A late bump for this double CD of probing electroacoustic works by two fine French composer/improvisors, released by Potlach back in June. With one CD named Marne and the other Seine – presumably because the La Muse en Circuit studios where the duo was recorded stands at the junction of these two watercourses – it’s also no surprise the mysterious, inventive sounds herein evoke all sorts of watery allusions. Marne, with its nine shortish pieces has a gravelly, kinetic feel, its sounds passing by like enigmatic debris tumbling through a brook, the scrunch and hiss of Pascal Battus’s equipment – polystyrene, paper, plastic and the rather wonderfully-titled ‘rotating surfaces’ – bringing a queasy tactility reminiscent of Gino Robair’s work (I’m reminded of his duo with John Butcher, Bottle Breaking Heart Leap, amongst many others). That quality is emphasised by the attentive mic’ing on this disc which brings the duo’s reduced sound world into full, vibrant life. Those rotating surfaces are quite something too, Battus salvaging tiny motors from devices like walkmans, and then using them to coax frictive groans and sighs from his materials. The result is a bristling intensity that coexists with Vicente-Sandoval’s righteous swathes of bassoon very effectively. In Trois,for example, Vicente-Sandoval lays down a disaffected, alien-sounding drone that merges with Battus’s micromechanical whines and growls, before the whole thing erupts into a blurt of distressed plastic-cup squeal. Cinque’s electro-data bursts and jetplane whooshes are similarly entrancing, their brevity only adding to the thrill.
Seine presents six longer pieces, unamplified, and with a widescreen aspect that contrasts with Marne’s up-close business. There are some similarities with the ruminative, extended tones of Kevin Drumm, Lucio Capece and Radu Malfatti’s The Volume Surrounds The Task, released by Potlach around the same time, and anyone who enjoyed that transposition of Wandelweiser-style compositional elegance into an improvisatory context will enjoy this too. Here, Vicente-Sandoval and Battus create challenging, monolithic, enigmatic works, pieces for which fewer words work best and which create a particular type of meditative blankness. Sandoval’s bassoon is restrained and focused, producing hymnal drones that roll out like an eternal plain. Battus is similarly nuanced, replacing the nerviness of the Marne pieces with subtle tonal interventions, sometimes ruffling the surface and edges of Sandoval’s playing, as on Dix, where the duo summon images of helicopters buzzing a distressed mammoth, other times flitting around like mayflies in the sunlight. If the nervy scuffs and hums of Marne are a bustling torrent, Seine is a silty estuary: slow moving, deep, unknowable.