Thursday, September 05, 2013
Bruno Duplant - Presque Rien (rhizome.s)
Right from the start their are a couple of problematic issues with this work and more surface as one listens. First, of course, is the title of the release, Duplant knows very well that it was used for a series of pieces by Luc Ferrari and an album on INA-GRM. Duplant's source, however, is a line from Francis Ponge: "L'eau (qu'il contient) ne change presque rien au verre, et le verre (où elle est) ne change rien à l'eau.", translated thusly by Michael Pisaro for this recording: "The water (what it contains) does almost nothing to the glass, and the glass (where it is) does not alter the water." He simply liked the phrase in that context (a context which was to be the instructional score for the work) and went with it. It's an interesting notion, to intentionally disregard any proprietorship of a phrase or title; I kind of admire the effrontery, as if someone titled a new recording, "Bitches Brew" or a new novel, "Gravity's Rainbow"--problematic in the extreme but at least a little provocative.
Secondly, Duplant takes the quotation and asks a large number of musicians to actualize it (limiting themselves to two minutes), concentrating on the phrase, "presque rien", an action not really a whit different from the approach taken fairly routinely by Manfred Werder, right down to using Ponge as a source. What is one to make of this? It's something I've had tangential thoughts on for quite a while--a musician establishes a certain attack, carves a niche and it somehow becomes his or her own, territory where it's not considered polite to trespass, at least overtly so. But if (I would think to myself) an approach is particularly beautiful or rewarding, why not? One can acknowledge that a door has been opened by someone else by why not use it as well? Except that such a high premium is placed on originality that this becomes taboo, the more so the closer one inches toward it. Can you perform your own variation on 4'33"? Maybe there's a distinction to be drawn between (in music) doing it and releasing a recording of it. But why? Duplant seems to be edging toward a Mattin-like questioning of norms held sacred in this field and, even if the results are uneven, I can't help but think this is by and large a good thing.
Ah, the results. Forty-four musicians are represented herein, sequenced alphabetically by first name. I suppose I should list them, especially since a "list" is more or less what Duplant was after. Ana Foutel, Barry Chabala, Brian Labycz, Bruno Duplant, Bryan Eubanks, D'Incise, Dafne Vicente Sandoval, Daniel Jones, Darius Ciuta, Delphine Dora, Dimitra Lazaridou Chatzigoga, Dominic Lash, Ernesto Rodrigues, Eva-Maria Houben, Fergus Kelly, Ferran Fages, Gil Sansón, Grisha Shakhnes, Iliya Belorukov, Jamie Drouin, Jez Riley French, Johnny Chang, Jonas Kocher (with Dafne Stefanou), Joseph Clayton Mills, Julien Héraud, Jürg Frey, Keith Rowe, Lance Austin Olsen, Lee Noyes, Lucio Capece, Massimo Magee, Michael Pisaro, Paco Rossique, Paulo Chagas, Pedro Chambel, Philippe Lenglet, Rachael Wadham, Ryoko Akama (with John Bryan), Simon Reynall, Stefan Thut, Travis Johnson and Vanessa Rossetto. It's very difficult listening in the sense of trying to assign any kind of structure or cohesiveness to the undertaking. The actualizations appear one immediately following the other, generally pretty quiet (not surprising, given the nature of the image in the line referred to) but, in memory, tending to blur into one another. It becomes a fools errand to say, "liked that one, don't like this so much", etc. but there's also no sense of each contribution fitting into soe greater whole. It's simply a list. I found it frustrating in a manner similar to my experiences with much of Tom Johnson's music, particularly something like "The Chord Catalog". As there, it becomes clear that one has to listen differently, though it's no easy task for these ears to manage that. I would have preferred that the pieces were isolated from one another, with perhaps a minute or more of silence between. But then, you'd be confronted with more art object than list and the latter is Duplant's objective, so you're forced to just deal with it or not.
The problem is that doing so and given the brevity of the pieces, you almost have to sit and follow the contributor listing with some intentness as you go. "OK, here's Eubanks, this one's Frey, now Thut", etc., mentally checking them off as you go. It's not how I enjoy listening, though, preferring to hear the thing "as a whole", except there is no whole, hence the frustration. I find myself, after each track, getting up and pausing the player, an awkward maneuver to say the least, though I can picture Mattin grinning at such activity. Loaded into iTunes and experienced at random via shuffle, I've no doubt they'll be welcome nuggets, even if that means abjuring their listlike qualities. Tant pis! :-)
I'd be curious to get the reaction of others to this offering. If not at the moment, it should be available soon at: