HELLEBORE: “Il y a des jours” *****

Recorded 1983-84



Hellebore were initially a quartet of Jean Caël (bass), Antoine Gindt (guitar), Daniel Koskowitz (drums) and Denis Tagu (keyboards).  Initially equipped with Rhodes piano, the band expanded the sound considerably by co-opting Alain Casari on saxophones and clarinet and purchasing a popular crumar synthesizer.  This is the line-up on their only LP, decorated with art work prepared by Colorado’s Mnemonists/Biota.


By the early 1980s, these young French musicians were among the most talented epigones of Rock in Opposition style.  Certainly, they were too young to compete with the British luminaries of the movement.  And yet, the ex-post criticism of their output, often meted out by some of the members themselves, was probably a mite too harsh.  Even today, three decades after Henry Cow’s demise, the musical world is still receiving the dividends from that artistic investment.  There was clearly nothing wrong with this 25 years ago.


Soon after Hellebore folded, Jean Caël launched Szentendre, a short-lived band guided by similar searchlights.  Koskowitz and Tagu initially joined, but soon left.  Four musicians of the quintet also appeared on Look de Bouk’s first LP.  Koskowitz soon rejoined Gindt and Casari in Neo Museum – a logical continuation of Hellebore, if a little more saxophone-fronted.  But that incarnation did not last either.  Koskowitz disavowed the entire scene and made a radical stylistic move towards more pugnacious forms of modern French rock, most prominently with Soixante étages.  Denis Tagu and Jean Caël have continued to charm old and new audiences in the surviving DIY projects Toupidek and Look de Bouk. 



Introduction végétarienne

“There are those days, there are such hours”, proclaims a Reichian voice loop.  Rather than cutting up formants, Hellebore allows the entire phrases to be reproduced, and repeated.  And so, we learn about “the weight of responsibility” and the concerns regarding the financial future.  Still, “vegetarian” it is not.  The tape material is prodded by an emulsion of drums, assorted noise and vinyl crackle.  Slowly harmonic hints are being diffused by Denis Tagu’s electric organ, stiff cowbells, a Cartesian rhythm box, triste piano and leaden-footed electro-beat.  Against this pile-up of orchestration, the melody had to come in higher notes, and come it does, in the form of Antoine Gindt’s surf guitar.  He marinates the emergent theme with delicate, broadly optimistic gestures.  It all happens with a velocity of tired hoofs, allowing Alain Casari’s clarinet to entwine within the constraints of the inelastic tempo and densifying texture, rather than ad libitum.  Jingling cowbells free their partials, carried with non-descript electrified veneer.  A variation on this theme is then performed on piano, clarinet and organ.  Unimpressed, Daniel Koskowitz’s cymbals announce a new movement for a solo guitar, punctured by the axle of a piano playing exactly the same notes.  The effect is warm, and softening, which could be surprising given the difference in prefix characteristics between these two instruments.  The 25-note theme returns with avuncular clarinet.  It is up to the pianist to bring it all down to the stop line. 



Two, lengthy ‘harmonium’ tones are quickly tamed by the cymbals and a guitar introducing another slo-mo, lazy, numbing theme borrowed from late summer.  Jean Caël’s bass is unobtrusive in its solidifying role.  When it speeds up, alto saxophone alternates with (almost forgotten) crumar synthesizer.  An electronic drapery lunges forward in short chunks, allowing the drummer to lose the metronomic precision of the opening.  Stylistically, Casari’s sax merely shadows the synthi-led staccato, even after an obligatory change of time signature.  The harmonic agreement between the saxophone and the keyboard is finally broken by prominence-reordering whispers and dry skin drumming from Koskowitz.  The final subsection is aperiodic, with a clean resolution from the synthesizer, bass and clangorous cymbals. 



A bleak, plaintive intro temporizes through the plasticity of bass-organ-saxophone triad.  The eventual conflagration is sparked by the drums, a capriciously low-tuned guitar and a sandblasting alto sax.  The band zigzags through multi-guitar progressions and saxophone-led interrogations.  But this trendline soon collapses, giving way to keyboard-led blanket morosity.  It is here that an in-your-face box rattling hijacks the spotlight from the predictably a-metric drumming, lumbering bass and a mid-flight saxophone line.  Denis Tagu accelerates on his piano, faithfully traced by Gindt’s guitar mutualism. 


