02 April 2009

Bérangère Maximin
Tant que les heures passent

Tzadik TZ8506, 2008

I hope the reader will bear with me while I approach this recording from what might seem an odd angle – it’s an unusual work, something that might well sound like ‘noise’ to many listeners, but which, for me at least, is a source of wonderment and beauty. This is amazing music, created / assembled in an unconventional manner – it merits a similarly unconventional approach in order to absorb its many facets, and to understand a little of how and why it works the way it does.

Filmmaker Raúl Ruiz – one of my favorite directors, many of whose works are as challenging as cinematic creations as this music – has written a great deal on what he calls ‘poetic cinema’, expounding his ideas and theories (sometimes in the most convoluted, mind-bending way) concerning the effects cinema has on the viewer, the reasons behind these effects, extrapolating these notions into proposals for auteurs to explore in creating entirely new concepts and methods of filmmaking. In his book Poetics of cinema 2 (Dis Voir, Paris, 2007), he speaks of the idea of a ‘film within a film’ – in some cases, a ‘film within a film within a film’, with elements from one interacting with those of another. This concept can be extended to infinity, like the monkeys-in-a-barrel toy some of us enjoyed as children – whereby multiple levels of ‘action’ can occur side-by-side, layered, or simultaneously. This sounds at first like total confusion – but he goes on to explain how such layers can be absorbed by the viewer, sometimes on a subconscious level, to be re-assembled (often in varied ways) by the mind either as the film progresses or in the state of ‘post-understanding’ described by the great Andrei Tarkovsky in his masterpiece Sculpting in time (University of Texas Press, Austin, 1986). Ruiz also utilizes the example of multiple jigsaw puzzles, all of which have their pieces cut in the same pattern, but which originally display different images. If all of these puzzles are disassembled simultaneously, with the resulting pieces mixed at random, it’s possible to reconnect them using the shapes alone, which will of course result in seemingly jumbled images – but viewing these scrambled images repeatedly, one after the other, can result in the mind piecing the pictures back together as they were originally, much in the same way that the mind can recognize words in which the letters are disarranged.

Ruiz writes of a process he calls ‘distracted comprehension’ – he describes a physicist, a brilliant theoretician, who finds that he can better understand a new idea being postulated for him by a colleague if he doesn’t allow himself to become absorbed in the process of listening attentively to the theory’s explanation. His comprehension is more thorough – and more readily attained – if he allows himself to be slightly distracted during the exposition, with his mind re-assembling the critical points of the idea, very like the jigsaw puzzle or the ‘film within a film within a film’ mentioned in the previous paragraph. Human memory works in much the same way, reassembling bits of information which are then processed to appear more ‘whole’ to our consciousness. One of the truest representations I’ve ever seen in a film of human memory is in I could read the sky (Ireland / England, 1999, directed by Nicola Bruce) – there are layers of images displayed on the screen, with the audio being presented in the same manner, to a wonderfully realistic effect.

But what does all of this have to do with this music…? I’ll try to draw some connections…
Bérangère Maximin’s music has a similar effect on me – she utilizes pre-recorded tapes of found / environmental sounds, of musical instruments (many of which she plays herself), percussion (both standard sources and tapes of assembled rhythmic cycles), and voices to create an atmosphere of complete submersion for the listener. She brings all of these elements together in an astonishing way, wielding fragments of sound as tools and instruments, assembling them not in a random fashion, but thoughtfully and creatively, as a composer for a symphony orchestra might draw upon the various instruments at his / her disposal, to create mood, to express ideas and concepts, to construct a palpable sense of space in which the audience – be it a single listener or a group attending a live performance – is drawn into the soundsculpted world she is building. Sounds appear, vanish and re-surface – some recognizable, others not…but in the end, it’s not really necessary (or even advisable, I would think) to attempt to determine the source of everything falling onto the ear. Her work is like that ‘film within a film within a film’ described by Raúl Ruiz, or the experience that must be understood after experiencing it, as Tarkovsky spoke of his film Zerkalo (Mirror) (Russia, 1975) – the great Russian director, despondent over film critics savaging what was his most personal creation, found his work validated by viewers who wrote to him explaining how deeply the film affected them, many of them coming to understand it more fully some time after they had seen it.

Bérangère draws from her sound-palette as a visual artist might, coloring the audio presentation as if she were working on an abstract canvas – works of modern visual art might seem to be chaotic, but often inspire deep reactions in the viewer, much as I believe seemingly ‘abstract’ music can touch a listener on the deepest level. There are other ways to communicate ideas and thoughts besides directness – the shortest distance between two points (in the case, the creator of the work and the person experiencing it) might be a straight line in geometry, but in art, be it musical, visual, literary, or otherwise, the most effective and rewarding journey is often a circuitous or oblique one. An object viewed from one angle takes on a completely different shape as we move around it – the same principle can be applied to music, or ‘audio art’, to literature (there are works which the author intends be read in random order, for example) and of course to cinema.
Born on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean, Bérangère studied electro-acoustic composition with Denis Dufour at the Perpignan Conservatoire in the south of France, later relocating permanently to Paris. She has performed within several genres of music, including rock and world music ensembles. Her experiences with these forms, as well as her friendship with musicians working in bands, has imbued her with a healthy respect for live performances, a quality she strives to maintain in her own work, whether before an audience or created in her own studio. Her skillful assemblage of recorded and created sounds is, when all is said and done, a beautiful thing – rather than being a mix of pure noise for noise’s sake, there are deep emotions awakened in the listener, brought to the mind’s surface by a subconscious swirl stirred by the sounds that fill the audiospace. Gurgles, springs, rattles, identifiable instrument fragments, voices, and bits of processed sounds which are completely reconfigured come together in a heady, mindfilling mix, evoking images and feelings in an almost shamanic manner.

This music must be experienced in order to comprehend it, to feel it. To that end, I’ve included a link to Bérangère’s MySpace page below, where you can listen to samples (the top one on the list is a track from this CD) – I would suggest doing so without any distractions, although, as Raúl Ruiz has written (again in Poetics of cinema 2), sometimes being distracted is the key to understanding a concept or an idea. It’s completely possible, of course – and I would recommend it – to listen to Bérangère’s music with just the right mixture of attention and distraction, allowing oneself to be carried away by it, surrounded by it, immersed in it, swallowed by it. It’s an incredible, wondrous experience that I can’t recommend highly enough.

Bérangère Maximin on MySpace

Tzadik Records