Somnambule - Writing About Music

Michael Rüsenberg ~ La Défense, Stage Urbain

La Defense is an ultra-modern development on the west bank of the Seine in Paris. The suburb is perhaps best known for its Grand Arche designed as a 20th century Modernist update of the Arc De Triomphe. Michael Rüsenberg’s project is a soundscaping documentation of its spaces triggered by a particular sonic experience of the place in May 2001. After a particularly dry spell “the handrails [of the escalators were] so dry they played weird melodies in the night air.” What makes the project particularly interesting is the bookending of Rüsenberg’s seven pieces by mixes from four other contributors. As the liner notes state: “Each remixer received 76 sound files... including both original and manipulated recordings... thus [the remixes] are best thought of as variations not on form, but on content.”

Steve Argüelles’s (re)mix bears a surprisingly contemporary, stripped-down sound for somebody known originally as a UK-based acoustic jazz drummer. His contribution suggests housing project paranoia induced by one too many cctv cameras, its sound dried to the point of dessication, its movement like the unseen activity of air conditioning mechanisms. Éric La Casa weaves together a stressful metallic environment, high up in the mix is that strange undulating sound recognisable from London’s underground trains. Ned Bouhalassa brings beats that morph any number of times from triphop tempos through breakbeats and back again while deploying Rüsenberg’s sounds as dystopian veneer.

Michael Rüsenberg’s own pieces mix together different events including the staccato attack of a piledriver, the acapella rapping of teenagers on the street, skateboard wheels on concrete, the hypertensile scream of machinery, the clack of high-heeled footsteps and so on. Beats appear occasionally, but are more often implied than stated. The overall effect is of a threatening and somewhat alienating modernity – probably communicating very effectively the atmosphere of the recording location.

This cd also proved a stimulating – though perhaps uncomfortably real - soundtrack to a bus journey round London’s north circular road with views of industrial non-places, boarded-up houses and corporate business parks. Heard in headphones it was hard to resist turning round to look at events recorded in another time and place.

(Distribution in the UK is via Babel, the record number is Ralambient Real 4)

Colin Buttimer
March 2004
Published by the BBC