Film di Ripratoria

Fast, if commonsensical saxophone melody interrelates here with a fatalistically joyful guitar.  By comparison, satirical piano arpeggios sound as if collected from another dimension.  When heraldical drums and cymbals join in, the band can no longer fend off the accusation of Henry Cow fanaticism.  A jangly guitar gains prominence over the academically pointillist band, destabilized by arbitrary repression from saxophone blow-outs.  This is almost as good as the Muffins’ take on the British original.  Clapping, skitter, dilapidated drumming, intrusions into piano’s underbelly…  Strings are hammered, powders shaken, hands clapped, surfaces scraped until the guitar and saxophone return with a neutral variant of the opening head. 


Warme Wasser mit Grass

Drum and bass drive in, seemingly with little idea where the theme would lead them.  When Caël’s bass and an entire balustrade of glassy and metallic flickering finally embark on a rhythmic journey, a This Heat-type hairpin takes them down the slope through a blackened, well-oiled connubium of guitar and drums.  At each life-saving turn, a fair amount of repetition resurfaces.  The guitar meows on its own account.  Then it gets dirty, cocky, squawky, occasionally punctured by the reeds.  A drum salvo will close this rockiest of Hellebore’s cuts.


Umanak – Marquis de Saint Circq

Despite Koskowitz’s intelligent space drum presence, this is little more than a smoky piano solo, a lyrical nocturne, a contemplative poem.  A smiling guitar line looks on, a box ticks with soldierly regularity, and Casari’s clarinet knits its windy napkins with inscriptions from 1001 nights.  The structure tends to shift – piano and bass exchange their respective roles with the guitar.  But then a drastic wake-up call clarions: a mountain howl from the Northern Carpathians, powered by an organ squeak.  This apparent tribute to Plastic People of the Universe acts like a shock therapy to overconfident listeners.  The chunks of organ scatter around, oblivious to the saxophone and crumar in overdrive.  Only Caël’s bass still retains the ominous beat calqued from the Jan Hus’ worshippers.  The saxophone, synthesizer and multiplex percussion drizzle off till the very end.



Anachronistic electro-beat and acoustic piano slowly lurk out to witness perky hiking hum.  A romantic juxtaposition of piano and clarinet injects a static ornament.  A keyboard duo of organ and crumar sizzles aimlessly, with bass overdrive piercing through with abstract splashes of color.  The organization around some eternally renewable energy pays off.  When piano chords die out, the rhythm box and keyboard march out on the stepping stones to dynamic resolution.  The drum machine, synthesizer and cowbells re-anchor on the closing theme.  Tagu improvises on the modal piano, compressing the range focus.  But the moods revert.  On the back of a fatuous nursery rhyme clanked out by the piano and clarinet, a martial rhythm of drums, piano and guitar trundles through, prompted by Casari’s war calls on alto.  It is precisely the lone saxophone that survives on the battlefield. 


Ce sont des choses qui arrivent

What happens when a pianist, a saxophone player and a percussion virtuoso meet?  Nothing.  You need a guitarist to lead them from their abstract maze.  When that happens, the saxophone runs may be brief, epigrammatic and self-limiting but they remain structurally decisive nonetheless.  The track concludes with a sumptuous piano fragment captured in a space whose acoustics brings back the childhood memories of intimidating concert halls.


Eclaté / 3ème / après

Saxophones second an infantile, rhyming beat.  The organ slices chunk after chunk.  For a logical solution to the set, the ‘chalk against the whiteboard’ scrape is coming a little late.  Hoofsteps clock along.  And then, at long last, a Grande Finale is ushered by the band in full glory and in a rather melodious mood: the saxophones, mandolin, bass, and piano. 


(On side B, the track description on the insert differs from the one provided on the label; consequently, the comments above may not adequately correspond to musicians’ original intentions).





