Start Counting

French composer Jean-Philippe Gross was last heard from in September 2019 with the first two items on his EICH label, one of a record of modular synthesis and the other one involving recordings of a curling match. He’s here today with Dénombrement (EICH003), which shows him teaming up with the performer Stéphane Garin from Ensemble O and Dedalus, and one who has worked with a roster of important composers, improvisers and musicians, even including big kahunas such as Boulez, Niblock and Wolff.

I was intrigued by the word “dénombrement”, and as expected given that the French are very strong on words and meanings, I find it has a number of very specific applications across many fields, and can mean simply “counting”, but also applies to inventories, and censuses, and as such is used in an electoral context, finance, business law, mathematics and medicine. Then there’s the odd cover photograph, which might show a half-completed motorway ramp under construction; in this context, it almost promises a hidden philosophical meaning. This may or may not apply to the actual record, which is a rather dry and understated series of very deliberate experiments using percussion, electronics, and pre-recorded sounds. The idea is to put these elements together, with great deliberation, in certain combinations and unexpected contexts, with the intent to make connections, but also to “merge sources”.

What this means in practice is that we hear sustained electronic shrill drones, rattling percussive objects (including cymbal, woodblock and toms), and small fragments of tape recordings (including speaking voices) rubbing up against each other as surely as three dogs exchanging their pelts. The composers seek, with this “highly synchronised merging”, to create very ambiguous vistas or stories; a place where nothing is what it appears to be and the listener quickly loses their bearings in a field of mixed signals and uncertain reference points. I should point out this is all done in a very non-violent and subdued manner, and the composers struggle a bit to transcend the formalism of their experiments; so the results come out a bit stiff, and aren’t quite as transcendent as they’re making out. Even so Dénombrement is a fascinating set, very crisp and clearly demarcated unusual sounds, creating a perplexing sphere of operations for the mind to operate within. From 16th December 2019.