Mathieu Ruhlmann + Celer: Mesoscaphe

Celer: Neon

Collaborating with Vancouver-based Mathieu Ruhlmann was a wise move on Celer's part as it brings a new dimension to the duo's modus operandi. Previous releases by Danielle Baquet-Long and Will Long have been filled with beautifully flowing washes of pure sound largely free of any delimiting content-related association—Neon a current example; the fifty-three-minute sound work Mesoscaphe, by comparison, is programmatically-grounded in the story of the thirty-day 1969 voyage of the Ben Franklin, a naturally-propelled submarine designed to explore the currents of the Gulf Stream.

Not surprisingly, a pronounced nautical ambiance and submersive quality permeates the material, especially when the looped material so naturally mimics the sea's lulling movement (the submarine was originally named “Mesoscaphe” by its creator, the Swiss physicist Jacques Piccard, but was subsequently re-named to honour Franklin 's own Gulf Stream research). Not that grounding it in such manner proves delimiting (even if the work's three pieces have titles that transcribe in detail physical and non-physical aspects of the trip, as the opening piece shows: “The Pulling Pools of Piccard's Scientific Motions / First Night In Complete Darkness / Instrument Settings Below the Transparent Ocean / Our Entrance Into the Stream / Settling Inside the Natural Pathway / Carving An Impermanent Pathway Into the Moonlit Surface / The Melodies Of Our Heartbeats Slowing”) as, regardless of any programmatic key that might be wedded to Celer's music, its indeterminable nature allows it to remain open-ended.

The merging of Ruhlmann's field recordings and actual Contact Mic Recordings of the Mesoscaphe with Celer's fluid, slow-motion tones (generated using piano, electronics, Theremin, and tape loops) makes for a full sound experience: while the naturalistic elements give the work a physical immediacy that suggests the womb-like drift of the apparatus, the music's oft-abstract character allows the listener ample space for personalized projection. In a mix so layered it can't help but invite the term oceanic, rumbling masses and rattling waves ebb and flow, and somber melodies faintly resound from the depths. Though Mesoscaphe is not a politically-charged work per se, a specific agenda does underlie the work: the creators' desire to see more attention directed to a pivotal development in nautical exploration that was overshadowed—understandably, admittedly—by the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Celer's Neon doesn't represent a radical sonic departure from its other self-released works though the manner by which the material was generated is rather unusual. The group's description of the process is more detailed but, in essence, sensors, pulsing lights, and custom glass tubes were used to manipulate the tracks' loops (generated from “pure instruments” reduced to bare tones) by synchronizing them via time changes to the brightness and colours of neon lights. Neon inarguably succeeds in realizing one of the group's intended goals for the project: the desire to document “the transformation of sound into the beauty of electroluminescence.” No matter the conceptual impetus or production methodology involved in any given Celer project, the results are uncommonly beautiful and Neon is no exception. In this case, the seventy-minute release presents nine ethereal settings whose tranquil flow of “codeine-flavored” tones both transports and becalms the listener. Track titles like “Blinking Twilight at 3 AM” convey the music's crepuscular character and, as with many Celer releases, the package includes a brief poem and a hand-made painted cover by Danielle Baquet-Long. Muted and bleach colours stretch as far as the eye can see in these panoramic paintings for the mind.

August 2008