5 on Textura’s ‘Top 10 Complilation of 2009.’
The two also contribute tracks to another Infrequency release featuring nine artists remixing what has been called one of the most sensational events in music history: The discovery in March of last year of a recording of a woman singing a mere ten seconds of the French folksong “Au Clair de la Lune” in 1860, predating the reigning artefact, Thomas Edison´s rendition of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” by almost two decades.
Everything about it, not least the sound of it, is food for thought about recording and acoustic experience. It was “recorded” by French inventor Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville on a contraption called the phonautograph which somehow scratched the melody into soot-covered paper. Unfortunately, no technology capable of playing it back existed until a band of scientists at Berkeley figured out a way a hundred and forty-eight years later.
For this tribute, Steve Rodin provides a brief, pretty prelude. Christophe Charles, Drouin and Novak each composed very lovely pieces. However, most of the others err on the side of dry, academic studies, failing to generate much excitement or veneration for the awesome find.
On Au Clair de la Lune nine lowercase and drone-base artists re-compose the decomposed – a relic of the earliest extant voice recording made by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville in 1860 using the phonautograph, a series of scratches on a roll of blackened paper. In a twist on The Disintegration Loops concept, flimsy slivers – a spectral snatch of “Au Clair de la Lune” – were restored to audio integrity, refreshed, ready to be re-rubbed. A conceptual extension of documentary reanimation through modern technology, the project finds an emergent breed of sonicians (Yann Novak, Jamie Drouin) aligned with a more established tradition of field workers (Steve Roden, Bernard Günter). The thread that binds, that sliver of song, is a presiding presence even when absent, seeping out in fragile flutings, eeriely ectoplastic. Lowercase legend, Steve Roden, starts with a short and sweet slice of melodic microsonics in “Aucla Irde Lalu Ne.” Miles wider, slower and lower is the subterranean space-trawl of Sleep Research Facility; his “Dark Side of the Lune” backs up its knowing title with a chillingly deep frieze. Lance Olsen’s “The Creature That Drank Sound” reels out a collage of field flotsam and incidental music with much play made of an embroidery of voices and random environments. Disc 2 features three longer-form tracts, two of which are particularly rich in rippling textures and reverberant drones: Jamie Drouin’s “Soot and Paper” is a microscopic universe in itself, while, at recording’s end, “Time Forgot” finds Dragon’s Eye boss, Yann Novak, starting with liminal hummings, letting them lightly simmer, before ramping them up and down into an innerzone of even more sub-atomic particles. In between microsound maven Bernhard Günter toys with the original fragment, pulling it this way and that, then trailing it, innards out, through the piece as a thin reel around which to twist ear-piercing tones and spray sprinkles of atonal piano. Au Clair De La Lune is striking for its archaeological concept, but impresses more for its imaginative conceit, in uniting polarities of recording between primitive and hyper-modern.
Nine artists present individual reworking of a basic concept – “basic” indeed, as we’re talking about the earliest audio recording ever made, 1860’s snippet of a woman singing the popular tune “Au Clair De La Lune” captured by the phonoautograph (invented by Édouard-Léon Scott De Martinville) and converted into audible signals by the scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 2008. Over the course of two CDs we hear interpretations that make use of the source by thoroughly disfiguring it (Bernhard Gunter) while maintaining its fundamental essence, or mixing it with segments of audio-verité, such as Canadian Lance Olsen. Jamie Drouin and Yann Novak are the ones who privilege the most ethereally abstract qualities, developing their own peculiar kind of lunar perpetuity in almost total absence of the original character of the primeval copy, while Stephen Vitiello and Molly Berg sound like a drugged folk duo informed by avant-garde tendencies. Other participants include Lionel Marchetti & Yôko Higashi (a disquieting, gorgeously misshapen version), Steve Roden (a delicately minuscule minimalist gem), Christophe Charles and Sleep Research Facility (effective manipulations, not exactly awe-inspiring but definitely signifying considerable decorum). Good stuff overall; look carefully and, in both discs, there is some serious beauty to be found somewhere.
– Temporary Fault
In 1857, 40-year-old Parisian inventor Edouard-Léon Scott de Martinville patented his “phonautograph”, a device that converted the sound of human speech into marks inscribed on a cylinder coated with lampblack. On April 9th 1860 – 17 years before Thomas Edison’s “Mary Had A Little Lamb” – Scott de Martinville used it to record a girl (his daughter?) singing the first couplet of “Au Clair de la Lune”, but it wasn’t until 148 years later that scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California were able to transform the thin lines back into audio, allowing us to hear all ten scratchy seconds of the world’s oldest sound recording for the first time.
To celebrate this momentous event, Canadian sound artists Jamie Drouin and Lance Olsen have invited seven other composers to join them on a compilation of works based on the 1860 recording. Together, they take it on quite a journey, from an amusement arcade on Olsen’s The Creature That Drank Sound to the depths of ambient outer space on Sleep Research Facility’s Dark Side of the Lune, which revisits the alien darkness of 2001′s Nostromo (and is much more imaginative than its title). In Lionel Marchetti and Yôko Higashi’s typically evocative Short Story the recording appears unadorned as a poetic postscript, while in Stephen Vitiello and Molly Berg’s annoyingly jangly Claire Song Sung and Steve Roden’s annoyingly slight Aucla Irdu Lalu Ne it’s chopped up and buried under layers of quivering keyboards. Little more than a ghostly filter on Christophe Charles’s Breathe, it’s atomised, stretched out and transformed beyond all recognition in the more extended offerings by Drouin and Yann Novak. The most impressive piece on offer is Les voix du passé / chantent l’avenir / clair de lune, the first offering from Bernhard Günter in two years, which retains the fragile melodic line in the background as a reference point while exploring the recording’s spectral – in both senses of the word – resonances, with extraordinary results. Striking just the right balance between intellect and emotion, it’s as inscrutable and moving as the tiny fragment of history that gave birth to it.
