Gratuitous Violins

Jean-Luc Fafchamps
Gentle Electronics

‘These works are not at all for those whose attention is fully focused on the new worlds of sounds made accessible… by a jealous and relentless quest for technology. They target those who want to listen to instruments and not be able to recognise them… because their history has been changed.’

Thusly framed is this intriguing CD/DVD package from composer Jean-Luc Fafchamps and his hand-picked performers; the pomp of such grandstanding highlighting everything right and wrong with this release. He valorises the humbleness of the ‘simple electronic means’ used in realising these two compositions, which to my ears is a technological paucity that barely exceeds the processes of looping and amplification. In a sense it is a ’back to basics’ exercise in compositional resourcefulness where even multi-tracking is held in abeyance. This method might well be said to reinforces the ‘poetics’ of his music, but upon listening the meagreness of ingredients is clearly a virtue, as is the considered involvement of each performer with(in) their respective environment.

‘Beth/Veth’ – which features on the CD – is a single, extended ‘composition’ for piano and metallic objects, the passages of which consist mainly of semi-ornate, cascading naturalism broken by spells of incessant hammering, like a collage of Debussy, Satie, Feldman et al. Pianist Stephane Ginsburgh is a regular collaborator of Fafchamps’ and a reliable presence on the Sub Rosa label. He also has an affinity for Morton Feldman, which should surprise nary a listener. His studious examination of each and every note and phrase is that of the experienced jeweller studying a diamond for imperfections; an enquiry that deepens into jarring segues that lead to more irascible, fitful passages and finally the majestic arrival of gongs that signal the dying minutes. For me personally, it’s a listening experience particularly remarkable at the end of a tiring day.

By no small contrast the DVD is – on paper at least – something I’d not have plumped for if not prompted: footage of a ‘street’ performance for electric viola competing for attention with nearby traffic and initial public indifference; throughout the performance, the camera pans the area to record both the non-event of passing traffic and the growing interest of passers-by. The value of such an event as a recorded document is negligible, though once again Fafchamps’ words are validated by the fact that one has to ‘go to the effort’ of actually playing and watching the thing, rather than lazily clicking on a link. And by the simple means of repeating a brief, ascending phrase amplified ad infinitum, player Vincent Royer further satisfies Fafchamps’ function-over-form mandate; his ramped up layers of screech, swell and delay exhilarating and deafening his surrounding adversities into submission and finally into a round of well-deserved applause.

Stimulating as this all is, why these night-and-day pieces have been packaged as one is unclear: neither a comprehensive ’portrait’ of Jean-Luc Fafchamps, nor possessed of cohesive musicology; one is left to conclude that – self-sabotage notwithstanding – this disparity is the very point. We might also infer a qualified rejection of the many technologies that have encroached upon so much of our lives: social networking and music production for instance. How well it is served by such a manifesto as that quoted above though, I am dubious. For a statement that cries for simplicity, it certainly is wordy. But then who am I to comment?