HELLEBORE: “Il y a des jours” (1983-84)

SZENTENDRE: “Un tour gratuit” (1985)

NEO MUSEUM: “Volume 1. Nouvelles ethnologiques de l’obscure museum” (1985-86)


Hellebore’s tracks also appeared on compilations: “Douze pour un” (1982), “Voices Notes and Noise” (1983).  Szentendre can be found on “Douze pour un vol.2” (1986), and Neo Museum on “Rencontres du premier type.  Strasbourg, Vandoeuvre, Reims” (1985) as well as “Douze pour un vol.2” (1986).


Fans of Hellebore should also seek out Look de Bouk’s debut LP:


LOOK DE BOUK: “Lacrimae rerum” (1985)

Published in: on September 1, 2008 at 7:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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ROCK CRITICS: “TV Show” ******

Recorded 1982


This short-lived project was the brainchild of Luc Marianni (keyboards) and Jean-François Papin (guitars, bass).  Before embarking on a phenomenal sonic journey, both were apparently music journalists in France.  They proposed cunningly knotted electronic instrumentals, seamlessly segueing magnetic narratives punctuated by intelligent use of intriguing excerpts from popular media and elegant multitracking.  The tireless torrent of mysterious fantasias would undergo scale invariant dilation in which contrived electronic parameters sound almost spontaneous. 


The experimental duo, accompanied by additional musicians, left two records.  Luc Marianni later recorded solo, initially employing an equally tasteful, ionized medium. 



Rock News

The LP begins at the very low end of the dynamic range.  From the silence burgeons acoustic piano (Patricia Albertini), and then electric organ.  Suave guitar interrogates this combination.  A different, psycho-acoustic guitar cascades idly in an empty room.  Tardily, this amorphous, ambient wave becomes more audible.  A lethargic, mid-afternoon synthesizer swings drowsily.  A sudden swat from a hand drum and a tense, yet still apathetic guitar line notify us of the impending mutations.  Poorly tuned second guitar struggles to echo this note.  When it fails, it is substituted by a more determined guitar in a (Snakefinger-ish) higher range.  An obsessive piano supplies the rhythm in fours.  We observe an increasingly emotional dialogue between the two guitars – one chaotic and hysterical, the other one posed and rational.  They alternate in their statements, but sometimes try to dominate the exchange.  The holistic dynamic swells minimalistically – striking roots in the proximity of a surreptitious keyboard scale.  At least two of the three instruments patronize the beat, but it is up to an intrusive organ chord passage to bring a rhythmic change.  The tempo doubles.  The regularity remains, but the proportions change.  The drum will always be there, unobtrusive, but unequivocal.  ‘Residential’, wordless sloganeering introduces a menace.  The fuzzed guitar improvises freely against the organ/piano rhythm pattern.  If Thierry Muller used such hydroplaning rhythmic loops then this is how his Ilitch could have evolved.  An echoing vocal cuts through this electro-sphere, but only to emphasize the increasingly fast guitar phrasing.  Endlessly interlocking guitar vortices are too fast to be trippy and too extramundane to be tribal.  But they sure are hypnotic.  A form of hyper-competitive systemic bravura for cyber dervishes ?  Finally, a murky, but carefree piano exercise slows things down.  Austenitic steel strings and a prosaic rhythm box patting take a while to vanish underneath. 


TV Show

Here again, acoustic piano opens, effete and inarticulate.  It is joined by blithe percussion.  A tragic biographical text is being read, but breaks down in mid-sentence.  A tranquil piano theme continues in autumnal mode, without ever developing into a hummable tune.  A very 1980s’ (Wire, Cure) manipulated guitar synchronizes with the piano, somewhat superfluously.  The permeable piano turns nonchalant whereas the occasional texts become warbled and indistinguishable.  Synthesized percussive effects swish around.  Anti-melodic, detached vocal hesitates between DDAA-like condensation and Damo Suzuki’s manic stress on second syllable.  The keyboard cum piano theme is now almost pastoral, never too far from Dominique Lawalree’s ‘nonbient’ creations.  More abstract passage will juxtapose the same downcast piano and earnestly alarming, highly pitched electric guitar.  Many tapes will be overlaid here – microtonal slices of synthesizer, doubtful choral wailing, a grandfather clock, ceremonial children’s choirs, deviant Hawaiian guitars.  This cut is dedicated to German band Faust.


