Various Artists – Musique Fragile, Vol. 1

January 01, 1970



Momies de Palerme
/Brulez Ce
(six stars)

Your Body Is Endless
(seven stars)

/Avestruz (five stars)


The first installment in a limited-release series, this trio
of recordings from Les Momies de Palerme, Khôra and Nick Kuepfer offer
distinct, though still compatible, takes on their umbrella title: Musique Fragile. Constellation Records –
home to acts like Broken Social Scene spinoff Do Make Say Think, Godspeed! You
Black Emperor, Thee Silver Mt. Zion Orchestra, Evangelista, and Tindersticks,
among others – is the adventurous outfit behind the self-produced records from
these local Montreal
and regional off-the-radar Canadian artists. In their own ways, each record
fulfills the label’s dual definition of Hermetic music: “works that were
conceived/executed in different forms of isolation (physical, artistic),” and
which also invoke “Hermeticism in its more ‘spiritual’ connotation.” Their
fragility, though, is debatable, and their success in tapping those hermetic
fonts of creativity varied.


Les Momies de Palermo’s Brulez
Ce Coeur
(“burn this heart”), is the second disc from Marie Davidson and
Xarah Dion, Quebec City escapees who channel their sense of displacement (and
to a lesser extent, integration) into droning soundscapes and infernal hymns
built from a core of keys, processed violin and voices. There are desolate
winter swaths of repetition (the title track) punctuated with oscillating
textures (“Le Cerf Invisible”) and synth beats (“Incarnation”) that suggest the
necessity of turning inward; others highlight the duo’s disembodied,
reverb-drenched incantations (“Solis”), or build on sinister riffs (“Rivies”)
and the Middle Eastern-flavored fever-drones (“Médée”) familiar to Les Momies
from their participation in Sam Shalabi’s Land Of Kush project (another
Constellation artist). The longer tracks are glacially paced and just skirt
becoming ponderous. But the mood is strangely devotional, more than
solemn,  at least until the glistening “Je
t’Aime” arrives at the end, its incantatory voices, drone and marching timpani
heralding the return of sunlight, spiritual thaw and maybe even the hope of
companionship and acceptance. But that track immediately makes you wish the duo
would have sprinkled more of that – or, say, the warmth of a mid-winter
fireplace – in the mix.


Brulez was
recorded in a studio and featured guest slots; Khôra’s Silent Your Body Is
and Kuepfer’s Avestruz are instrumental records performed
and recorded by a single person, and each sourced primarily from guitar, though
in radically different ways. In five extended pieces, Khôra – Toronto resident Matthew Ramalo – blends
acoustic and electric guitar figures with field recordings, processing the
signals with digital interventions into chiming and droning soundscapes that
leave listeners free-floating and immersed in worlds reminiscent of the deep sea,
boundless desert, or deep space. They can be kinda lonely, in other words. The
longest pieces here read as long voyages where time gets distorted, pulled
apart and rearranged, the music traveling over monumental distances: the
14-minute slow-build-and-burn of “Natura Naturans,” the 11 gothic,
chimes-and-distorted-guitar minutes of “One Is the Other,” or “The Desert and
the Scream,” where background beats leaven sinister night-sky drones like a
Paul Bowles short story set in the Sahara. While those tracks put the “hermit”
in hermetic, “Hushed Pulse of the Universe” reads like a Darwinian history of
creation with a Taoist bent, single note 
organisms oscillating and evolving into whirring, complex textures as a
late-arriving percussion-pulse signals that all this goes on within us, too.
It’s a sublime moment on this collection’s most intriguing set.


Where Khôra’s pieces seem simultaneously expansive and
cocoonish in their search for greater meaning, Nick Kuepfer’s 15 short tracks
on Avestruz — which translates as “ostrich,” though it can also imply
“idiot” — read like the sketches of an outsider artist intent on
capturing  the nuance and idiosyncrasies
of the places and people he observes. The pieces typically begin with acoustic
guitar riffs that loop and layer, rinse and repeat, occasionally adding
hand-percussion (pots, pans and kettles), bowed strings, and field recordings,
many put to 4-track or mini-disc while Kuepfer travelled through Argentina in
2007-2008. In fact, the record reads like a slideshow of his voyage, some shots
memorable, some funny, others forgettable. The music tilts Buenos Aires urban (“Red Sand Market,” whose
looped guitar figure recalls the Books), pampas gaucho (“Blue Pig”), and some
sounds like rust-bucket buses navigating poorly paved roads (“Sapos de
Tandil”). There’s a palpable meandering spirit throughout, in other words. But
while it may fit the nature of the journey and some of these sketches, the
repetitive nature of some – “Vampryro” and “Tail Still Moves” being the most
egregious examples – captures nothing so much as the monotony that travel can
also consist of.


So, then – fragile music. Maybe something gets lost in the
translation, or the umbrella term will make more sense with further releases
under it. Because each of these records, to varying degrees of listener
interest, seem more like solid statements by artists whose inner, hermetic
worlds include creative voices strong enough to survive out there — even if largely alone.


Momies de Palerme, “Je t’Aime”; Khôra, “Hushed Pulse of the Universe”; Nick
Kuepfer, “Blue Pig.” JOHN SCHACHT

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