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Sébastien Roux

Rating: 7.5/10 ?

July 25, 2006
Whether meant as an ironic statement or as a means of throwing a curve ball at the musical world, sound artist Sébastien Roux's decision to call his latest album Songs will certainly have provoked widespread head-scratching. Anyone familiar with Roux's music, either documented by his acclaimed debut Pillow or his collaboration work with Greg Davis, will be fully aware that it starkly juxtaposes any conventional or commonly-assumed concept of 'song'-structure, and his latest selection of cuts doesn't pull any punches.

As is synonymous with the 12k label's minimalist electronics, Sebastien Roux's approach is highly conceptual. His songtitles provide a basic insight to what he sets out to achieve. Essentially, Songs captures a series of instrument recordings, which, by way of process, are realized under completely new and unidentifiable guises. "The Prepared Piano Song," for example, is sourced from a basic piano piece and digitally manipulated to the point that most traces of raw piano are suppressed. The manipulation and rearrangement allows the track to take on a new form, and once interspersed with prolonged moments of silence, its structure makes for a challenging listen.

"The Metallophone Song No. 1" continues along a similar path as Roux builds tension between sound and silence whilst sporadically shuddering the piece's flow with static glitches. The array of sounds he uses to give life to Songs is quite diverse: Roux will readily introduce a string of microscopic tics and skitters, which might precipitate a high-pitched sine wave, or be flattened by an avalanche of white noise, and all the while the raw material in which the track takes root will shimmer away in the background. Songs sparks with its variety of sounds.

"The Harp and Contrabass Song," which clocks in at over nine minutes, represents Songs' most minimal track, sounding at times like a chorus of buzzing hard-drives, and for the most part eclipsing any evidence of harp or contrabass recordings. In terms of melody, it's also perhaps Roux's gloomiest track as towards its close the few remaining fragments of recording gather and spiral off in a discordant siren of high frequencies.

While as an entire episode Songs may come across as impenetrable, its beauty can be truly realized in bite-sized chunks. The trick is to treat each of Roux's buzzes, whirrs and digital squeaks individually - they retain remarkable clarity and inject Songs' flow with a virtually unchallenged sense of irrationality. With Songs, Sebastien Roux emphasizes the boundless potential inherent in the processing of sounds, regardless of the nature or source, and the subtle beauty that may surface from them.

Reviewed by Mike Wright
A staff writer based in London, England, Mike Wright is eternally troubled by the American bastardization of the English language.

See other reviews by Mike Wright



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