Ascalaphe: The Hollander Café EP

Ascalaphe: The Hollander Café

Lots to listen to on Fred Debief's Hollander Café discs, with the EP's contents wholly different from the full-length's. The France-based musician, who also issues material under the name Bazaar and recently contributed production assistance to Judith Juillerat's Soliloquy, presents ninety minutes of sample collages that offer a comprehensive portrait of his cinematographic Ascalaphe style.

Throughout the discs, stylistically broad, sample-based weaves borrow from multiple musical genres (classical, 'world,' electronic, gamelan, jazz), films (Naked, Brando's Kurtz surfaces briefly), documentaries (politicians), and field noises (footsteps, voices, roaring engines). Debief's MO often exploits contrast, even antagonism, by pairing a given rhythm, melody, and sound with its opposite. “Millions of Images” offsets orchestral samples with tribal rhythms while “Cat Time” presents a moody brew of strings, hip-hop beats, and, yes, meowing cats (the cut was included on Skam Cats, Skam's two-disc comp based on cat sounds). On the down side, Debief's hallucinatory brew sometimes grows a bit thick (“Insomnia,” “Merry-Go-Round”) and occasionally verges on sludge during the EP's 15-minute “Ending.”

The longer recording is no less dense (“Micro” packs clarinets, rolling breaks, voices, crickets, and piano sparkle into a three-minute intro) yet impresses most when a simpler and more coherent compositional approach is adopted (e.g., “Outers”). “Tokyorama” (a reference to Godard's Alphaville), for example, mirrors the sensory barrage of the city at night but stands out as one of the better pieces for hewing to a driving rhythmic pulse throughout. Slicing its way through a hazy mass of garbled voices and criss-crossing horn lines, a slippery funk groove renders “No Message” memorable too. The recording takes a dramatically dark turn in “Pause” when Debief's samples (orchestral strings, bell strikes, shouting, a voice reporting “There's hundreds of dead here”) shift the spotlight to the war in Afghanistan. The Hollander Café title implicitly references the political dimension of Debief's music, given that the Dutch café acts as a prototypical meeting-ground for peoples of multiple nationalities and backgrounds.

January 2006