– The Wire
This a double CD compilation of Canadian Infrequency label runs by Jamie Drouin and Lance Olsen who gathered renown international experimental electronic artists to work with a segment of a French lullaby song – “Au Clair de la Lune” – created in 1860 by French composer Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville who invented the phonautograph. This piece was converted into audio by American scientists in 2008 and this allow to hear for the first time a female voice singing this song. In the first CD participated Steve Roden, Lionel Marchetti & Yôko Higashi, Sleep Research Facility, Lance Olsen, Stephen Vitiello & Molly Berg and Christophe Charles. Los Ángeles Steve Roden Visual and sound artist create a musical-box like made out of pure tones in a very harmonic way. Lionel Marchetti & Yôko Higashi used the real voice sometimes adult and as a baby and also a very processed voice version, besides disharmonic noises and a zither like out of tune. Sleep Research Facility is a Toronto based sound artist explores submerged perceptions of sound, lengthy drones moving into darkness. Lance Olsen like the previous track used a very similar segment of a baby voice, plus recordings of people talking, laughing. Stephen Vitiello & Molly Berg on top of the heavy processed baby’s voice add a vocoder one, plus ambient key lines. Christophe Charles produces a subtle sound with the song melody with plenty of resonances. CD-2 consists in Jamie Drouin, Bernhard Gunter and Yann Novak who work multi-layered of whirrs, processed voices, and low range dynamics. The hazy atmospheres are digital dusty storms like, impenetrable and dark.
When you have the ability to gather up a selection of international artists of this calibre into one project you’re clearly on top of your game. Jamie Drouin’s quiet rise within this sphere of music is more than deserved and the reputation his Infrequency imprint has gained is a fitting tribute to his work. And there’s no better way to celebrate than with a compilation featuring the likes of Steve Roden, Bernhard Gunter, Stephen Vitiello & Molly Berg, Lionel Marchetti, Sleep Research Facility and Christoph Charles along with labelmates Yann Novak and Lance Olsen. Au Clair De La Lune is a tribute and extension of the song, recorded in 1860 by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville on his own invention. Each artist has taken the recording and added to it thematically, processed it or manipulated it using modern technology, thus extending the mystique of this legendary work even further. Some versions work as almost literal reworkings, others are inspired by the work and all share a common respect for the original source material. With such a diverse range of interpretations it seems foolish to break them down one by one. Rather, this album should be enjoyed as a collection of sound works of the highest quality. Uniquely superb through and through.
Au Clair De La Lune takes its inspiration from the earliest known recording of the human voice which was made by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville on April 9, 1860 using his own invention, the phonautograph. As the resultant “recording” consisted of a series of scratches on a roll of blackened paper for which there was no available playback method, it went unheard for 148 years until scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory converted the material into ten seconds of audio, enabling one to hear a woman singing bits of the folk song “Au Clair de la Lune.” That fragment serves as a means to an enriching end on Infrequency’s double-disc recording with well-known sound artists (Steve Roden, Stephen Vitiello, Bernhard Gunter, Christophe Charles, among others) creating new compositions using the fragment as a starting point. The common thread connecting the nine disparate treatments is, of course, that vocal melody (charmingly off-key in a couple of places) which often surfaces as a rather ghost-like presence haunting the pieces.
Roden inaugurates the collection with a bright and melodic two-minute prelude (“Aucla Irde Lalu Ne”) before “A Short Story” by Lionel Marchetti and Yôko Higashi situates us within the sort of experimental territory we would expect from a recording of this kind. Over the course of the nine-minute meditation, the original, softly-uttered vocal melody is heard alongside a wealth of other sounds, vocal and otherwise: the groans of a seemingly helpless elder, the squeal of a baby, whistling and sputtering noises, and so on. Sleep Research Facility’s “Dark Side of the Lune” makes good on its rather woeful title by traveling through deep space with all of the cavernous rumble and echo that the notion entails. Lance Olsen’s “The Creature That Drank Sound” presents a rippling mass of processed sounds and voices (French-speaking adults and children, the original vocal material), while Stephen Vitiello and Molly Berg’s “Claire Song Sung” splinters the familiar children’s song into shimmering shards.
Three long-form settings by (Infrequency co-founder) Jamie Drouin, Gunter, and Yann Novak compose disc two. Drouin’s “Soot and Paper” immerses the listener within a microscopic universe of rippling textures and reverberant drones. The original melody is heard in severely distorted yet still recognizable form at the outset of Gunter’s “Les Voix Du Passe / Chantent L’avenir / Clair De Lune” and then persists as a snuffling nucleus for augmenting ear-piercing tones and atonal piano splashes. At recording’s end, barely audible swathes of hum and simmer in Novak’s “Time Forgot” take us on a twenty-minute journey that’s even more sub-atomic than Drouin’s.