Situated somewhere between late 19th century choral music and the as-yet-unheard sounds of the cosmos, this tape of improvisations from Delphine Dora and Sophie Cooper is truly a thing of wonder. Recorded in Todmorden Unitary Church in Yorkshire, the duo combines organ, trombone, percussion, electronics and wordless vocals to create a suite of finely-spun yet diamond-tough pieces, with the lovely warm echo of the church itself providing the final, essential element in the mix.
There’s something completely transporting about this album that makes it a winner, one of the standouts in label Was Ist Das?’s already formidable discography. Those vocals, wordless, enigmatic and beautiful, are definitely part of it, their ineffable shimmer seeming wholly alien and totally human at the same time. They cast a glistering web that seem to reveal the immutable laws of the universe, stars and planets revolving like brass models as those same incantations, almost shamanic in nature, bind them together in their eternal pirouettes.
Things gel beautifully on The Former Residents, with the initial Satie-esque organ figure recalling, for me, anyway, the beautifully broken melody of Gabriel Yared’s C’est le vent betty, which older readers may remember from Jean-Jacques Beineix’s 37° 2 le matin, aka Betty Blue. Instead of providing an ominous foreshadowing of mental breakdown and death (oops, spoilers), here that melody becomes an ostinato, a launch pad for transcendence, the wordless vocals of Dora and Cooper spiralling up and around in the empty, resonant chamber. Late on, a second organ line joins in, higher this time, but no less gorgeous and gauzy, hanging in space for an all-too-brief moment before everything dissolves into air.
Such beauty isn’t always consoling. Saturation Melody shifts away from tonality into something more alien, the eerie coos emphasised by ominous organ and trombone drones. Later a metallic loop of electronics hints at the terrifying power behind the spectacle.
That near-liturgical echo in combination with the celestial vibrations of the duo’s voices integrates what could be a disparate sonic palette across the whole album. Without it, the brassy parps of the trombone on Les Differences S’unissent, for example, might well have unbalanced the delicate dynamic at work here. Instead, it acts as an overture for what’s to follow. Likewise the percussion on Interlude#2, whose hollow clunks provide a positively earthy groove that’s in sharp in contrast to the airy lightness of the rest. But it still works. After all, even angels (or pan-dimensional cosmic beings, if you prefer) need to spread their wings and shimmy sometimes.
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