Metal and wood, sine waves and synthesizers, drum heads and patch cables: Autonomie Minérale, the newest record from Tachycardie, is about bringing “percussion and electronic composition together on the same level.” According to the man behind the project, the French composer and artist Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy, the idea was “to build percussive pieces in which the acoustic elements function like an arrangement while the electronic element builds a rhythmic backbone.” These contrasting yet complementary materials — the acoustic and the electronic, the organic and the synthetic — form the backbone of the soundscapes on Autonomie Minérale.
“Parties sud puis nord” is both my favorite track and, perhaps paradoxically, the composition which least clearly integrates percussion and electronics. Here, the two feel like separate and distinct pieces of a wonderful composite puzzle: one frenzied, rhythmically complex, and in your face, the other long, drawn out, and deeper, almost brooding. A few hyperactive flurries of percussion take on a long-swelling, ominous synth and an assortment of swirling, throbbing, pulsating electronics. Suddenly: birdsong. It’s a heady mix that grabs the listener’s attention right from the start.
Unfortunately, Autonomie Minérale’s subsequent 25 minutes never return to the same level of intensity. “Gris de haute pression”, is a concoction of uneven rhythmic swells, sounds like ice clinking in a glass, and two note synthesizer ostinatos that are like several car doors being left open at once. “D’érosion” is mostly taken over by bell-like swells of deep electronics and metallic cascades of percussion, while “Collision au sens strict” features deep bass, cycling electronic sequences, and what sounds like a bamboo wind chime clacking on a stormy day. On “Agité tandis que”, Geoffroy relentlessly scrubs a drum head only to be occasionally interrupted by electronics straight out of an undergraduate computer music course, while “Jusque dans les conditions” starts with more birds and the addition of some faster, jammier percussion. There is more of a groove here, some sequenced and plucky electronic patterns, even something of a funky bass line, yet the result is less like “Parties sud puis nord” and more like Iglooghost at his least interesting. “Sédiment meuble” is more murky, with gong-like tones and things skittering in the dark. In contrast to “Parties sud puis nord”, these subsequent tracks are unmeasured and jagged, with the electronics shaping the flow (as predicted) while the percussion often feels like an improvised addition.
While I do wish the rest of Autonomie Minérale was more like its opener, the more abstract tracks that follow have their own appeal, one that is less visceral and more “intellectual”. Although it’s not as if live percussion and electronics have never met before — they’re something of a staple in many experimental circles — we can still give Geoffroy some credit for integrating them in some attention-getting new ways, and the variety of timbres which he coaxes from his one-of-a-kind synthesizer (as well as his performance on “Parties sud puis nord”) leave plenty of space to explore. By weaving together synth swells and sequenced electronic rhythms with percussion that is by turns frantic and atmospheric, Autonomie Minérale creates more than a few moments of real intrigue, tension, excitement, and apprehension. I look forward to hearing a more consistent group of them on the many Tachycardie projects to come. (Peter Tracy)