Stéphane Marin & Ludovic Medery / Vincent Menu / Stéphane Montavon ~ Phonokainôsis

We first covered the sublime Weber & Alcantu label last year when we listed Schneewehen in our roundup of The Year’s Best Winter Music.  The label is devoted to small-run limited edition zines paired with digital downloads.  The photos shared on Bandcamp don’t do Phonokainôsis justice; it’s such an endearing artifact, Vincent Menu‘s art printed on delicate tracing paper.  A story and prose poem accompany the art, while the music provides an impressionistic score.

The very existence of a physical fragment underlines the theme of the text.  The world has collapsed, and a survivor is digging through the detritus.  Here is an abbreviated Google translation of Stéphane Montavon‘s opening:

Before the storms of last week, we still had two wind turbines as well as a solar panel that we repaired according to the piles of materials washed up on our shores.  Since then we have done without fridge, without stove, without our latest electrical machines … We focus on the maintenance of the fire, the balance between forests and gardens, on fishing, maintenance of our boat carcasses, of the unraveling dikes, of the springs and of our cave, on the day-to-day fight against the tides, the winds, the acid rain, the radiations, the UV rays, there I am at the mill, the floating mill that we have tied in a passage of currents between two islands, the raft creaks, ropes and pulleys give against the floats, I scrape the algae that clogs the blades.

Awaiting rescue that may never arrive, the protagonist mourns the loss of the ability to play music.  Soon he begins to hear music in his head, a constant hum as he begins to lose his grip on reality, falling into a phantasmagoric hole.  This is where Stéphane Marin & Ludovic Medery come in. The music accumulates rattles and hums, crackles and clanks: sputtering engines, failed machines, creaky doors.  They offer at first a score to the protagonist’s wanderings and investigations, as well as his early attempts to make fire and shelter.  Howling wind surrounds the camp.  There’s always a danger of falling into a hole or clutching a pipe covered with radioactive debris.  Imagine a faulty engine room, a submarine drifting toward its doom, a stranded spaceship, a collapsed factory. Humanity has produced many objects that will outlast it; but of what value will they be?

There’s a sense of danger in the recording, evidenced in the rising static throb of the opener.  Is a helicopter coming?  Are the rotors the sound of rescue or of imminent eradication?  The survivor goes about his work, welding and plying.  Marin & Medery amplify his claustrophobia.  A match is struck and extinguished.  In the second piece, running water is accompanied by pings.  How does one cleanse what has been irradiated?  A hull is bending, leaking, its walls pried back; then the unforgiving hum and the whistle of the impassive wind.

The survivor is starting to see and hear colors and discs.  His observations become thin, disjointed, enraptured.  We suspect that he is delirious, dehydrated, scored by the aridity of the third piece.  In the background, a light rattle like a patient snake or the last generation of cicadas breaking through the earth.  The words of Zager & Evans come to mind:  “Now it’s been 10, 000 years / Man has cried a billion tears / For what he never knew / Now man’s reign is through.”  A sudden thump, and the other sounds vanish.  Even the predators are on guard.

The last sound of the last piece leaves an open-ended impression: the listener must conclude the story, choosing between soaring hope and flat despair.  After the apocalypse, is there still a better life to be found somewhere, or only varying degrees of doom?  (Richard Allen)

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