Somnambule - Writing About Music

The Lappetites ~ Before The Libretto

The Lappetites is a quartet made up of Eliane Radigue (France), Kaffe Matthews (UK), Ryoko Kuwajima (Japan) and Antye Greie aka AGF (Germany). Rather than paraphrase I’ll quote direct from their website:

“The Lappetites is a laptop group playing with digital and sonic linking games for composition. 4 woman (sic) from different background and different generations. Regularly active as solo artistes all over the world they have recently come together in the Lappetites to check out ways of live sharing and poaching sound and data from each other as a means of composition.”

The graphic on the front cover shows four wet, pink tongues isolated against a white background. Either stuck out at the listener or forming a strange, lolling flower, its pairing with the title suggests a playful refusal to conform to expectation. Tzungentwist speaks in tongues and made up languages. It’s full of phonemes, guttural exclamations and limpid hisses. Someone stumbles amusingly as they try to pronounce Red Lorry, Yellow Lorry (who doesn’t?)

Avoiding Shopping – besides being a delightful idea – delivers a regular rhythm (of sorts). Deep, rubberised bass vies with all manner of sonic detritus, humming tones and flecks of digitalia. Given the clipped reflections on an upbringing in East Germany on her website, AGF’s singing and speech on Heimat (homeland) acquires chilling undertones when married to a fragmented nursery-like melody and snatches of what sound like patriotic roar. Birken is confessional, weirdly haunted and strikingly dramatic.

Before The Libretto is further evidence for a personal suspicion that the most interesting electronic music is produced in collaboration – Autechre, Boards Of Canada and Cabaret Voltaire immediately spring to mind. Okay, it’s a silly theory so full of gaping holes that it sinks before setting sail. However, these sound formations (to call them songs seems inappropriate) are such densely detailed affairs that it’s impossible to imagine their being produced by a single person. The presence of the artists’ sometimes intimately recorded voices on a number of tracks – Tzungentwist, Birken and Aikokuka – offsets what might otherwise be a stringently abstract affair. Which is not to say that their vocal presence necessarily softens or humanises the music, in fact if anything it frequently serves to emphasise the harshness of the overall effect.

The conclusion to a review is meant to provide a neat summary of the listener’s impressions, but Before The Libretto resists. Some of its power lies in that resistance.

Colin Buttimer
October 2005
Published by the BBC