The Art of Listening to Silence & Playing Sound
Every now and then a record stops me in my tracks and paralyzes the usual automatic click-to-the-next-track that happens when I’m auditioning music. The debut from Dan Les Arbres is one of those CDs.
It’s not because it’s a good record for “Echoes.” Normally, the discordant, amorphous, arhythmic and non-melodic content would have me quickly skipping through the tracks before sending it to the stack of CDs that sound cool, but I’ll listen to them later for my own edification. But I was compelled to take my fingers off the remote and listen to it straight through. It is one of those recordings that breaks the logjam created in my head by yet another pretty guitar album, still another programmed electronica CD and one more earnest world fusion pastiche.
This Nordic-French quartet includes Xavier Charles on clarinet and harmonica, Ivar Grydeland on acoustic guitar, banjo and Sruti box, Christian Wallumrød on piano, and Ingar Zach, on percussion and bass. I mention these instruments, because, by and large they’re irrelevant to the music you hear.
The piano is prepared à la John Cage; the guitar is played every way but picked, plucked and strummed; the clarinet never intones a melody and the percussion sounds like it came out of a well-tuned kitchen. It reads like a recipe for noise, but instead it’s a chart through a world of intuitive sound and tightly honed interactions. Chimes and bells on “Le Détachement” carve out a pristine space, interrupted by bursts of snareless snare, thudding piano and clarinet yelps. Xavier Charles gets feedback effects on clarinet on “L’Engourdissement” and although there are no electronics in the music making, they generate deep bass overtones like a subway running through your mind in slow motion.
Dans Les Arbres means “In the Trees,” and their music sounds like the natural rustlings and wind blown murmur of a forest. They make an immersive music that builds out of silence and plays with space. There’s a quiet drama to these soundscapes, stories of creation that unfold in Inception-like layers. While John Cage and Morton Feldman come to mind, more precise corollaries are found in the improvisation of Stockhausen’s “Aus Den Sieben Tagen” or The Art Ensemble of Chicago‘s “People in Sorrow.” Like those artists and unlike so many free improvisers, there’s a clear sense of form, movement and most important, communion, in Dans Les Arbres, no matter how abstract they might get. They take you right inside the creative process. If you ever doubted ECM records continuing commitment to new and exploratory music, you need to hear this CD.
The Dans Les Arbres CD has been out in Europe since late 2008 but will be seeing its U.S. release November 9th. Dans Les Arbres will be playing Chicago, Philadelphia (lucky me) and New York on December 7, 8 and 9 respectively.
John Diliberto ((( echoes )))