Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch ~ Ravage

The death of a parent is never easy, especially when the relationship is strained or the death is unexpected. For good or ill, parents scaffold our lives and when they suddenly disappear, we’re forced to relearn how to stand. When Emilie Livienaise-Farrouch’s father passed in 2018, she found it impossible to talk about the event. Her experience of wordlessness shapes this album in multiple ways. She turned to the piano and wrote the title track in one intense sitting, striving for catharsis. The pounding bass octaves and eerie vocal drones of the opening section fade into something gentler but no less emotive, where insistent chordal patterns eventually collapse as if exhausted.
Bereavement is an ongoing process: it doesn’t end, but merely becomes familiar. When Livienaise-Farrouch resumed work on the album during the winter lockdown of 2020-21, she read literary accounts to explore the many ways people mourn. She was inspired by artist Taryn Simon’s piece An Occupation of Loss, which featured professional mourners from around the world and the public performance of grief. Choosing not to utilize her more familiar palette of strings, she focused instead on drones, particularly vocal drones. By strapping a contact mic to her throat, she was able to record intimate but wordless vocalisations of loss.
In “Katabasis”, an ancient Greek word meaning descent, these drones are interrupted by thundering bass ostinatos played on a Bösendorfer Imperial, a grand piano with an unusually low range. These deep notes were recorded so loudly and filled with so much rage that they sometimes cross over into distortion. The insistent chords of the more measured central section feel like a developed return of “Ravage”; that is, until the music makes a pregnant pause at a dominant seventh chord, upon which the angry grief returns unchanged. In “Fata Morgana” Levienaise-Farrouch’s father hovers like a ghost. Words from his correspondence emerge, unintelligible, from a set of layered drones that flicker with intensity. These words are muted and muffled, unmistakably human but eerily out of reach.
The album’s second half feels more optimistic. “Ephemeris” is also named for an Ancient Greek word, referring to a book of tables that chart the movements of celestial objects. The texture is again reminiscent of the second half of “Ravage” but somehow lighter, more hopeful, as if the often brutal way the world works now seems less arbitrary. The album closes with “Parting Gift”, a track of two halves. Vocal and synth drones rumble deeply through the first half, filtered and distorted. When they depart, lighter tones emerge. We don’t know what gift the composer’s father left the artist, but it seems as if she may have made her peace.  (Garreth Brooke)

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