Review: Martin Brandlmayr – Vive Les Fantômes (Thrill Jockey, Jun 14)

Martin Brandlmayr’s first major foray into radio art is so much more than just a “radio play.” Vive Les Fantômes, which was debuted on the German station SWR last year, is a single 53-minute collage that draws from an eclectic well of material, including everything from Thelonious Monk samples to field recordings to the artist’s own distinctive drum set improvisations (there’s even a moment where the instantly recognizable trumpet wails of Bitches Brew crop up). I won’t attempt to summarize the whole piece, because Brandlmayr’s description of the project on the Thrill Jockey site definitely does that better than I ever could, but it’s a much easier task to enumerate what makes it great. The work’s episodic structure, stop/start dynamics, and disparate elements are consistent with a faithful knob-twiddling radio piece, but everything is cemented together by unifying themes and motifs (spoken word excerpts by Jacques Derrida, resonant vibraphone chords, recordings of urban environments) that draw loose but concrete connections between segments. There’s also an ever-present sense of forward motion, and even in moments of total silence you’re aware that there’s still plenty to come. I also love how Brandlmayr uses voice; the recurring quote about astronauts and the sample of a pilot saying “we’re approaching the…” introduce an odd mixture of unease, tension, and suspense.

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