Roger Doyle: Chalant - Memento Mori

Irish electronic composer Roger Doyle brings his customary imagination to his latest project, Chalant - Memento Mori, in having the work structure itself around answering machine messages recorded between 1987-1989. There's an inescapably nostalgic dimension to the project in that the messages include the voices of people now dead (Doyle's parents and Jonathan Philbin Bowman) as well as friends and the composer's son, Paavo (now a father himself, he's heard as a ten-year-old during “Back in Time”). Naturally, the messages aren't profound or poetic in their content but instead contain the usual banal details of everyday life. What makes them moving is that the selves captured are long gone, and it is this irretrievable aspect, of course, that gives meaning to the Memento Mori aspect of the title.

It's easy to visualize a theatrical presentation of the work, with actors onstage speaking into phones and musicians providing an ongoing soundtrack. Interestingly, though, as inspired a concept as it is (one a tad reminiscent of the Samuel Beckett work Krapp's Last Tape), Chalant - Memento Mori ends up being more memorable for its more conventional aspect: its compositional writing and keyboards-and-strings instrumental sequences. The elegant piano-based passages are the album's most striking for being the most melodically powerful, whether we're referring to the bluesy (“Chalant: Part 6”), hauntingly melancholic (“Coat-Hanger Kisses”), or stately (“Salomé at the Gate”).

Clocking in at close to eighty minutes, the recording is overlong, though Doyle smartly shifts the focus throughout, such that instrumental settings alternate with voice-based settings, as a way of making its length less conspicuous. Doyle's electronic side comes to the fore a few times, at the outset in the lilting keyboard arpeggios of “Chalant: Parts 1-3” and in “Wassane,” whose motorik patterns appear to be rooted to some degree in the minimalism traditions of Reich and Glass. With such variety already in play, the ululating presence of Ahmed Alkaran's exotic singing voice within the percussion-heavy settings “Ahmad Prelude (Far Faraway)” and “Ahmad Memories (Burning In Your Fire)” turns out to be less anomalous a move and one more in keeping with the wide-ranging scope of the project.

April 2012