Once again Empreintes DIGITALes throws a juicy bone at the howling wolf pack of sound connoisseurs out there — or, being a vegetarian, a metaphor including a basket full of fresh fall fruits and vegetables out of a long life of ecological cultivation on the Dhomont Shangri La farm would sound more fitting. Anyhow and anyway; here is a CD crammed almost to the last binary with exclusive sound art by the Maestro of them all: Francis Dhomont — who, incidentally, has left Canada to live in Avignon, France.
Dhomont’s art, basically, as I hear it, is a child of a French tradition, and there has always been a lucid and self-evident communion across the Atlantic between French and Canadian electroacoustics, hardly distinguishable, save for, perhaps, a smidgen more poetry of the transparent and elusive kind in strictly French sound art, generally, though that doesn’t apply to Dhomont’s music, which has all the poetry one can wish for. There is a whole different set of characteristics in play once you cross the border to the US. They’ve never had anything much to offer in the vein of electroacoustic poetry, except in the case of a few free-thinking sound dissidents…
As for the well-found title of this collection of electroacoustic art pieces — “…et autres utopies” — Dhomont explains in the booklet text that:
“[…] …these aural mirages […] in the etymological sense of ou-topos [belong] […] to no specific location, except for imaginary territories; [but are] creatures of illusion and, in this case, sound.”
“These aural ‘non-lieux’, these chimeras of perception, resulting from treatments and made from unlikely parts that are losing their identity, stripped of […] any audible source, are fictional beings born out of a dreamer’s nomadic invention. […] …these sonic structures [are] attempting to avoid traditional music codes, disregarding their imperatives, and offering a stream of mental images to our psyche. […]”Track 1. Here and There (2003) [10:09] (To Darren Copeland and David Eagle)
“[…] …a suite of short pieces aimed at the various perceptions of spatialized sounds […]”
From bar one I’m placed in a sonic jungle land, wheezing grasshoppers and grunting hippopotamuses; water in various modes of transportation and formation — and a peculiar journey in and out of mind, from the spaces within to the spaces without and back, in an altered mental guise. Echoes of a voice could be manifestations of your “I”, your elusive self, giving commands — or, in milder cases — offering suggestions.
The rather transparent sound world of this jungle gets denser, even chaotic and invasive, filling your nostrils, your oral cavity and your ears with cooling mud, that slowly petrifies and sort of embalms you — but no worries, it is only a sonic mirage that you’ve become a part of, as any good listener would.
There is an incredible richness of sounds flowing, out of Dhomont’s open hands, like was he a deity in an illustration by Gustave Doré.
Electronic faunae in the shape of unidentified monkeys, birds and insects call out, each one according to their binary species, and the notion of a one and the same origin of mirage and reality creeps upon you and lights up some kind of truth inside the illusionary place you call yourself: i.e: your SELF!Track 2. Je te salue, vieil océan (1998, 2000-04) [14:54] (To the “disciple” and master Christian Calon)
“The ocean referred to here is the one evoked by Lautrémont in his fantastic imprecations in The Songs of Maldoror — selected excerpts are read by Marc-Henri Boisse — […] foretelling surrealist poetry. […] This is a metaphorical ocean, a maritime archetype […]”
Having just returned from the Nordic Music Days 2007, held in the town of Norrkoping, Sweden, where I attended Natasha Barrett’s 16-channel acousmatic ocean music of Trade Winds — (released on DVD Audio and CD in October 2007, on Norwegian label Aurora), containing excerpts of an interview with an old Norse sea captain — it is interesting to sail into Francis Dhomont’s oceanography!
The ingredients, sonically, are there, like a giant swell and bubbling notions, as well as the creaking of fenders or old hulls, and a sonic allusion to blasting foghorns, albeit in a dreamy, eluding manner, as if you felt the sound in fragmented memories, rather than confronting it up front.
The lingual part is initially quite naturalistic, but it undergoes several layers of alienating processes, rendering it also a dreamscape quality, in which your fantasy may roam freely, under the magical suggestions of this shaman of sounds. Dhomont has this uncanny capacity of taking a slab of reality as we know it (even though that is an illusion too, strictly speaking), slowly turning it around, making it appear before our (inner) eyes and our ears with their hidden qualities and properties on display, simultaneously making you a co-creator of visions — because, of course, in this abstract art, YOU are the artist inside the virtual halls of your mind, painting all these visions on the inside of your skull, inside the Louvre of yourself. All worlds connect to make this possible, as all things are connected, and a whole life now and many lives before, make certain visions arise from certain stimuli, like the perception-joggling sound art of Francis Dhomont… and it is ever-changing; never static — a FLOW.
Comparing Barrett’s and Dhomont’s oceanic expeditions, Dhomont’s come out much dreamier, much more estranged from the source material, but both works — Trade Winds and Je te salue, vieil océan — trigger just as many visionary events inside your receptive and dimly lit Hall of Wonders: both at the cutting edge of contemporary sound art.Tracks 3 — 5. Chroniques de la lumière (1989, 2005) [29:12] (To Annette Vande Gorne)
“These ‘Chronicles’ are […] a personal daydream of light based on a concept by Montréal visual artist Luc Courchesne. An evocation of luminous phenomena […]”
Dhomont’s light through Lapland mistTrack 3. (Chroniques 1). Miroitements (Shimmers) [8:05]
The shimmer of light that really is audible inside this veil of mist and luminosity reminds me starkly of the 2-week trek I just made in Northern Lapland, across rock deserts and round the slopes of glaciers, for nowhere that I’ve been is the light so many-facetted as in Lapland, changing in intensity and nuances and corpus all the while, magically — just like the lucid and sometimes grainy sounds of Dhomont’s shimmer audio.
Dhomont bring jingly jangly light reflexes out of rock and water here, wringing it out of shape, as it escapes to hit a steep wall of black gneiss across the valley with the sharp ring of spear heads, breaking up the light/sound in the specter of a prism.
Yes, behind the misty, layered veils of soaring, white/gray audio a myriad of grainy bells at the threshold of perception keep sifting time and sand. Long, winding temporal shifts run like strains of incisive inkjets in and out of the cracks of old time, staining it with winding black lines, and somewhere deep in a glacial crevasse inside Miroitements I breathe down my own neck…Track 4. (Chroniques 2). Artifices [10:24]
A sharp beginning, someone striking a match perhaps, and the cracking sound of firewood being cut apart: someone building a fire — but all this just remotely comprehensible, with a lot of imagination. A rhythmic sound keeps tracking along at different levels, and percussive as well as woody, naturalistic — concrete — sounds, are more apparent here than in earlier works on this CD. The rhythms keep building, only to fall apart, and children’s voices form a sound that is equally as fit to dance in Dhomont’s music as any other sound. The sounds of trees breaking up and falling — splintering — remind me of Swedish sound artist Hanna Hartman and especially a new CD of hers called Ailanthus. You hear sounds of trees falling and/or splintering throughout Hanna’s CD, but especially in a piece entitled (my translation): Felling Big Trees Is Associated With Risks!
Dhomont’s Artifices evolves from the tree splintering towards and through more sophisticated sounds that pick up warp speed and form curvatures through all the time and space there is, in effect catching up with itself in whisking, whispering, wheezing and finally rickety racketing and bouncing motions, slowly embellished in bellish beauty and hypnotic roundabout connotations in the periphery of mind: beautiful; full measures of beauty! Light whispers out of the prisons of diamonds or reflecting off of the gaze of an 18th century princess at Versailles.Track 5. (Chroniques 3). Météores (Meteors) [10:43]
The title justly refers to celestial mechanics, as the sounds wisp by in cometic velocity, like tumbling rocks of loneliness in a sordid void — while close-by showers of sharp edged debris cut the moment in splintering diamond litter, all but surrounding the Planetary Dream Collector that Terry Riley sent out, and whom desolation embraces, from eon to eon: a spirit kindred to the depressed robot Marvin of the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy…
The music continues in a glassy, bead-like manner, thousands of glass spheres falling onto a time made of marble and through a space lost in amnesia, so vulnerable, so untouchable, so unaware if itself! A mischievous game between Here and Now!
“Voyage-miroir is a replica of …mourir un peu (1984 — 87) and uses — in reverse order — the same themes (departure, fleeting, exile) since this mobility has always been with me. […] …the form selected […] is the wave […] …the ebb and flow, an image ‘always reinitiated’ of our desires, actions, experiences and hopes. Of life itself, and of death.”
Infinitely small occurrences on the sonic topography of Voyage-miroir make me think of something Edgard Varèse once said, about sound being an atmospheric disturbance, and music being organized sound. In this case of Dhomont, these disturbances evoke the innermost energies of imagination, shifting as you listen, and changing apparitions each time you listen again: immensely rich, bursting with hypothetic worlds frozen at the horizon of events, just waiting to materialize in someone’s visions: those are some of the characteristics of Francis Dhomont’s oeuvre; Gaudi’s Sanctus Sanctus Sanctus and Dali’s melting clocks; architecture as frozen music; time crumpling and dissolving into the jerky mysteries of quantum mechanics, where someone breathes a sigh of relief and sits back in an armchair at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe…
The wave motions in Voyage-miroir that Dhomont described arrive on many levels in the music, and recede on just as many, sometimes retorting to brief moments of real natural water touching a shore at nightfall, but instantly transforming into rock-clattering thunder and desperate, compressed and sped-up multi-dimensional cries of anguish from entities lost in time as well as space, with an eternity of all aspects to keep on losing themselves in.
The sonic havoc is relieved by the utter-most beauty of many-layered drones that fall out like solar flares and recede back into the crunching melting pot at the center of thought once more. It’s both beautiful and ominous; someone else at the center of everything calling the shots, and no matter how many times you look over your shoulder; sometime, sooner or later, Elvis Presley’s Flaming Star will call upon you to end this one and start another. (Life)
As the piece comes to a close, events calm down into a fluttering, grainy, moraine rattling, touching upon the one really visible aspect of matter and matters: erosion.Track 7. Corps et âme (2001 — 02) [7:40] (To the enthusiasm of Florence Gonot and Alexandre Yterce)
According to Dhomont, this work deals with the dualism of body and soul, which, however, can be seen as two sides of the same thing — and he also says that the piece is self-reflective in a sense. The piece also, says Dhomont, reflect the expression “body and soul”, i.e., to involve oneself completely in something. Let’s leave it at that, and listen.
Applause at some big event recedes into an alien soaring notion, into which are introduced acidic, acrid and rancid sonorities — threatening, in a way — until the sounding objects stand out of the background and gain their own states of tumbling density: the flapping of angel wings and the grumbling of outcasts of the Earth: vain concretisms in an existence constructed om illusion and imaginary imagery. Beautiful and pensive, like this falling asleep and this waking up routine of our bodies, our prisons of gravity and mass. As they say about the body: Never leave home without it!