Colleen: Colleen et les boîtes à musique

Any listener familiar with Cécile Schott's previous Colleen output might expect her to bring a characteristically unique slant to her ‘music box' project, and on that count Colleen et les boîtes à musique (‘Colleen and the music boxes') doesn't disappoint. Whatever seeming limitations the iridescently chiming instrument might possess are transcended handily, as Colleen coaxes a startlingly broad spectrum of sounds from the device. She does so by using a variety of music boxes (everything from large Victorian to miniature models), by playing them in often unorthodox manner (using fingers and mallets, for example), and by ranging far beyond the traditional, child-centered style associated with the instrument.

On the one hand, the 14-song EP (the pieces initially created when Atelier de Création Radiophonique, France's national radio station, approached her to compose material for an exclusive broadcast) includes sparkling wonderlands that exploit the instrument's ‘tinkling' quality (the equally lulling and entrancing “What is a Componium?” and trilling “Under the Roof”). Other tracks evidence little of that crystalline sound: “Charles's Birthday Card” more resembles a calliope as it coughs up its stuttering "Rock-a-bye-baby" melody while the “Pop Goes the Weasel” variant “A Bear Is Trapped” literally suggests a large animal struggling to escape some predicament. Elsewhere, electronic processing gives “The Sad Panther” an ethereal quality, and the boxes in “Will You Gamelan For Me?” convincingly approximate a gamelan percussion ensemble. The transformations are so convincing, one could be excused for mistaking a music box's sound for a harp's glistening strum or a Fender Rhodes' warm glow. At disc's end, the bewitching “I'll Read You A Story” is reprised from 2005's The Golden Morning Breaks—a natural move given its music box essence, although it is supplemented by classical guitar (the EP also includes Jon Nordstrom's video of the piece).

Someone once noted that Picasso was such a great artist, he could eat fish for lunch and, using the leftover skeleton, have a great work of art finished by day's end. Though obviously they're radically different artists, they are alike in at least one sense: Colleen proves here that, like Picasso, she's eminently capable of conjuring magic using the simplest of musical means.

November 2006