Pierre Bastien: Visions of Doing
Western Vinyl

I first encountered the music of Pierre Bastien entirely by accident when I witnessed his performance at MUTEK 2006. Never having heard of the man before, I was completely taken aback by the sight of Bastien methodically and patiently constructing in real time mechanical, electric motor-driven machines that, when assembled, produced musical set-pieces. It was a festival highlight, the kind of eye-opening experience you always hope you'll have at such affairs but so rarely do. Bastien's thirty-seven-minute Visions of Doing provides a largely auditory follow-up to that experience, which is in itself a tad disappointing since it's the rare case when an artist's music cries out for a DVD presentation (a video extract from the Doing-Bastien collaboration Four Eyes is, however, included).

In this particular case, it would be easy to imagine at least two video treatments: Bastien's erector-set activities in action or, given that the nine tracks comprising Visions of Doing are selections from Bastien's soundtracks to Karel Doing's films, footage of the films themselves—Energy Energy, Images of a Moving City, East, and Getijden—would be an even more natural choice. Nevertheless, the tracks themselves retain to some degree the clockwork, metronomic percussive character of his music though characterizing it as such doesn't acknowledge the human dimension that's present in the form of the muted trumpet playing that often appears as a solo voice (e.g., “The American on the Highway”). Bastien's oft-melancholy pieces are further distinguished by their unique combinations of contrasting sounds: kalimba (thumb piano), whistling wooden flutes, erhu, and cymbal strikes (of the kind one associates with Chinese Opera) imbue “Visions of Shanghai,” for instance, with exotic character that's equally African and Eastern. “The Girl From Surinam” features strummed kalimbas and a muted trumpet that sounds as if it's being played underwater, and not surprisingly that same horn effect re-surfaces during the brief outro “Bubblin'.” The muted trumpet also buzzes over a lurching rhythm built from wheezes, plucks, and string scrapes in “The Thermodynamic Orchestra.” When a man's vocal appears amidst galloping rhythms in “Energy Energy,” one is reminded of the similarities between Bastien's and Philip Jeck's styles, no matter the obvious production differences since both weave disparate elements into wholes that jar and captivate in equal measure.

December 2008