Francis Dhomont — Les dérives du signe (1996)
Francis Dhomont — Les dérives du signe (1996 / 78:01)
empreintes DIGITALes / Diffusion iMéDIA
Francis Dhomont’s CD Les dérives du signe [The Drift of the Sign] was released by empreintes DIGITALes in 1996. The CD was first released as part of a two disc collection called “Mouvances-Metaphores”. “Les dérives ” contains four tracks: Novars (1989) Chiaroscuro (1987), Meteores (1989) and Signe Dionysos (1986- 91). The booklet that comes along with the CD is generous, and contains a brief biography of Dhomont, commentary on the meaning of “acousmatic” and on the “acousmattitude” of Dhomont (this part, among others, is by composer Francois Bayle), as well as a few paragraphs about each piece and a graphic diffusion score of one piece (score by Claude Schryer). All the text is provided in both English and French.
The first track, Novars, would later be presented as the third part of Dhomont’s four part “Cycle du son.” (At the time of the CD’s release, the other three parts had not yet been created). Novars is an acousmatic piece dedicated to Pierre Schaeffer, the originator of musique concrete. (Musique concrete, as opposed to musique abstraite (music written down to be played later), is made by recording sounds to tape (traditionally) and manipulating the tape in various ways to create a piece.) Novars quotes Schaeffer’s piece “Etude aux Objets” (1959) and Guillaume de Machaut’s “Messe de Nostre Dame” (1364), as well as making reference to Pierre Henry’s “Variations for a Door and a Sigh” (1964). Novars, almost 20 minutes long, opens with a sustaining sound very characteristic of the piece, which undergoes reiterations, spectromorphologic changes, and additions of other quasi-musical sounds for a few minutes before giving way to more percussive elements which sound interestingly like a squeaky door. (Spectromorphology is a term coined by Denis Smalley, meaning the shaping of sound spectra through time.) The door sounds undertake transformations of their own and then the characteristic Novars sound reenters, joined by various percussive sounds and a sustaining background of pitches. This characteristic Novars sound reappears again and again throughout the piece, usually alternated with percussive and otherwise contrasting sections, and is the last sound heard in the piece. The percussive door sounds, as well the sound of a choir, are also recurring. The overall sound of Novars is rather abstract, and occupies an imaginary space that, although not overly fantastical, doesn’t exist in the outer world. Novars is a very cohesive piece largely due to the repetition of sounds and families of sounds, and contrast between the types of sound (sustaining pitched sounds and percussive sounds) provides interest and rounds out the form of the piece.
The next piece, Chiaroscuro, is more than 17 minutes long, and contains varieties of obscure and unidentifiable sounds as well as voice and traditional instrument elements, sometimes fragmented, combined and processed to various degrees of discernibility and other times allowed a very clear musical phrase. Woodwinds run joyfully up a scale about two minutes into the piece, and then a human voice sings, processed and evolving but still very recognizable. These moments of musical and human familiarity are luminous in a piece that is sometimes rather shadowy. The piece’s various sections sometimes overlap and fade into each other, and other times are punctuated by short silences or sharp percussive sounds.
The third piece on the CD, Meteores, is the third movement of a three-movement piece called “Chroniques de la lumiere”. The piece is based on visual imagery of light. It is very acousmatic: that is to say that the sounds contained within it are not identifiable as actually emanating from physical objects or beings present in any known acoustic environment, or as mimicking any such sounds. The sounds generally are quite clear and weightless. The piece undergoes a gradual progression over most of its 13 minutes from relative calm with plenty of space to busier, faster-paced and more crowded sounds. Unlike the previous two pieces on the CD, there are few clearly defined points of punctuation; the main turning point occurs about nine minutes and 15 seconds into the piece. The moving sounds fade out completely and only a very quiet and static sound remains. This sound builds and slides upward in frequencies. The piece has a slightly different character after this point, with long sounds, quasi-musical tones, and sliding pitches replacing shorter, more chaotic sounds.
The fourth and final piece on the CD is less abstract than the others. The first 5 minutes (of over 28) is an intro which sets the scene: a child’s voice and other voices, running footsteps, water splashing, a dog barking. The child exclaims “’y a plein de grenouilles!” Then a car starts up and the people drive away. Bird sounds are heard, and small splashes, and (as the sun goes down, perhaps), the frogs begin to speak. The frogs speak and sing for a long time, perhaps all night. They’re often accompanied by musical or quasi-musical sounds of various types. Through the night the music changes and the frogs sing to fast and slow, orchestral and synthetic, lush and sparse accompaniment. And all throughout and in between the music the frogs, various and many, sing a cappella, sometimes au naturel, sometimes processed, now solo, now in chorus. It’s dramatic, an opera for frogs. Dhomont calls it “operacousmatic between nature and artifice.” His intention is clear and well realized. The opera concludes with an ending like the beginning. The sun comes up, the birds begin to sing and a dog barks in the distance. And then a coda: frogs croak briefly again and sustained tones end the piece.
Although the final piece contrasts with the previous three in the concreteness of its concept, all four pieces mesh rather well sonically and make a sonically consistent CD. For instance, Dhomont’s way of articulating phrases, whether they be punctuated or not, has a certain constancy to it throughout the CD, as does his use of phrases in relation to the form. The phrases and forms are often narrative or musical. As well, the sounds themselves have some similarities in quality, notably in the space that surrounds them texturally. The sounds have a certain friendliness to them, they’re never hard or alienating. The sounds and textures are often complex, always making masterful use of panning and differentiation between the two channels, but never is the work confusing or unclear. “Les dérives ” is sonically if not conceptually cohesive. It’s an interesting and accessible example of excellent electroacoustic work.