Heretics is a collaboration between sound artist Anne-James Chaton, ex-Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore, and Ex guitarist Andy Moor. It was first performed live at the Theatre de Saint Nazaire in 2015, then recorded at Parisian sound-art centre La Muse en Circuit.
The standard package includes an audio CD, a book of texts, and a DVD containing a fly-on-the-wall documentary of Heretic‘s prep. A $200 signed special edition also includes an original print by each artist. Or there’s the bare digital option, obvs.
The core is a series of text-and-art-noise portraits of a motley crew of schismatic-thinking heretics: Burroughs, inevitably, looms large in the company of John Lydon, painter/brawler Caravaggio (“the father of modern painting”), Jose Mujica, the Uruguayan urban guerrilla-cum-“world’s ‘humblest’ president”, and 18th century libertine aristocrat Marquis de Sade.
The words, thoughts and influence of these figures are rendered as poetic texts, mostly by Chaton, though both Moore and, in one case, Moor also contribute texts.
Chaton often works with found texts. He once ‘derived’ a piece from the listed contents of someone’s wallet. I liked that, but the Hertetics texts are of a higher order, and occasionally lengthy (on the page at least – in some cases, the audio incorporates only extracts), so it’s a shame I lack the language skills to understand most of them (if your French is good, you’ll be OK).
Sadly, there are no text translations in the book or online, nor any subtitled translations on the DVD. Worse, there’s no ascription, even where direct quotes are used (as I assume they are, but perhaps not). The upshot is, I can’t judge or comment on the work in depth.
Chaton’s collaboration with Moor is more than a decade long. Ken Vandermark described their duo spot at The Ex’s celebratory 33.3 Festival at Cafe Oto in 2012 (a night I missed, natch.) as “stunning” (there’s an excerpt on the 33.3 Festival DVD). They seem ready, in the DVD, to defer to accommodate Moore, but “Clair Obscur” is just them, and Moor’s part in it is simple but perfectly-pitched, in its rhythm and momentum, to carry Chaton’s measured accentuation.
On the preceding, opening cut, “Tout Ce Que Je Sais”, Moore plays, against Moor’s firm chords and Chaton’s even narration, a brittle melody in high notes that any Sonic Youth aficionado will instantly recognise. “Coquins Coquettes et Cocus” is close in effect to early SY, and “Casino Rabelaisien” is a piece on which fervid SYian sparks fly.
But the balance of personalities is actually even, and the trio evidently took great care to make the performances as seductive as possible, so the abrasiveness that Moore/Moor improvisations typically spark remains mostly implicit – the exception being “The Things that Belong to William”, a dual-narrative riff on Burroughs tropes (“He saw a Paregoric Kid… // A retired abortionist and junk pusher”), which begins and ends in violent eruptions of freestyle amplified guitar.
Chaton’s delivery isn’t emotionless, but it is without affectation. His cadences set the tone, and the music’s sweet spot is often the tension between his control and the urge to expression of the twinned guitars.
On “Dull Jack” it’s Chaton and Moor who play grinding and chiming guitar, as Moore recites variations on “Did the DULL BOY make you SLACK JACK”. They also combine more sensitively behind Moore’s reading (in English) of his own poem, “Le Songe De Ludwig” – a fragile and atmospheric album highlight.
It’s not all voice and guitar though. “Poetry Must be Made by All” features Chaton and Moore’s lo-fi rhythmic electronic backing of Moore’s recital of his own poem, and the three voices on “Eretic”, including Jose Mujica’s, are cassette playbacks—Mujica’s “personal story: that of a boy who wanted to change other his time and his world after the dream of a classless libertarian society”—offset by unexplained listings of heretics and demonic inspirations (“inspired by NAMTAR / inspired by NERGAL,” etc.). It sounds good, but any meaning is elusive.
On the last cut, “Concoctions”, Moore studs Chaton’s reading of what seem to be alchemical recipes with alternative music lyric fragments, all set to Moor’s slow-crawl electronics.
On tracks like that one, some of the playfulness that’s apparent elsewhere—as in Thurston’s simple “Heidsieck’s Chords”, on which the guitars strum chords, E, D, A, etc., called out as initials from a list of authors’ names— seems AWOL.
The DVD illuminates things somewhat, but in an oddly detached way, providing no form of commentary or elucidation. It focuses on the rehearsal process, but also includes a few glimpses of additional performance material, such as a piece that involves Moore reciting a transcript of Bill Grundy’s Pistols interview in artless monotone.
It’s a nice package, neatly presented. The fact that I don’t entirely ‘get’ it doesn’t prevent my enjoyment on a purely musical level, and I’m intrigued enough to want to delve, translate and decode its texts further. If I don’t like what I then piece together, there’s a handy cover-mounted match, and a patch of sandpaper texture on the sleeve, so I can make the work complete, as I’m implicitly invited to, by burning it.
Anne-James Chaton voice, guitar, electronics; Andy Moor guitar, electronics, voice; Thurston Moore voice, guitar.
Thurston Moore with Tom Raworth, Alex Ward & Steve Noble at Cafe Oto, 20 March 2012.
The Ex – 33⅓ Festival Live at Cafe Oto, ‘And so Say all of Us’ (DVD).
Thurston Moore – Sonic STREET Chicago.
Buy Heretics direct from Unsounds.