Colleen, Les Ondes Silencieuses

Philip Sherburne

By Philip Sherburne

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Colleen's first record was made entirely of samples of (mostly) acoustic instruments from old records, and her second featured her own playing — on acoustic guitar, mallet instruments, music box and the like — spun into a gentle buzz. On Les Ondes Silencieuses, though, the instruments hold their ground and the edits become more or less invisible; there's very little that suggests this is an "electronic" album at all.

French minimal acoustic music makes much out of the sounds of silence.

No longer mussed with a shaky Super-8 patina, her music now evinces a patience akin to Morton Feldman's. The title track, essentially a duet for viol de gamba, might have been made with nothing more than two people drawing bows at the same time. "Past the Long Black Land" is trickier. It begins as a simple duet for acoustic guitar and violin; the two voices circle each other slowly, with incredible sadness. The arrival of more voices comes without warning; suddenly the space is full of delicate counterpoints as hard to fix as the floating shapes on your retina; the ballad has become a kind of slow-motion fugue, heartbreak in four dimensions.

Colleen has commented that she was particularly interested in turning to forgotten instruments for Les Ondes Silencieuses, and she cites both the viol de gamba and the martinet (a kind of harpsichord) as examples. The payoff is clear. Not only are both instruments imbued with the warm tone colors of most acoustic instruments; their very scarcity in contemporary music-making means that their limpid timbres virtually jump out of the speakers at us, ever so slightly alien — certainly more alien than your garden-variety glitch might sound. The result is something very much like a "new musical reality."