Love Rock

The LP ends with this short vignette for sustained notes of a dim, muzzled organ and water droplets.  Slowly unfolding, almost phlegmatic acoustic guitar explores this register, enveloping something of a refrain.  But each reprise will differ slightly, until the eventual extinction. 




Rock Critics left only two oeuvres and several contributions to early 1980s’ compilations.  Luc Marianni’s early solo recordings are equally recommended, even though their rhythmic structures are less pronounced.  Sonic Asymmetry will return to these recordings one day.


ROCK CRITICS: “Pile ou face” (1980)

Luc MARIANNI: “Souvenir du future” (1980)

ROCK CRITICS: “TV Show” (1982)

Luc MARIANNI: “DG Portrait” (1982)

Luc MARIANNI: “Voyage vers l’harmonie” (1982)


Luc MARIANNI: “Six Synthetic Suites” (1985-1986)


Marianni continued to record, but what I heard from his later output was too embarrassing to be included here.  





Published in: on June 6, 2008 at 6:42 am  Leave a Comment  
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DDAA: “Nouveaux bouinages sonores (dans la période)” ******



Recorded 1990-1992


The legendary French trio of Jean-Luc André, Jean-Philippe Fée and Sylvie Martineau made their debut in the late 1970s and quickly established a dominant position on the then vibrant international cassette scene.  Their label Illusion Productions and their studio Souterrain Scientifique became the marks of defiant creativity.  DDAA – Déficit des Années Antérieures – specialized in neo-modernist collages, drowned in obsessive, organically mixed rhythmic patterns of both human and looped origin.  It is in the instantly recognizable character of these loops – soluble, ductile and reversible – that DDAA made a lasting contribution to 20th century avant-garde rock.


At the beginning of their career, DDAA exhibited fascination with early-stage mechanization and with 20th century Japonisme.  Both motifs interacted gracefully in short, ironic songs and in more extended compositions.  Although the band was on the cutting edge of post-punk avant-garde and frequently appeared on compilations next to such luminaries as Nurse with Wound, Merzbow, Organum, Smegma or P16D4, the trio’s style was always more melodic and eschewed caustic aggression of post-industrial mannerism. 


DDAA remains virtually unknown outside France and little known inside the ‘Hexagone’.  Nevertheless, its historic importance can hardly be overestimated.  The band’s copious heritage deserves a book rather than a mere article.  This is just a timid beginning.


(The titles reproduced here may not correspond exactly to the subdivisions of the single track on this CD)


Chants et tambours Maracayace d’Ankazoabo à Morafénobé

The vacillating intro ushers us into the space filled with scraped strings and various haptic modules tampering with oblong metallic fiber.  Behind us, a distorted voice explodes into spasmodic sneeze.  It will return every 14 seconds as our senses struggle to distinguish a distant factory siren from a ritualistic Tibetan trumpet.  The deadpan sneeze and the siren recur in a mid-tempo loop, while the scraping and fumbling of guitar strings continues its abstract ruminations.


Chant de guerre

Subterranean, volumetric bass figure will carry here a mutilated voice uttering unrecognizable phrases.  Emergent howling confuses us again – are these passionate soccer fans or a South-East Asia’s professional mourners?  These unrelated vocal elements will synchronously fall into a looped pathway.  Uninvited, a buzzing harmonica squeezes itself into this organic whole, but dissolves before a disaffected recitation in English reminds us of 1980s British new wave vocal mannerisms.  Fully immersed in the loops, the lyrics are not audible.  Meanwhile regular waves of French phrases approach us with a bombastically scientific, eggheady attitude.  Acoustic guitar accentuates the polygonal rhythmic engine.  Then, for a moment, a very argumentative female voice flickers. 


