Pascal Battus is the great French improviser whose work we’ve been enjoying since 2010, though he’s been active longer than that…one notable highlight was the Ichnites album where he played with the saxophonist Christine Sehnaoui Abdelnour, and there was also the time he teamed up with Dafne Vicente-Sandoval for two intense CDs of material.
I’ve always vaguely understood that Battus produced his distinctive noise by use of “rotating surfaces”, but until this day I didn’t fully appreciate it was a device which he’d built himself. It’s similar to a hurdy-gurdy, which uses a hand-cranked mechanism to produce its bizarre howls, but Battus has improved on this method by using an electric motor. On today’s album Cymbale Ouverte (AKOUSIS RECORDS AK003), he’s decided to apply it exclusively to the cymbal, thereby producing four long tracks, each one dedicated to exploring or showcasing a very particular sonic effect. “Always guided by improv spirit”, says the press, reminding us of the determination and ingenuity of this zesty fellow, and it’s as well that he’s done it as a solo turn this time; I think music of this power and intensity would simply crowd other players out of the venue, and it simply doesn’t lend itself to a collaborative situation. We can feel this force quite clearly on ‘Indécent Indéhiscent’, one of the more mesmerising and transformative drone pieces on the set, creating a series of extended metallic rings and reverberations so solid that you can almost taste copper in your mouth and feel the sting of ice rattling against the fillings in your teeth. While we can’t say that this track is “noise” as such, it certainly appeals to this particular fan who loves feedback, Hendrix at his most excessive, and heavy metal generally, satisfying my insane lust for blood; plus it delivers on that often hoped-for promise of creating a near-electronic sound by purely acoustic means (well, unless you’re going to quibble and include Battus’ motor).
To continue on that tack, there’s also ‘Etonnoir tôt’ – generally more restrained in tone than its brother, where Pascal explores a darker side of the cymbal and, with its evocative round shape and the extreme theatrical shadows under which he was (I hope) making the recording, we are not far apart from witnessing a grand solar eclipse in outer space, unfolding in slow motion. I mean to say that the cymbal is growing to equal the proportions of a planet, or moon, or other suitable celestial body, and doing so under the patient coaxes of our man’s motorised caresses. With ‘Etonnoir tôt’, Pascal Battus is revisiting those worn-out aspects of drone and ambient music and revitalising them on his own terms; not even Thomas Köner, with his brushed gongs, could generate such a remarkable effusion, and there’s a real clarity and sharp-edge to Battus’s tone that provides a delightfully stark atmosphere, leaving the listener no place to hide on the stark surface of this alien planet as we cast a shadow 30 feet long.
Bernard Maumus did the recording, a detail from a Peter Soriano wall painting is used on the cover, and this is a splendid statement by this most singular of French improvising greats. From 11th March 2022, released by the label who brought us Contre-Courbes by Tilbury and Gauguet.