Kassel Jaeger, Swamps / Things, France, Shelter Press, SP119 2 x LP (2020)
As François Bonnet, the man behind Kassel Jaeger, says on his Bandcamp page, “Swamps / Things” was conceived as an opera albeit one without obvious characters or a definite text, only a story – the story that turns out to be some of Bonnet’s memories of his childhood, in which he would wander through countryside and come to a swamp. Over the years the swamp became a repository and metaphor for significant influences and events in Bonnet’s life, a place in which objects, concepts and things merge, the boundaries that limit them disappear, and what results is an apparent chaos out of which new forms and ideas may emerge. Humans are not immune from the reach of the swamp: eventually we must merge into the swamp as well and through disappearing into the swamp we may also find renewal and resurrection.
While the album divides into eight titled tracks, the music is best heard in its entirety as if it were one continuous foggy track, all the better to appreciate its mysterious amorphous being and the way in which familiar electroacoustic music becomes strange and takes on a life of its own in a new sound environment, one which breathes with a spirit not of this world. Sounds that might once have come from acoustic orchestral instruments become foggy and cold as though from synthesiser-generated dark ambient music. The best moments in this recording come about halfway through the “opera”, in “Accalmie (light gaps)”, in which synth drones pulse and throw up plumes of zinging noise and for a moment you can almost see behind your eyelids (if your eyes are shut) coloured laser lights shooting across the skies and illuminating dark shadowy forms emerging from the swamp.
As might be expected with a work so epic, immersive and seemingly self-directed in ways unfathomable to us mortals, parts of the recording may seem long and monotonous and will test listeners’ patience – but wading through long sections where nothing appears to happen eventually brings its rewards. Ghosts of distant memory emerge of their own volition to approach you and you will be caught up in reveries they weave around you before you even realise what is going on.
This is a work of deep, complex and beautiful mystery. Listeners may find it hard to believe that most of it was done by one artist, with help from Lucy Railton and Jim O’Rourke on tracks “River Wensum Roe Deers” and “NYC Bobcats” respectively.