La chute de Miandrivazo

It turns out that the self-important “scientific voice” was about wedding preparations.  To the squeaks of a cheap organ and children’s calls, a Francophone robot proclaims “I hear a noise”.  The observation is correct.  The mechanistic rhythm is now more terrestrial, interspersed with industrial noises.  A friend once remarked that 1980s’ DDAA sometimes sounded like a more avant-gardish Cabaret Voltaire would have if it had continued to develop artistically, rather than imploded commercially.  This could be one of these moments.  The aural fabric is embroidered with the multiplicity of voices – anguished commentaries, admonishments, collective doubts and arguments – their contrasted prosody enriches the texture of this fragment.  Martial drums briefly compress the invariant flux, echoing classic Test Dept., but lacking the UK band’s intensity.  Various percussive divagations intervene and occasionally it seems that the porous guitar would become more prominent, but it is all too soon eroded by the transgressive tape overdrive. 


Halte au feu

The next section opens with scuttling percussives, both acoustic and electronically processed.  The form gradually coagulates until the familiar, gritty baritone looms.  His conceited lines are among DDAA’s most directly recognizable trademarks (unfortunately, I never know if this is Jean-Luc or Jean-Philippe). 


Passage de Makay

It takes several minutes before the improvised patting is displaced by a female vocalise, overlaid over and above an old patriotic invocation reproduced from an old 78rpm record.  Various other tapes descend on us.  Sylvie Martineau intones a fragile melody with her petite voice.  Loose metal sheets and unidentified mechanical objects tamper with her efforts to reach our auditory system.  Dull sheets of flailing noise periodically distract us from the overall repetitive format of this section. 


De Mauja à Mahabo

An entirely unexpected recorder (Bernard C.?) announces a change of scene.  A bubbly, high-pitched rhythm box and a mandolin will lead us onto other, spectral pastures.  In the record’s strongest passage, a kaleidoscopic revue of distant memories will pop up, lubricated by an elastic, well-defined loop.  First street marching bands and a maître de céremonie who exhorts the “crowd” to move back.  Later, various official announcements convey a sense of superfluous, Gallic pomp.  They, in turn, will be interspersed with snippets of overexcited sports commentators bent on athletic, machine gun verbal über-performance.  A late-night hard-bop moment overshadows a West African choir.  A static Buddhist ceremony, immobilized by bells and trumpets; a subglacial new age flute; guttural religiosity of monks’ prayers; Indian radio songs…  Some of these elements will filter through as mere forays, but others will morph into a colossal orogeny of sounds.  A shamanic chant stays with us a little longer, with organ and tambourine accentuating the instrumental paucity in stark contrast to the accretive value of the looped effects. 


Ils s’apperçoivent un grand machin mobil

Without interrupting the flow, this part now segues into a polyrhytmic sequence of Karnatic percussion and mantric voices.  Droney choir refurbishes the meditative building blocks of Gong’s early achievements, augmented here by untuned brassy percussion, and then breathy scraping of non-resonant metal sheets.  Equally dull clatter is the only permanent feature here.  The passage is so dense and polymetric that it is impossible to fathom what kind of rhythmic loop would eventually emerge.  And indeed, we have to wait for the band’s very straightforward drumset, Casio and synthesized effects to find a rhythmic clue.  The orthogonal loops operate at varying speeds. 


Un vrai morceau joue de manière fausse

Silence.  Bizarre…  A magical, melodic line emanates from the mandolins, electric bass, sustained viola and soft-clipped electric guitar.  Airy bongos are here to add some chroma, rather than improve on the reining loop’s rhythmic dominance.  The guitar improvises at the center.  The sepulchral viola responds to each of the guitar’s opening chords.  Slow recitation in English ensues.  The solemnity of the voice is crowded with guitar and electronic effects while the granular rhythmic structure becomes more pronounced and distinctive.


Quelque chose d’assez obscur

The final eight minutes take us for a much less abstract exercise of percussive cohesion and a vaguely melodic recitation in English.  The phrases, barely understandable, fall perfectly within the meter determined by the drums and the guitar loop.  A delicate metallophone adds decorative accents over the topmost layer. 


Les 4 soleils à l’horizon

The poignant, unmusical voices will intone a sad song with a faux harmonium sound from a modern keyboard, accompanied by an occasional drum thud and metallic scuttle’n’scrape.  The journey ends here.




