Executing a live soundtrack is always a bit of a high-wire proposition, especially when electronics are involved. The possibility that a breakdown will occur is omnipresent, and the impact of such a disruption is exacerbated when technical issues derail a presentation featuring music performed in sync with visuals. There are, of course, multiple payoffs when things go as planned, among them the visceral thrill experienced by players and listeners alike. When a performance occurs without incident, the sense of relief within the room can be palpable.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that EARTH, the live soundtrack recorded by FOUDRE! to an experimental film by director Ho Tzu Nyen, goes off without a seeming hitch. Recorded in the 16th-century gothic church église Saint-Merry, Paris on June 7th, 2015 during the Singapour Mon Amour festival, the recording, FOUDRE!'s third, supplements the playing of Frédéric D. Oberland (mellotron, pocket piano, dark energy doepfer, buzuk), Romain Barbot (electronics), Gregory Buffier (acoustic laptop, electric guitar), and Paul Régimbeau (analog synths) with ondes martenot contributions by Christine Ott.
Though the recording's a stand-alone, a few words about the film content help brings the project into focus. Drawing inspiration from the works of classical European painters such as Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and Delacroix, the film follows the actions of fifty humans within a post-apocalyptic landscape, the site, in the director's words, “an unknown disaster, the debris of history that constitutes the story of Earth.”
The five musicians methodically work their way through the forty-one-minute soundtrack, which is presented as six indexed tracks but unfolds without interruption. Likening it to a pulsating behemoth isn't inaccurate, especially when a droning undercurrent is often present. Stimulating the senses, synthesizer sequencer patterns and ondes martenot flourishes add cinematic colour to a raw, heaving base whose thrust gives the material urgency and momentum.
Whether it accords with the film imagery or not, the visual impression evoked by the soundtrack isn't that of a pastoral oasis but instead a ruined wasteland through which dazed survivors wander. The music ebbs and flows, intensifying dynamically and then decompressing; mood shifts occur also, with the five stoking the material to a harrowing pitch during one episode and imbuing it with elegiac sadness in another. While the material is never less than evocative, it's never more so than during the penultimate part, “Ruins / Medusa,” whose relatively subdued opening half allows for the interactions between the various instruments to be closely monitored and clearly appreciated.In keeping with the live presentation, the music exudes a spontaneous, quasi-improv feel, even if the five did follow some kind of compositional roadmap. That EARTH was recorded live ends up being more than a mere recording detail when presenting it as such adds so much energy to the proceedings, and though the recording holds up perfectly well as a stand-alone CD, it also naturally would be interesting to experience EARTH in an audio-visual form on DVD.