallic tones, the bells producing a spiritual boost.  The synth jumps right in as well, like a friend following another into a summer lake.  Mirroring Side A, a gorgeous drop ensues, highlighting the chimes.  And again, the music stops, this time completely, when exactly eight minutes remain.  Xylophone scales patter across tendrils of synthesizer.  Finally the listener arrives at “Section Four,” which may be labelled as a separate track but is really a concluding movement in an album meant to be played straight through.  The listener arrives at their destination, refreshed.  The train leaves, but the feeling of movement remains.  (Richard Allen)

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