Strings of Consciousness: Fantomastique Acoustica

Fantomastique Acoustica, Strings of Consciousness's follow-up to its 2007 debut Our Moon is Full, inhabits somewhat of an interzone: it's both a twenty-minute EP of new material and a remix full-length (forty-six minutes of nine tracks supplemented with two videos). Though the collective has so many members as to seem unwieldy (four string players augmented by ten others), the cohesiveness of the new originals suggest that it's functioning as a smaller ensemble. While the group encompasses multiple personae—moody soundscapers at one moment, an aggressive noir-jazz improv ensemble the next—, Strings of Consciousness establishes a clear identity in large part due to the front-line interaction of sax (Perceval Bellone), guitar (Hervé Vincenti, Nicolas Dick, Karim Tobbi), and vibes (Stefano Tedesco). Of course, others make key contributions to the group's sound too, with Philippe Petit's laptop atmospheres and Andy Diagram's trumpet noticeably prominent. In contrast to the open-ended spirit associated with “stream of consciousness,” the literary technique to which the group's name obviously alludes, Strings of Consciousness exerts a relatively tight control on the structure of its material.

“Mossgarden” starts out in atmospheric mode with tremolo guitar shadings and vibes establishing the mood before smoldering guitar stabs announce a move into fiery territory, completed by a thunderous episode spearheaded by distorted guitar playing and heavy drumming. “Fantomastique Alaska” presents a relatively quieter setting with Bellone's soprano sax lending calm to Petit's toxic ambient washes—a peaceful prelude to the broiling electronic noir-jazz of the most explorative of the originals, “Crest & Watersheds.”

There's no identification of what the material is that's remixed (in some cases it's easy to make the connection) but no matter: the guests' contributions largely sound like new pieces rather than retreads, whether or not the guest adheres to the Strings of Consciousness style or reinvents the piece by imposing a stronger personal stamp on the material. Some opt for a dirge treatment: Mira Calix drapes the ghostly moan of a female voice across an entropic mix of sax, cello, violin, vibes, and acoustic bass, and Leafcutter John bobs a male vocal along the track's queasy surface. Gamial Trio's coagulant rumble is so thick it's like black tar, while Sutekh departs most dramatically from the original material (the sole identifying trace is Andy Diagram's trumpet playing) by wrapping his piece in nimble-footed splatter-funk gear. Four treatments in particular stand out: in Marsen Jules' hands, the group's original becomes a lulling loop-based meditation featuring an hypnotic interweave of multiple saxophones; Scanner spreads his customary smorgasbord of speaking voices and phone messages across his track (a stern male voice commands, “You will not keep your real name…You will not leave this place”) and also recasts it into a percussively percolating vehicle for Bellone's skyward soprano sax musings; Rothko's powerful noir ballad and Kammerflimmer Kollektief's elegant ballad meditation impress too.

Arriving after thirteen tracks, the videos by Anne Sulikowski and Oxygen can be regarded as bonus material. For her treatment of “Asphodel” (the Foetus-Strings of Consciousness collaboration appears on Our Moon is Full) , Sulikowski plays in her video tool sandbox to generate an excessively trippy display of heavily-doctored city and nature imagery; the stream of colour-tinted countryside imagery with which Oxygen accompanies Scanner's “Seville Fade” remix is more restrained in its approach and all the better for being so. Regardless, by serving up four originals, nine remixes, and two videos, Fantomastique Acoustica certainly gives you more than your money's worth.

September 2008