Saturday, August 9, 2008

Philippe Besombes, LIBRA and CESI EST CELA

Pôle, 1974; reissued by MIO with bonus material; out of print, but the CD is fairly easy to find

MIO version: 21 tracks, 75:44

Divox, 1979; reissued by MIO with bonus material; out of print, but the CD is fairly easy to find

MIO version: 10 tracks (11 technically; see review), 79:09 (with hidden track)

Ahhhh, more Pôle-related goodies! As reviewed in a previous post, Philippe Besombes was featured on the astonishing PÔLE album by Besombes-Rizet. LIBRA was another Besombes release on Pôle Records, and while it too is electronic-rock oriented, it's quite a different beast! Originally a soundtrack for a highly experimental film without any other sound (!), LIBRA originally consisted of seventeen tracks, ranging from just under two minutes to barely over six in length. Four of the tracks were written by Besombes' other musicians, and these all stick out. As part of the whole, they're not bad, but the slightly goofy "Tis A Song" and "Boogimmick" really don't add much; "Hache 06" and "Ballade en Velo" are much better additions. Oh, but the Besombes material proper! Everything from primitive synths and organs to sitar and electric guitar shows up in these miniature masterpieces. "La Plage" opens the album and introduces a recurring synth theme (this IS a soundtrackk, remember), surrounded by odd female vocals. "Raggacountry" is a startling synth-and-sitar duet, while "Ceremonie" relies on heavy organ for an unearthly atmosphere. The album alone is a true work of art, but the bonus tracks are very tasty indeed. "Chocolate Cream" and "Tamota Pie Pie" would fit in perfectly with LIBRA proper, "Orgue Hache 06" is seventeen seconds of a single organ chord, and "Piano Prepare" is an absolutely stunning twenty-three minute piece (performed on, you guessed it, a prepared piano!). If Besombes had only recorded this, his legacy would be assured; this is even better than PÔLE!

After recording the Besombes-Rizet album, Besombes got involved with writing pieces for ballet companies (an album of library music was recorded in there as well). In 1979, he released a couple of these as CECI EST CELA ("this is that" in English) on the Divox label. Originally intended to be self-titled (the album art backs this up, and MIO previously advertised this reissue as ESOMBESOMBES!), four of its five tracks are VERY experimental pieces that foreshadow the early industrial scene while simultaneously updating and refining classic electronic techniques. Synths drone and squeal and provide all manner of sounds, accompanied by musique concrete and distorted conversations and monologues. None are as whimsical as LIBRA or PÔLE, but they do show Besombes' by-now signature sound at its peak. Track one, however, is a strange (and rather out of place) comedic disco tune entitled "Princesse Lolita", which was included at Divox's unrealistic request for a hit single. A dialogue between a helium-voiced princess and a distorted dragon, it's a fun song, but it's also very conspicuous in its dissimilarity from the surrounding material. No wonder Besombes allowed MIO to place this track in the negative space before track one! This means you have to search backwards from track one to find it; most listeners will probably never listen to it again after one go (I've only listened to it twice). The bonus material on CESI EST CELA (yes, the reissue is deliberately misspelled; why is beyond me) is divided by year. There are two tracks each from 1972, 1975, and 1976. The '72 material was recorded as a duo with Jean-Francois Dessoliers (the duo was appropriately called PJF), while the latter bonus material shows the evolution from LIBRA to PÔLE to CECI EST CELA. This is definitely Besombes at his most serious and academic, but it's still eons ahead of most contemporaries and a fascinating collection from start to finish.

Anything Besombes-oriented is a must-buy, but the recent closing of MIO can potentially hinder that. As of this writing, Wayside Music (see link on this page) is offerring all three MIO Besombes releases for six dollars each (update: CESI EST CELA is now $16, which probably means the stock is running low, so you should still get it while you can). The mastering is perfect, and the bonus material is worth the purchase alone! Get them now so you don't regret it later!

P.S. While much harder to find, his library music LP LA GUERRE DES ANIMAUX is equally amazing, as are his contributions to the CITY AND INDUSTRY LP.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


Grrr, 1975; reissued by MIO; out of print, but fairly easy to find

MIO edition: CD has 8 tracks, 73:54; DVD has 11 additional audio tracks plus a 42 minute movie, totalling roughly 6 hours (!)

This is the most formidable recording I have yet to review, but here goes anyway. Contained herein is every recording by Jean-Jacques Birgé, Francis Gorgé, and Shiroc. The former two went on to form the equally incredible Un Drame Musical Instantané with Bernard Vitet*, whereas Shiroc never recorded again after this. The first four tracks were the original LP, and when combined with the title they form a political message (I'll let you translate it yourself; wouldn't want to spoil it!). The music is..... well, it's unique, for one. Imagine a cross between the most out-there Sun Ra material, early AMM, a dash of Faust, and some of that French experimental flair. Then imagine a combination of those elements completely devoid of influences. That's fairly close to what you'll find on here! Shiroc's drumming varies from motorik pulses to free-jazz bashing, but is always tasteful and properly mixed with the other instruments. Birgé and Gorgé play an insanely wide variety of instruments; it's so varied, in fact, that a song-by-song instrument list is included! Electric guitar, synths, electric pianos, electric organs, tapes, alto and tenor sax (provided by Antoine Duvernet on two tracks), pipe organ, castanets, stylophones.... get the picture? That's also maybe a quarter of the entire list! Oddly enough, you can usually tell exactly what instrument is providing what sound, and the formlessness of the tracks works to their constantly evolving advantage. The bonus tracks are all leftovers from the album proper. Two of them were replaced with tracks featuring Shiroc, and the other two are alternate takes of "Pourrait Etre Brutal". Unlike most outtakes, these tracks are every bit as great as the album proper. The CD alone is an absolutely unique milestone of the avant-garde. The accompanying DVD, however, is the icing on the cake. Musically it features eleven more tracks, ranging from a fairly short ten minutes to a nearly forty-eight minute live track (also featuring second percussionist Gilles Rollet)! Shiroc, who was on half of the eight CD tracks, is present on every song on the DVD. Some of these "June Sessions" are even better than the album proper, and all of them would have made fine releases on their own. The experimental film "La Nuit Du Phoque" ("Night Of The Seal"), created in 1974 by Birgé and the late Bernard Mollerat, is also a very welcome addition. It's a comedic and surreal piece of art, featuring everything from a clown (I think) singing about "The Militant's Ballet" with a choreographed group of revolutionaries to Sir Isaac Newton scaring children in the park (and ending up stabbed for his troubles) all the way to a very bizarre cabaret performance with odd free jazz backing. It's a true period piece, and the fact that it exists and has been preserved is cause for celebration. Unfortunately, as stated in other reviews, MIO has ceased to exist. That makes this difficult to find, but if you search hard enough you will locate it (hint: Wayside has it for twenty dollars at the time this was written, and Birgé himself has copies for sale alongside classic UDMI material at An absolute must for all avant-garde fans!
*Vitet's LA GUÊPE is very much worth a listen as well!