Born on Réunion Island in the late 70’s, Bérangère Maximin studied electroacoustic composition in Lyon with Denis Dufour, the pioneer of acousmatic music. Dufour, in turn was a pupil of musique concrète originator Pierre Schaeffer. So Maximin evidently has a rich insight into France’s rich history of innovation in musique concrète, electroacoustic and acousmatic music. And it feeds into her music, but it doesn’t define it.
Although she made her first tape works with only Revox recorders and a mixing board, Maximin came of age in the era of repetitive beats, just as electronic music entered the mainstream of art music. In a recent interview for The Quietus, she cites as influences not just musique concrète and the electroacoustic repertoire – Bayle, Ferrari, and Radigue – but also early electronica and glitch; artists such as Pan(a)sonic, Mouse on Mars, and Autechre.
You can hear all of these influences in Maximin’s music, albeit filtered and redux. It also echoes aspects of the more subtly disquieting and cerebral end of the dark ambient spectrum, cf. Thomas Köner and, more particularly, :Zoviet*France:.
John Zorn reacted to an unsolicited demo of Maximin’s music by issuing her first album on Tzadik in 2008. If Tant Que Les Heures Passent (As Long As The Hours Go By) showcases her roots in Parisienne new music, her association with Tzadik introduced her to the New York ‘downtown’ scene, and that led to collaborations with a string of innovative guitarists: her second album, No One Is An Island (Sub Rosa, 2012) features collaborations with Fennesz, Rhys Chatham and Richard Pinhas, and she’s played live numerous times with Fred Frith.
Dangerous Orbits (Made To Measure), is Maximin’s fourth album. Like her last, Infinitesimal (Sub Rosa, 2013) it marks a fairly introspective turn, perhaps the result of Maximin now recording primarily in her own Home Sweet Home Studio.
There are just five pieces on this 70 minute album, most running to around 12 minutes. The first, “Cracks”, is typically understated, founded on a loop like a vinyl album’s locked groove, sped up to create from susurration both insistency and a beat. Embellishing electronics play in aqueous ripples or skate scratchily across the music’s surface, while, in the background, an opaque but subtle but constant whorl plays, which seems to soak everything up.
Maximin says: “(I) record sounds in an isolated environment, play with all sorts of everyday objects very close to the microphone…reveal(ing) other colours and morphologies which take them out of the original context.” She then looks for: “a few seconds of out-of-tune lyricism, some dissymmetry, density, dissonance or…another strong characteristic…to develop.
“I’ve gone further into the idea of waves – the comings and goings in the mix, the progressive evolution of the melody, the nuances that can be created with an organ or piano volume pedal: a ‘bellows effect’ or a breath. I have kept on working with arch forms and symmetry, the release being as important as the crescendo, the resolution being as progressive as the build-up before the central climax.”
Progressive evolution describes the music well, because these pieces do evolve, though they may seem fairly static. “Glow” is typical, with its intermittent gong-like pulses enveloped in wreaths of electroacoustic sound, which evokes the breathiness of in- and exhalation perhaps more than the ebb and flow of waves, and only gradually assumes more substance than smoke or vapour. Through this, wind-chime echoes of industrial clangor sound ever more proximate, only to slip back out of focus.
“A Day Closer” comprises a muzzy fog of clearly identifiably human breath sounds and others not so easily placed: scrapes and chinks of metal or glass and multi-layered process ambience, all married to an inexorable mechanical throb. Of the pieces here, it’s the one most explicitly rooted in audio concrète.
At 21:33, “OOP (Our Own Planet)” is the album’s longest and most expansive cut. Incorporating exotic birdcall and insect stridulations at the start, it flirts with tropical ambience but can’t escape the pull of the thrumming, rhythmic drone that plays in various forms throughout the album. “OOP” does, however, achieve a gravity that nothing else here does, thanks to a slow, viscid, rotary loop that makes it a dark ambient relation of Oval’s glitch-skittery “Do While”.
On “No Guru Holds Me”, a drone emerges from a sine-thin tone, then goes from cold and thin to deep and resonant and back again. There are more of those irruptive scrapes, chinks and smashed glass sounds, a cello intermittently plays a simple threnody, and what sounds like distorted smears of muted trombone adhere stickily to a monotone thread of sound. That looping locked groove from “tracks” comes back into play too. There’s a lot going on in here, as in layers of memory that rub up against awareness of sounds bleeding in from present consciousness.
This recurrence of motifs and elision of sonic strata give Dangerous Orbits its sense of coherence. They provide purchase, but don’t resolve anything. This makes it really satisfying when the listener’s subconscious is already active, as in a reverie or state of half-sleep.
Bérangère Maximin “sound objects, microphonics, digital chimeras, voice.”
Buy Dangerous Orbits direct from Crammed Discs.