DDAA’s discography is extensive and not easily available.  Many of the older productions are screaming for a re-edition on CD.  I strongly recommend in particular all the recordings from the first five years of activity (1979-1984) and from the period 1990-2001.  In addition to the records, cassettes and CDs listed below, the band produced a wealth of shorter compositions published on international compilations, including the famed “Masse Mensch”, “Douze pour un”, “Voices Notes and Noise”, “Bad Alchemy no 10”, “Strength”, “Three Minute Symphony”, “Paris-Tokyo” and “Sensationnel Journal no.1”.  Some, although not all of these songs appeared on the band’s own collections.  The trio is occasionally active to this day.


DDAA: “Déficit des années antérieures” MC (1979)

DDAA: “Miss Vandann” SP (1979)

DDAA: “Front de l’Est” 2SP (1980)

DDAA: “Aventures en Afrique” SP (1980)

DDAA: “Live in Acapulco” 2MC (1980)

DDAA: “Action and Japanese Demonstration” (1982)

DDAA: “Prehistoric rejet” MC (1983)

DDAA: “5ème anniversaire” EP (1984)

DDAA: “Les ambulents” (1984)

DDAA: “Objet” (1983-1985)

DDAA: “Lernen 5.  Submusic” MC (1984-1985)

DDAA: “La familles des saltimbanques MC (1984-1985)

DDAA: “When a Cap is Rising” (1982-1986)

DDAA: “En concert” MC (1983, 1986)


DDAA: “Ronsard” (1988)

DDAA: “Otez votre jeunesse” SP (1988)

DDAA: “Les Corbusier buildings” SP (1988)

DDAA: “Nouvelles constructions sonores sur fondations visuelles” MC (1988)

DDAA: “Bruit son petit son” (1990-1991)

DDAA: “Nouveaux bouinages sonores dans la période” (1990-1992)

DDAA & J-F.PAUVROS: “De Gaulle à Bayeux, un opera Maracayace” (1994)

DDAA: “Baggersee” MCD (1995)

DDAA: “La conférence Maracayace” (1994, 1999)

DDAA: “20 ans de vieille musique nouvelle” (1994, 2001)

Published in: on June 3, 2008 at 9:59 pm  Comments (3)  
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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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PALO ALTO: “Asphodèles de l’asphalte” ****

Recorded between 1989 and 1992


Palo Alto was a French quartet active in the 1990s. Denis Frajerman, Jacques Barbéri, Philippe Perreaudin and Philippe Masson successfully reconciled two distinct musical traditions – quintessentially Gallic miniatures and a very un-French approach to studio processing. The results were stupefying. The pictorial depth of their recordings could only be matched by Denis Frajerman’s solo adventures. Their rich, phantasmagorical paysages were populated by odd shapes and eerie shadows. This was rock electronics of volcanic creativity.


The band disappeared from sight around 2000. More recently, a number of archival recordings saw the light of the French day (with, regrettably, little light anywhere else). The collection presented here was among them.


After several cameo appearances on various tribute records (Ptose, Coil), the band resurfaced live and finally published a new CD in late 2007. They seem to be active again, publishing music, video and books.


Le chant posthume

Self-declared overdrive bass opens the record as if evoking the zeuhl heritage. Il n’en est rien. This piece and the entire record will be strongly rooted in the then inescapable tradition of post-new wave stylisms and Residents-like nightmares. Following a sequence of faux tubular bells, a quasi hysterical female vocalism sidetracks our attention. But instead, a slow progression on keyboards remains stuck in pentatonic scale. The “song” closes with unsettling ingressive vocal sounds.


Asphodèle de l’asphalte

Mechanical mambo jolts from the rhythm box, accompanied by a very juicy electric bass which will define the record’s title piece. This simple repetitive melody will see no development, despite, or may be because of a somewhat anemic Middle Eastern phrasing.


Madame la charcutière

This is little more than an epigrammatic piano vignette. Two female voices, courtesy Claire and Nathalie, turn the nascent melody into a non-sequitur.


Séquence 4

Manipulated, growling voices open this sequence. Deeper, subharmonic layers provide a canvas for sharp snippets of alto sax loops. Independently, percussive pattering envelopes a sketchy keyboard melody and grows in intensity, but will not obscure the melodic line.


