Philippe Petit - Multicoloured Shadows [Aagoo Records - 2015]
This album arrives in a cardboard wallet, with a very nicely painted front cover; I can’t really do it justice, but it combines fiddly detail with a more abstract, formal approach, to make something incredibly eye-catching. Interestingly, the back cover played a bit of a trick on me: basically, it’s designed so that ‘Philippe Petit’, ‘Multicoloured’, and ‘Shadows’ are spelled out in capitals down the sleeve, with one track title/description under each word. This had the effect of convincing me that it was a three way split between these three capitalised projects… However, it turns out to be all Petit’s work: three tracks, with the last being divided into parts 1 and 2.
Petit lists the equipment used for each track on the back cover, with the first two pieces sharing similar set-ups (‘kazooed-voice’, guitars, percussion, electronics, etc), and the last track having a more exotic list, including: organ, field recordings, vinyl manipulations, balloons and ‘oscillatin’ bass’. However, his methodology with these instruments might be crudely (and cruelly) described as ‘kitchen sink’ - as in ‘everything but the kitchen sink’. Sounds are very often processed and sections are swiftly moved through - it’s garish, but not to the extent that it becomes a virtue. So, the pieces shift and develop rapidly; but rather than changing second by second, as little, singular ‘events’ - as with some electroacoustic work, elements tend to loop for a short while or be dwelled upon. However, these loopings and dwellings are not always built upon or complimented. So, often, the tracks operate in a strange limbo; neither particularly using repetition, nor constructing anything especially layered, but at the same time, not presenting momentary sound events. Of course, there are passages where Petit hovers for a while, or builds effective sequences; but the overall tone is that of a rushed collage, rather than speeding cut-ups or complex constructions. The sounds deployed in these collages, vary wildly. Many, if not the vast majority, of the instruments are heavily processed; often in a way that makes my teeth grate a little. At the risk of sounding mean-spirited, much of the processing seems oddly ‘cheap’, in terms of sound and gesture; it often sounds ugly - in a bad way. Petit puts ‘electroacousticisms’ in his set-up lists, I dare say self-deprecatingly, and I’m inclined to go with that as a description; but I’d use it as a pejorative one, to denote sounds and movements that merely signify electroacoustic work: quickly filtered sounds, kinetic stuttering and excitable panning. It references the genre, without inhabiting it, or taking on its rigorousness.
Having been rude about Multicoloured Shadows, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are good sections, but given the fleeting nature of the album’s structures, they often don’t hang around long. ‘Yourselfosophy’ has a nice, sombre section of prepared guitar and drones; pleasantly darker than the ‘kazooed-voice’ that precedes it. It’s an odd choice, the kazoo; it mutes and muffles the vocal chants and drones, creating a lo-fi/murky atmosphere when so much else aims at shiny precision. Later, the same track builds an aggressive rhythmic churn; using reverberating percussive assaults and blown out bass throbs. The second piece, ‘Pyramid Of The Moon’, has a passage long enough to probably qualify as a drone; though, unfortunately, it too has marring kazoo vocals. However, underneath this, is a rather nice bed of tinkling, rain-like percussion. Around the halfway mark, brass lines enter, threatening to turn the track into something very interesting; these are then looped, but upstaged by twitching and glitching, processed percussives (plus bizarrely industrial clanking), which dominate the sound-field with much energy, but little effect. The last work, ’Tidbinbilla Sanctuary pt.1 + pt.2’, creates a near-dreamy atmosphere with hanging organ notes, before pursuing a genuinely noisy section of stretched and strained vinyl sounds. The second part has quite an effective passage of organ, aided by echoing, raindrop percussion; with shrieking balloons and scraped strings providing unsettling details. The album ends with a long closing section, that is pleasantly subdued in sound and tone; it doesn’t really achieve the tenseness and eeriness that it aims at, but it is a coherent finish.
As you can see, this is not an album that blew me away. It contains a lot of good ideas, but they are quite often neutered by unpleasant (to my ears) processing. The album also speeds through these ideas, but often gets stuck between hyper-kinetic changes and development, and a more leisured pace that would allow space and more intricate construction. The kazoo is also somewhat difficult to get past.Martin P