Philippe Neau ~ étang donné

When one has lived in one location for a stable amount of time, one begins to form attachments to particular places: a stretch of shore, a magnificent tree, a patch of perennials.  For Philippe Neau, a village pond is the object of attachment.  Year after year and season after season, he has returned to this pond for reflection, for comfort, for perspective.  As the pandemic unfolded, the pond became a symbol not only of consistency, but of wonder, as an old forgotten island emerged in the center.

étang donné (given pond) is Neau’s ode to the pond of Saint Jean sur Erve, but also a meditation on memory and time.  This 35-minute piece was recorded over a series of seasons and years.  The birds in one segment may be the ancestors of those in another.  The water may have just fallen from the sky or may have been in the pond for years.  Only the church bell remains constant, a human marker of time, in this case removed from the contexts of days and hours.  Some samples repeat, doubling back on themselves like recollections and reevaluations. What is eternal?  If something lasts for the course of a human life, is it “eternal” enough?

While Neau does not anthropomorphize the pond, he loves it, and selects its finest moments and most representative sounds for this collage.  Water sounds are a constant presence, while birds, insects and frogs drop by during their appointed seasons and hours.  Night and day coalesce and create a sense of suspension; this is not a biography of the pond, but a painting.  Twelve minutes into the piece, a sketching can be heard.  The artist pauses, drawn to a certain spot and sound.

What must it have meant to see the island emerge?  The most obvious metaphor is that of a hidden reservoir.  While the artist scores the life of a pond, he also scores his own inner life, apparent in the choices he makes: more placid than turgid, more sun than rain, more birdsong than human speech.  This collection of memories, now stirred beyond the sequential, is now an interactive thread: the pond, giving without intention; the artist, reflecting the pond.  (Richard Allen)

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