Mathias Delplanque: Parcelles 1-10
Bruit Clair Records

Mathias Delplanque: Passeports
Bruit Clair Records / Crónica Electronica

Lena: Circonstances / Variations 1-4
Bruit Clair Records / Sounds Around

If French producer Mathias Delplanque is one thing above all else, it's versatile. The three releases reviewed here find him equally comfortable creating processed electroacoustic improvisations (Parcelles 1-10), field recordings-based settings (Passeports), and dub-techno (Circonstances / Variations 1-4), the last under the alias Lena.

Parcelles 1-10, his seventh album issued under his own name, is the first in a planned trilogy, with the second, Parcelles 11-20 (Stalker), currently underway. The parcelles in question—“plots of land” in French—are musical settings Delplanque recorded live in the studio as first takes using melodica, guitar, zither, percussion, and computer. It's the latter that's most critical here, as Delplanque uses it to manipulate the material produced by the conventional instruments in real-time, resulting in tracks that are performed, treated, and recorded in one fell swoop. What results is fifty-one minutes of slow-motion electroacoustic material where identifiable fragments of melodica and acoustic guitar emerge within flickering fields of processed slivers, slide flourishes, and percussive accents. Partially defined themes drift through dense webs of rustlings, twangs, and phasing effects in all ten of the settings. The tracks that leave the strongest impression are those whose themes assert themselves most clearly and with the least amount of interference; “Parcelle 6” stands out as one of the most accessible, given that the bright melodica theme that wheezes over a largely percussive base remains largely intact throughout the piece, and much the same applies to “Parcelle 8,” where a harmonium-like theme and bass motif float across a restlessly mutating mass of percussive material.

Being heavily tilted in the direction of pure field recordings, his eighth solo album, Passeports, is the least conventionally musical of the three releases. That doesn't mean, however, that it's not an engaging listen on its own terms, as Delplanque weaves materials gathered from transport-related locations across France (train stations, harbours, parking lots, transit areas, etc.) into seven evocative settings. Adding to the material's ‘presence' is the fact that the raw material was played back within Delplanque's home and consequently the recorded versions merge field recordings and ambient domestic sounds into the final mix. Even though the field recordings represent the whole of the raw material used in the composition of the album, in their ultimate form the pieces are closer in spirit to ambient compositions that contain a rich amount of ‘real world' detail. That's especially the case when long ambient tones drape themselves across those raw materials. In “Passeport 1 (Nantes),” a train car clatters along its tracks, after which ambient tones stretch out, at times in such a way that they suggest train whistles having been transformed into purely musical form. Though “Passeport 3 (Dieppe)” includes recordings made in a call center in New Delhi, the track itself is closer in spirit to a soothing ambient meditation. Like Parcelles 1-10, Passeports ends with a twelve-minute setting, in this case “Passeport 7 (Nantes),” which, like much of the album's material, inhabits a space situated midway between between musical (ambient structures) and pure sound (field recordings) forms.

Of an entirely different stripe is the material Delplanque produces under the Lena name, which is so satisfying, it's a shame Circonstances / Variations 1-4 is only a half-hour long. The consolation here is that the EP is the first in a series of three, so presumably there'll be something like twelve variations in all. The concept driving the project is that each of the tracks is a variation on “Circonstances,” a track on the album Lost-Wax that Lena and the Floating Roots Orchestra released in 2008. The style is nominally dub-techno but it's dub-techno of a particular vintage—less the Soultek-and-Deepchord and more the Pole-and-Deadbeat kind. With Delplanque straying liberally from the original, the four versions sound like different pieces, even if there are commonalities.The opening version is a beautiful treatment, with the song's midtempo drive peppered by all manner of textural detail—snake-like rattles and such—and waves of echoing chords. The slightly slower second is skankier but no less captivating, while the third is catapulted by a house-inflected swing and a chunky chordal pattern whose escalating swirl gives the treatment an epic quality. The fourth treatment is the most bass-heavy of the four, as Delplanque creates huge contrast between the snare's snap and the ghostly chords that alternate with it. Be sure to play Variations 1-4 loud and on a solid system so that the nuances of the material can be fully appreciated.

May 2010