Samarkande: 3 Synapses

In the case of these three experimental settings by experimental electronic ensemble Samarkande, the synapses in question allude to the electrical interactions that fire between group members Sylvain Lamirande and Éric Fillion. Aside from vocal colourations by guest Cathy Thibault (spoken words on the first piece, vocal effects on the second), all sounds are generated by Lamirande and Fillion using an unusual mini-orchestra that includes thumb piano, autoharp, mellotron, pump organ, sythesizers, toy piano, and theremin in Fillion's corner and clarinet, soprano saxophone, violin, and electronic gear in Lamirande's. The material unfolds as an intense shape-shifting collage assembled from improvised passages, composed sections, and processed musique concrète materials (tapes of political speechifying, spoken monologues). The compositions register as inspired real-time collaborations between the two with Lamirande and Fillion directing the material's evolution through passages of harmonious calm and dissonant agitation. Though the opening track's twenty-four-minute running time might appear daunting on paper, the sound sculptors hold the listener's interest by blending acoustic instruments, synthetic sounds, and processed materials into dense fields of mutating sound.

Tracing the trajectory of a given piece provides a clearer impression of the material's challenging character. The second piece opens in queasy, even sickly mode with the violent sawing of violin heard against a backing that's by turns convulsive and piercing. A thumb piano pattern establishes a stable ground for recorder soloing but the episode is soon supplanted by slowly lurching horn and cello tones which are themselves replaced by the bright punctuations of a toy piano, and then multiple layers of soprano sax and bass clarinet. This relay-like approach continues through Coltranesque sax squeals and an aggressive piano attack before the piece implodes in an electronic meltdown at track's end. That Lamirande once participated in a performance of John Zorn's improvisation “game” piece Cobra is telling as much of its spontaneous and open-ended spirit works its way into Samarkande's approach too. It's challenging listening for sure but it's always inspiring to hear musicians giving life to the words of Malcom Muggeridge that are quoted on 3 Synapses' back cover: “Only dead fish swim with the stream.”

September 2008