Les flots sont moins bleus que les sables

After an all-too-short intro on maghrebian recorder, over-familiar electronic pulse zooms in. Luckily, hyperactive balalaika soon floods us with rapid figures, contending for space with vaguely Middle Eastern harmonics. It is then substituted by a pre-dawn clarinet. One searches for references to Joseph Racaille, but in vain.



Formulaic tune played by Denis Frajerman on multi tracked keyboards in a shrugging Klimperei style.


Monsters are Bach

We revisit the Residents recipe – marching aliens, distorted voices at triple speed and mechanic reversals of muscular electro-feedback. Squeezed into this stomping, the keyboard theme is actually less straightforward than in the previous pieces.



Innocuous rhythm box hails from deep in the 1980s – an unabashedly new wavy reminiscence. Were it not for the spastic balalaika in the background, the tune could almost be adorned with affected vocals à la the Cure.


Paysage: nul chant d’oiseau

Simplistic electronic meter chops about for another meal of pentatonic figures. But then we are reached by austere effects of untuned strings. The resonating twang evokes African kora, but we should not be misled, as the sound apparently emerges from a cheap keyboard that Philippe found at a flea market. The mixed-down balalaika returns, bridging those dull pizzicato explorations with the mutant rhythm.


Musique de l’enfer 1

The ghastliness of this miniature will barely attain the standard of the B-movie. The somewhat ramshackle beat will brake before we have even noticed.


Musique de l’enfer 2

This is a more exploratory dance macabre, adorned with echoing alto sax. The morbid, electronic pulse recalls, this time again, the Residents.


Avant la naissance

This number is based on a procedure well known since 1960s – a tape recording, here with a text in French, cut short and sent through a loop. After several seconds, the repetition graces us with an irregular rhythm until new loops of other conversations and radio announcements are overlaid on top. Fortunately, the collage never becomes too dense. After nearly 3 minutes this sonic sauce is supplemented by a heavily processed source of electronic origin, but it will not materially alter the original theme. Henceforth, the track develops along two surfaces. Jacques Barbéri’s strident alto saxophone cuts through this mass until the electro-throb returns and drowns out all the other contributions.



The next two compositions present Palo Alto as a quintet and are more consciously developed. Here melodramatic recitation by Marie-Laurence Amouroux extrudes phonemic values from the interplay of pre-programmed rhythm-box and a warm bass clarinet. The alto saxophone, as often on this collection, soars independently. Philippe Masson multiplies the grating mechanical beats.


Le pont

Another anti-chanson. This one approaches the style developed several years before by Alesia Cosmos. The stripped down female voice seems to be slowing down the hesitant theme. The reeds contribute sparsely to the overall cartoonish image.


La quatuor vocale

The last recording is something of a throwaway – an experiment of a multi-tracked vocal contributed by Philippe Perreaudin.




All those who wish to uncover Palo Alto’s other jewels, here are some recommendations:


PALO ALTO: Le close (1990)

PALO ALTO: Grand succédanés (1992)

PALO ALTO: Asphodèle de l’asphalte (1989-1992)

PALO ALTO: Excroissance (1993) MC

PALO ALTO: Trash et artères (1993-1994)

PALO ALTO: Le disque dur (1996)

PALO ALTO: Trans Plan (1998 )

PALO ALTO / KLIMPEREI: Mondocane (1995-2000)

PALO ALTO: Terminal sidéral (2005-2007)

VARIOUS ARTISTS: Pogs Box (2001), remixes

Denis FRAJERMAN: Mandibules (1990, 1994) MC

Denis FRAJERMAN – PALO ALTO Solo: Le souffle du vide (1992-1995)

Denis FRAJERMAN: Drosophiles (1995) MC

Denis FRAJERMAN – Jacques BARBERI – PALO ALTO: Le nom des arbres (1996)

Denis FRAJERMAN: Les suites Volodine (1997)

Denis FRAJERMAN: Fasmes vol.1 (1997)

Denis FRAJERMAN: Macau Peplum (1996-1999)