Porzellan: The Fourth Level of Comprehension

Francis Cazal created his second Porzellan album, The Fourth Level of Comprehension , using nothing more than samples of his own violin playing and baroque records, both of which were then subjected to varying degrees of computer processing. As such, there's a purity to the fifty-five-minute album's material, with each of the five tracks averaging about ten minutes in length and therefore given ample time to unfold in patient and deliberate manner. A blindfolded listener would no doubt identify the opening composition, “Nothing More Than Nothing,” as the work of The Stars Of The Lid, so close in nuance and spirit to that group's style is the dark and glacial drift of Porzellan's own effort. Like The Stars Of The Lid, Cazal too locates an arresting interface between classical composition and electronic minimalism in his work.

Though The Fourth Level of Comprehension was largely forged from ‘classical' elements, it doesn't sound like it in any direct sense; Cazal, a French artist, classically trained composer, and baroque violinist currently living in Germany, manipulates the material to such a degree that the violin's identifiable tone is absent, and a piece such as “Between Two Suns,” for example, comes to resemble an organ-generated drone above all else, regardless of whether an organ figured into the production or not. And if its classical roots are camouflaged, even less obvious is the recording's baroque connection, as there's certainly nothing ornate about the material; if anything, each of the five pieces is reduced to its essence—hear, for instance, the remarkable restraint with which “A White Wall & A Tree” stretches its simple two-note themes, willowy tones, and bass pattern across thirteen engrossing minutes—in such a way that every note and detail counts. Where the classical and baroque connections do apply is in the stately and elegant qualities of Porzellan's material, as is similarly the case with The Stars Of The Lid. The third aspect common to the two outfits is elegiac character, which is exemplified powerfully in Porzellan's “Rosen” where the softly surging tones suggest the gradual shutting-down of consciousness and diminution of breathing during a person's dying moments. Being so understated, The Fourth Level of Comprehension risks being underappreciated; a close listen, however, reveals it to be a rich and rewarding collection.

December 2009