Alain MARKUSFELD: “Le monde en étages” ******

Recorded 1970


Born into a musical family, this French artist burst into the post-1968 scene with two chefs-d’œuvre which did not age well, because they did not have to.  The music remains the testament to the era which left behind scores of adventurous recordings.  Markusfeld reveled in combining the then unlikely elements – barely nascent rock sensitivity, sensual chanson, very un-pop choral arrangements, and early stage exploration into modern instrumental textures.


There was little continuity in Markusfeld’s output and it is hard to gauge today the extent of his popularity at the time.  With very few exceptions, the accompanying musicians are not known, although his second LP was produced by Laurent Thibault of Magma fame. 


A sidenote.  His first LP, described here, sports Pieter Brueghel’s “Babel” on cover (I do not recall if this brighter original is now in Vienna or in Antwerp).  The 16th c painter enjoyed something of a revival in late 1960 / early1970 record collections, not least thanks to Pearls Before Swine. 



Musique fatidique pour nuages fatigués

The LP begins with a frontal assault by strident acoustic guitar and an inconsequential vocal part, instantly juxtaposed with a choir and a quaint electric guitar.  This is a truly puzzling intro and gives little clue as to what we should expect next.  We believe to be helped by the rhythm section, which alludes to a putative “rock record”.  But then we notice acoustic piano, immersed in deep echo, tuneful harmonics from the guitar and a chorus.  When the track becomes more organized, it is almost over. 


Dans la glue moyenâgeuse

This time the acoustic guitar is scintillating, engraving the appropriate scale for a breezy flute.  There is little doubt that the track was written with the guitar in hand.  When the proper song finally begins, Markusfeld is supported by the chorus, emphatic organ and pastoral guitar.  There is something of the medieval mood we expected from the title, bu the morceau will stagger between dynamic extremities.  Markusfeld shouts and hums and it’s the slowest moments that are played fortissimo.  Conversely, the faster the fragments, the deeper they are mixed down.  There is no time to get accustomed.  Several themes evolve sequentially, apparently with little or no linkage between them.  A bluesy hoedown here, a faster hard rock there.  No respite. 


Dors! Madère

A more traditional song format here – with lyrics about a country of drunks.  The instrumental backing is typical for European soul of that époque – heavy on the organ part.  In refrains, Markusfeld is supported by the light-hearted female choirs, just as Japanese or Eastern European “modernizers” would do back in 1970.  His vocal is slightly distorted by a vibrato, but his overall manner is reminiscent of contemporaneous Melmoth/Dashiell Heydayatt’s recordings.  Piano and guitar alternate in keeping the serene melodic content in this otherwise tight and well thought-out composition.  It eschews the overkill of effects that invaded our auditory system on previous tracks.


La terre se dévore (partie 1)

Good, unpretentious guitar-fronted rock courtesy Denis Lable makes this an instrumental passage of surprising tonal strength.  It is rhythmically too complex and chromatically too harsh to fall into a jazz-rock category, and it remains remarkably competent without being flashy.  Within this basic idiom, there are not many recordings from 1970 that have defied obsolescence thanks to the wealth of chord shifts and unstable velocity. 


La terre se dévore (partie 2)

The supposedly 2nd part of the above track has a very different rhythmic structure, a less sturdy guitarist (Markusfeld himself) and more flowing thematic development.  But then unexpectedly the demonic, female voices throw at us the choral avalanche as if hijacked from J.A.Caesar’s or Tokyo Kid Brothers’ early days.  It is an eerie experience.  One has to keep staring at the record cover just to remember that this is a French, not Japanese record. 


Les têtes molles…

The liquid guitar intro seems to be a brief quotation from Hendrix’s “Burning the Midnight Lamp”.  Other fragmentary tributes will appear later (Jerry Garcia)…  Against a slender pillar of decorative flute and acoustic guitar, Markusfeld’s chant is here more in line with the French tradition that privileges voice over the instrumental content.  Still, this will remain an exception on this album.  Excellent Hammond organ (Jean Schulteis) has a timbre redolent of the Nice or Egg, but there is not place here for any baroque intrusions.  Piano tuning reminds of the first “Renaissance” (then one year old) and will lead us towards a romanticizing theme of a typically Parisian mode.  This is a very pleasant moment, but only for those who do not mind 3 minutes of melancholy in their avant-garde ears.  Well written and well executed.


Actualités spatio-régionales

Markusfeld opens with a recitation delicately posed on a tenuous link between electric guitar and organ.  They are replaced by sinewy acoustic guitar and busy cymbals, until J-C.Michaud’s bass line steps up the tension.  In a parody of a sci-fi newsreel Markusfeld yelps out nonsensical “news”, entangled within the coils of cavernous guitar, rueful piano, granitic organ and sepulchral choirs.  Messianic declamation alternates with flaccid 12-bar codas and the band will keep on until Bernard Duplaix’s bassoon offers us the only 10 seconds of musical comedy. 




Markusfeld followed up with his second opus in a slightly more somnambulant manner and then disappeared.  When he returned 5 years later, his recordings became less naïve, more crisp and instrumentally accomplished, but the innocuous charm of his debut was gone.  He apparently continued to produce into 1980s.


Alain MARKUSFELD: “Le monde en étages” (1970)

Alain MARKUSFELD: “Le son tombé du ciel” (1971)

Alain MARKUSFELD: “Le désert noir” (1977)

Alain MARKUSFELD: “Platock” (1978)

Alain MARKUSFELD: “Contemporus” (1979)


Published in: on May 27, 2008 at 9:09 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. costumes…

    kinda makes you wonder….

  2. Hi there I like your post – good Pierre stuff

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