Somnambule - Writing About Music

Gilles Gobeil / Rene Lussier ~ Le Contrat

There’s crashing and then silence. There’s roars and whistles and then more silence. Le Contrat (the contract) indulges in the dynamics of sudden gestures. Much of its drama – at least in the first thirty minutes or so - comes from sudden contrasts between loud and quiet. Just as the listener begins to acclimatise to the resulting shocks Gobeil and Lussier change tactic: sounds appear to approach very quickly – one tenses instinctively in preparation for their impact - then the whoosh or whatever sound it is veers off leaving an eery atmosphere in its wake like a comet’s tail in the darkness of a nightsky. The mind-numbing obviousness of this trick is belied by the single-minded intensity with which it’s explored. Initially you almost feel like shouting at your cd player ‘Come on, drop that making me jump stuff!’ but Le Contrat carries on oblivious and somehow because of that it gradually acquires a degree of horror, or at least tension. The effect is comparable to playing one of the scarier shoot-‘em-up video games: as you creep along a corridor you just know you’re going to be jumped by a zombie or an alien. The result is that you may be much more attentive, which might just be part of their plan...

Le Contrat could almost be a sister work to Simon Fisher Turner’s soundtrack to Caravaggio, the 1986 film by Derek Jarman. Both are episodic in nature, interspersing ambient sounds with stretches of silence out of which loom angular musics. Both present the sound of rain and, if memory serves, the sound of voices reverberating from within cathedrals. The Caravaggio soundtrack was like a sonic jigsaw puzzle whose pieces might be pieced together in different ways to portray different pictures. Jarman’s film could be treated as a guide to Simon Fisher Turner’s composition like the illustration found upon the cover of a jigsaw’s box, but shifting and less easy to pin down. So too with Le Contrat whose liner notes tell the listener that it is a work inspired by Goethe’s Faust, begun with the intention of being structured according to the poem’s architecture. Over the course of the seven years of its creation Le Contrat has perhaps inevitably diverged from that particular objective set by its two French Canadian composers.

Le Contrat is spooked, uneasy listening: there are cat yowl and junkyard guitar duets, jet engine warmups, scratches and bangs and rattlings. The composition is threaded through with episodes of guitar abuse around which cluster narrative sonic events. At times melody appears incidental and is as welcome as encountering a blast of warm air from a grating on a winter’s day. If you’re intending to purchase this at your local corporate record outlet head for the section titled ‘Eery Guitar Ambient w/ Found Sound and Poetic Resonance’.
Colin Buttimer
March 2004
Published by the BBC