Secrets Telluriques (FIBRR RECORDS fibrr018) is the new album from Julien Ottavi, a hero of the French underground. You need only run a quick search on this site to uncover evidence of his many achievements, including membership of the diffuse collectives APO33 and pizMO. At one time it seemed Ottavi and his friends, especially when working as the G.I.A.S.O., were on a mission to colonise the internet with live performed music in some way, working across highly distributed networks in a manner likely to subvert our shared understanding of what a conventional “gig” comprises. Today, though, he seems to be working with a musical instrument, that is the tam-tam, the fancy name which classical composers and improvisers like to give to the gong. Stockhausen famously employed a tam-tam on Mikrophonie, where he and his assistants brushed the life out of that gong with any agitating stick they could get their German paws on, in order to generate sound tones that could be amplified and turned into processable electronic signals. Then there’s English improviser Mark Wastell, who has been using the tam-tam to create astonishing fields of sussurating metalness for many years. When he does it as half of Oceans and Silver and Blood (with Joachim Nordwall), it’s enough to cause the instant death of 18 civil servants who are foolish enough to enter the room.
None of the above are really precedents for Julien Ottavi’s record, though. To begin with he calls this record “solo for symphonic tamtam”, which means he’s opting for the full size beast used in orchestras, such as the 38-inch or even the 40-inch. Only one of these “big boys” of the orchestra can satisfy his urges, that’s for sure. Secondly, it’s not clear whether any electronic treatments or processes have been used, but it’s certainly hard to recognise the natural sound of the instrument in these mysterious, shimmering tones that leak out of this CD, often verging on the anonymous as though no human agency were involved in their creation. In places it’s like the next step up from Harry Bertoia’s metal furniture / sculptures that could also be used to make sound in certain circumstances, or perhaps the “structures sonores” created by the famous Baschet brothers. Ottavi seems intent on creating a well of sound, a well full of black ink, in which we immerse ourselves as if drowning in a lake of treacle. A vague tuneless drone is what we experience for the most part, rising and falling in rhythm with the laws of some microscopic cell structure to which we are not party.
“Telluric” is often a popular term in our field. Why, just the other day in 2006 we heard CM Von Hausswolff use it in the title for his duo record Our Telluric Conversation with John Duncan. For some reason I associate the word with “metals” but it’s nothing to do with that, and relates to the planet earth, or to the soil. Although there’s also something called the “telluric current” which is a geophysical thing associated with electro-magnetism, but still not especially metal. What are the “secrets telluriques” that Ottavi hopes to delineate with this work? I think he’s trying to get to the metaphysical heart of some truth through this work, but he’s doing it in a very internalised way. The track titles ‘Thoughts of Sunday Night’ and ‘Path to the end of all discussion” are the sort of deep reflections a man can only conjure up after a long bout grappling with his own brain cells, staring into a mirror, and asking himself “why” for many an hour. The music Ottavi makes on this occasion is an exact match for that brow-furrowing process: dark, deep, slow, black, inexplicable, unknowable. Be prepared to dive into the depths, and learn secrets you never knew existed. From around 24th May 2017.