Michel Guillet is the very good French electro-acoustic composer, last heard with his 2015 album Unstable Distances; apparently he’s pretty abstemious (not many releases at all to his name that we can find) and his work in this area always seemed to be very deliberate and thoughtful. He’s since changed tack somewhat, and is now working with an electric guitar and effects pedals, and trying experiments in the field of free improvisation. Two CDRs have resulted from this effort, Through The Walls (ING-ON 05) and Through The Walls 2 (ING-ON 06).
Besides the change in method, Guillet regards this advance as stylistically a bit closer to noise music and even rock music, even though it’s still fundamentally a form of electro-acoustic sound, and his interest in such matters as “textures, masses and details” and “different temporalities in the same piece” continues. He’s certainly gone for the long-form; if you buy both these CDRs, you’ll get but three tracks to take home in your bag, and Through The Walls 2 is a single album-length work of 39 minutes. There’s evidently a device applied to his guitar which enables him to repeat short phrases as loops; I have heard vaguely of such things (they might be called guitar loopers or loopstations) and what terrifies me is the fact that, thanks to improvements in digital technology, they are capable of storing vast amounts of musical information as data. I expect you could probably train them to hold hours’ worth of looped phrases and they wouldn’t bat an eyelid; compare that with the old-school Watkins Copycat, which could hold only a few seconds of sound to create that echo effect so well-beloved of 1970s guitar players.
I mention this to stress that Guillet has been characteristically spare and restrained in his use of this device, and deploys it to generate the phrases he wants, leading them into the direction he chooses to go. Not once do I have the sense that he gets “lost” in the endless repeat-hell which such a machine might encourage. Nor does he fall for the self-indulgent trick of “soloing” over a repeated phrase. But this isn’t a guitarist’s album, anyway; it’s a composer applying himself to improvised guitar (with effects) and exploring his own interests in textures and detail. Come to that, he exhibits the same restraint with his filters and reverberations, resulting in tones and sounds that are tasteful and terse almost to the point of severity. At all times, we hear a fellow who’s in control of his devices, rather than being led down the garden path like a straw in the wind. The whole of the second CD amounts to a coherent essay-length (book length?) statement in musical development, and proceeds from start to finish with assurance and solidity, without a single lapse.
On the first CD, ‘Breakthrough 1’ has slightly more grit to its semi-broken forms, the actual sound of the guitar can be be detected more readily, and its mesmerising pulsations are likely to appeal to any fans of glitch or minimal electronica. Here, Guillet boldly disrupts normal sounds and is not afraid to delve into some pretty extreme warpage. ‘Breakthrough 2’ is even more extreme, in places veering from shrill piercing minimal tones to short passages of wild noise-like swipes. It’s almost like a compressed form of table-noise music, laced with a feeding-back electric guitar in the room with a big black amplifier, but all done in a controlled and miniaturised manner. It’s not clear how much of this is guitar “technique”, or down to manipulation of pedals and knobs; or perhaps it’s somewhere in the middle, showing how Michel Guillet has already achieved a certain mastery of an integrated way of working which would be the envy of a lot of musicians.
I applaud this French composer for taking this bold step, and it has resulted in exciting, edgy, and vital music, tinged with a slightly dangerous edge that you rarely get with most conventional electro-acoustic composition. Very good indeed. From 8th April 2019.
Available through Souffle Continu Records.