Review: Berthelot – Miniatures Héliotropiques (self-released, Nov 18)

Here on Noise Not Music I spend a great deal of time chronicling the presence and development of musique concrète techniques in contemporary experimental music, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t largely prefer these modern usages to the work of more classically influenced early pioneers such as Luc Ferrari, François Bayle, and Pierre Schaeffer (who himself coined the term and practice of “musique concrète”). But something that I must admit is frequently lost in the rugged DIY experimentalism of newer artists is the sense of theatricality and often filmic narrative that’s so powerfully evoked through the use of orchestral samples, speech snippets, and other fragments of more conventional art filtered through magnetic tape manipulation. However, there are also countless composers and musicians out there who pay homage to that distinct era and the specific milieus the music occupied, from the digestible throwback sound of Fletcher Pratt’s Rituals for Magnetic Tape Vol. 1 to the warbly nostalgia and pseudo-classical movements of sound-smiths like kNN (Renato Grieco) and Marc Baron. Berthelot is not a name I’ve heard before, but his newest album Miniatures Héliotropiques certainly cements its place in this esoteric canon. The digital-only release collects 22 individual miniature pieces in a vignette style that reminds me of Pierre Henry’s pioneering 1967 LP Variations pour une Porte et un Soupir, though that album’s minimal palette of creaking doors and clattering clutter (its title does translate to “Variations for a Door and a Sigh,” after all) can’t hold a candle to the wide variety of sound sources and lush interweaves Berthelot utilizes here. It was the opening track, “Contracture de prolégomènes,” that first turned my mind to classic concrète, with its reverb-saturated kinetics and symphony snatches, but Berthelot makes good on his promise that each piece “tells its own story” and ventures into some very unique—and, occasionally, recognizably modern—territory. There’s head-bobbing rhythmic electronica on “La marche à suivre était trop haute,” synthesized cacophony on “Brume organique” and “Bricoles de ville,” and pulsing alien transmissions on “Ribambelle de mouches.” The density of this album is a bit overwhelming, and it’s definitely going to take me a while to really decipher the strange energies that manifest in each diminutive composition.

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