The Beautiful Schizophonic: Musicamorosa

Can one possibly distill the poetic depths and labyrinthine sentences of Marcel Proust's Á la recherche du temps perdu (published in English as Remembrance of Things Past and, in recent translations, In Search of Lost Time) into musical form, and capture the bittersweet ennui that suffuses the epic's three thousand pages? Should one incorporate actual words from the text? Sonically mimic the memory evocation released by the petit madelaine? Daunting challenges of this type are confronted by Jorge Mantas (aka The Beautiful Schizophonic) in his Proust homage Musicamorosa. Mantas was inspired, not only by Proust's magnificent prose, but by the image of the writer labouring over his monumental masterwork, famously composed (in part) when the writer retreated to a cork-lined room in a Paris apartment in order to devote himself entirely to the book's completion. In essence, Mantas finds parallels between the lonely and melancholic Proust and the modern-day laptop composer in that both are dreamers coaxing imaginary worlds born from memory into being.

Mantas wisely uses the drone, often in crystalline form, as an analogue for evocation. The sinuous flowing lines in “Un étourdissant réveil en musique,” for example, convincingly suggest the imaginative surrender Proust's narrator experiences during his full-blown resurrection of the Combray universe. The musical treatment is delicate and, most critically for honouring Proust's sensibility, elegiac. At times the drone is ethereal (e.g., “L'amour, c'est l'espace et le temps rendus sensibles au coeur”) and sometimes beautifully so, as the lustrous entrancement of “Cantiques à la gloire du soleil” so strongly demonstrates; at other times it includes naturalistic elements which give it an earth-bound character (e.g., water sounds in “Zéphir marin, féerique comme un clair de lune” and “Les oiseaux qui dorment en l'air”). Further contrast is introduced in “On se souvient d'une atmosphère parce que des jeunes filles y ont souri” by shifting the spotlight to José Luís Merca's delicate electric guitar strums and in “La lectrice” by having Colleen (Cécile Schott) actually read Proust's text. Interestingly, like Schott on her Colleen et les boîtes à musique release, Mantas exploits the associative potential of the music box in “Un jardin encore silencieux avant le lever du jour” in a way that suggests the re-awakening of childhood memory and the inner rapture that follows upon it. The album's sole failing arrives at album's end in the remix of “Soixante-quatre” by @c which lacks the restraint and conceptual cohesiveness that characterizes the other material. Without it, Musicamorosa would be a more perfectly-realized fifty-two-minute recording. Ultimately, it must be conceded that the magnificence of Á la recherche du temps perdu invariably defeats even the noblest attempt to render it in sonic terms. But it must also be conceded too that, at the very least, Mantas's inspired attempt proposes a legitimate “solution" on conceptual grounds.

June 2008