Constellation Records Presents: – Musique Fragile, Vol. 2

January 01, 1970

(Constellation)

 

www.cstrecords.com/musiquefragile01/

 

Hangedup & Tony Conrad/Transit of Venus (Eight stars; pictured above)

Kanada 70/Vamp Ire (Six stars)

Pacha/ Affaires
Étrangères
 (Seven stars)

 

Like its American label counterpart, Chicago’s experiment-friendly Thrill Jockey,
Montreal-based Constellation Records serves as a Petri dish for some fecund
musical imaginations. At the far end of the Canadian label’s open approach are
the Musique Fragile collections, the
second of which has just dropped. The first Musique
Fragile
box, released in 2011, included LPs from Les Momies de Palerme,
Khôra, and Nick Kuepfer, and its broad range of sonic experimentation was
testimony to the label’s commitment to the “hermetic” Musique Fragile aesthetic: “works that were conceived/executed in
different forms of isolation (physical, artistic),” and which also invoke
“Hermeticism in its more ‘spiritual’ connotation.”

 

That set was good, but now resides in the shadow of this rich
set of investigative excursions into experimental music. Kanada 70 is the
home-recording project of Toronto’s Craig
Dunsmuir, known for his work as one half of Glissandro 70 (with label mate Sandro
Perri) and as the encyclopedic
musicologist at Toronto’s
Soundscapes record store. And, in fact, Dunsmuir’s 15-track Vamp Ire reads like an Internet-age treasure-hunt
cross-section of  influences culled
from  dub echoes, smooth ambient textures,
abstract techno, African funk, dissonant no wave, and post- and prog-rock. You
might expect a jarring ride over terrain that varies from serene drones to
fractured dissonance. But, with a few brief exceptions,
a unified aural landscape emerges, one that oscillates comfortably between the
dizzying glitchy swirl of “Delivery” and percussive persistence of “For T.O.
(Perish)” to the benga-flavored guitar lines of “Gnaer.” What unites it all
seems to be the contrast between Dunsmuir’s introversion and all that sonic
variety, as if each track were a lonely probe sent out to find similar life
forms in various musical outposts. There is a slight Net-age-ADD feel to this
whirlwind voyage, one where skimming trumps full realization, which makes this
LP the least essential of the set.

 

By contrast, Pacha’s Affaires
Étrangères
seems to benefit by relative sonic restraint. Pacha is the solo vehicle
of percussionist Pierre-Guy Blanchard, who home-recorded this album with
engineer Radwan Moumneh in 2009 and self-released it initially via CD-Rs. The eight
tracks feature rhythm-heavy instrumentals propelled by Middle Eastern synth
lines and sprinkled with guitar, bass and oud along with the odd looped field
recording. The accompanying press suggests an Egyptian
or Lebanese Trans Am, or early Oneida
hooked on Motorik and Arabic pop – fair enough sonic toeholds.  Galloping percussion propels ominous fuzzy
synths over a Middle Eastern melody on “Macedonian Mind,” while “Modern
Malaise” throws fits of sludgy guitar against oscillating backdrops and rabid
percussion, then layers all that over a simple riff buffeted by distant and
ghostly Balkans-flavored voicings. The languorous “Tunel” sounds like the music
of Touaregs at a Saharan oasis, while the even more serene “La Gare de Podrogica”
contrasts simple hand drums with swirling sandstorms of electronics. In the
end, Affaires Étrangères is that exotic
meeting of East and West that seems forever just out of reach in every other human
arena.

 

If Pacha is a voyage through the Middle
East and mittel Europa roots, and Vamp Ire a Net-inspired hit-and-run-raid
through various musical subcultures, then the third entry, Transit of Venus, is a hair-raising, chills-inducing transit from
the subatomic to the far reaches of the universe. Legendary violin minimalist Tony
Conrad and Montreal
viola-and-drums punk legends Hangedup build Transit‘s
six tracks on enormous slabs of drone rock and knotty decompositions to create
an unsettling and primal emotional landscape. Intricate detail contrasts with
strings-versus-drums maelstroms that pitch and sway through serene troughs and
explosive crescendos. Opener “Flying Fast and Furious” climbs slowly from
primordial-strings ooze and gets hammered into shape by foundry percussion
before the elements coalesce into a frenzied rush; both ends of the drone
spectrum highlight the title track and “Panorama from Maxwell Montes,” the
former’s traffic-jam honks and skronks evolving into a chaotic miasma of
cross-hatched strings and cymbal crashes, the latter echoing John Cage’s
earliest, more tradition-rich drones.

 

But it’s “Gentle the Unlucky Astronomer” that leaves the
deepest impression. The 11-minute track starts with Gen Heistek’s viola
providing foundation-drone for Conrad’s creaking, upper-register lines before Erik
Craven’s drums begin propelling the song’s tempo toward an epic crescendo which
recalls some of Dirty Three’s more monumental blasts of emotional cacophony. As
cymbals and drums draw tighter together, the strings circle each other in
ever-decreasing radiuses until they seem to meld and then, just as evocatively,
drift apart. It’s a stunning journey, but merely the highlight of Musique Fragile No. 2‘s vast and varied
musical trips.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Gentle
the Unlucky Astronomer” (Conrad/Hangedup); “Tunel” (Pacha); “Gnaer” (Kanada 70)
JOHN SCHACHT

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