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Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

Two Causes for Francophilia

The compilation Active Suspension vs. Clapping Music, featuring acts from both those two Parisian record labels, is an album to get lost in repeatedly. From futuristic campfire music to robotic hip-hop, from sad and damaged pop songs to self-described “interstellar folk,” its two CDs are just packed with epiphanies, piled high with them, like so many angels doing mass tai chi on the head of a pin. For fans of ambient/electronic music, a wealth of soprano drones are among the richest surprises. My Jazzy Child‘s “Barcelona, Something in Mind” is like the lightest, most enchanting Low song recorded, endlessly chanty, with a running hum of tight harmony — like something the Roaches, that wonderful minimalist folk trio, might have recorded had they been mentored by Aphex Twin rather than Robert Fripp. Noak Katoi‘s “Aérienne des rêve infinis” likewise takes its steps daintily and solemnly at the same time. It seems impossible to overstate the beauty of those two tracks.

In addition to this music for music’s sake are things more readily identifiable as songs that, nonetheless, fit in well with the refined surroundings — such as the Konki Duet‘s “In the Trees,” which has My Jazzy Child’s Roaches feel, with those tangy close harmonies and Renaissance Faire aura; but for all its coy verve, it has this sense of stasis that remains with you long after the track ends. Colleen‘s “Good Morning Sunshine” inserts jumbled, reverberating riffs, and its format tantalizes as it veers repeatedly away from song-ness. Domotic‘s “Pimmi” goes wide and deep, with a stunningly vibrant field of long tones, unidentifiable sound fragment stretched until they’re translucent. Still, it’s the songless tracks that make the strongest impression, like Shinsei‘s “Store bonheur, nue,” which plays light and slow with glitchy elegance, a swath of scintillates like light refracting in mist. Sogar‘s “Shinsei amateur remix” puts Shinsei through a blender, revving it up, but never tarnishing its grace. “Pour une flaque” by Davide Balula seems to start where Shinsei ends, making the segue to whispers, backward masking and a simple guitar figure. There’s more here than space allows for praise, but suffice to say that though the album is over a year old at this point, it deserves to be discovered anew.

Balula’s Pellicule is among Active Suspension’s most recent releases, and it is almost as varied as the label’s compilation, Active Suspension vs. Clapping Music, despite being the work of one man and a small handful of friends. Balula’s record has the sound of a folk singer camped out in a bomb shelter, strumming his guitar while the world gently weeps and the computer equipment around him fritzes in and out of working order — his Active Suspension vs. Clapping Music track “Pour une flaque” is heard here, followed by “Lorsqu’il n’est plus,” a track of unspeakable tentativeness, false start after false start; there’s even a montage of lightly treated field recordings, “Viens va-t-en.” The acts of outright Francophone pop, like “Eburn (9V),” the opening track, and “Iris em arco,” start plainly enough, only to have the electonica folded in as time passes, both prime evidence of the artful potential at that intersection of singer-songwriter indie rock and gadgety electronica.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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