Here we have the debut album by French sound artist Yvan Etienne, who appeared on the Erratum #4 Sound Review in 2004 (I did get a copy of this triple CD set, but it’s too daunting to play it or even approach it) and has recorded as one half of Le Verdouble with Yann Gourdon. On Feu (APOSIOPÈSE apo10) there is a very striking long suite called ‘De La Charge’ which is like having your head inserted in the centre of a lengthy electrical discharge, making your hair stand on end with its wild tendrils of direct current, and threatening to clean out your pores once and for all with its vibrant force. After that exciting opening, the piece descends into the formless murky drone apparently so beloved of contemporary sound artists, but at least there’s a scuffed-up scrumbly surface you can get your teeth into; and Etienne is thankfully not one for delivering a wispy washed-out experience, by which I mean his sounds always appear solid and convincing, unlike the “phantom” sounds that so many traffic in.
‘La Lueur’ follows a similar compositional structure, starting out mean and wriggly – this time resembling fifteen hornets being buffeted about by high winds, before easing itself into a steady continuum of chunky buzzy sound, so palpably metallic you can almost taste copper in your mouth. Again, I have the image of being electrocuted in slow motion, as though Yvan Etienne had managed to bottle the power of a dynamo and sell it through a health food chain in 8-ounce jars. He does it using a combination of live electronics, analogue synthesisers, field recordings, and the hurdy-gurdy – the latter surely qualifying as an “underused” instrument in this genre. Rather than listen to his records, it’s probably better to see Etienne doing it live in concert where you can imagine he’d benefit from a powerful PA system to soup up his whirring burrs. Or go and visit one of his site-specific installations. I mention this because his avowed aim is to ask questions about our perception of sound in space, by investigating the very physicality of it, both of which are the sorts of experiments which, however worthwhile, don’t always translate well onto a CD. From 18 July 2014.