What’s the opposite of noise? If you take the technical definition of noise as the even distribution of energy over a wide frequency range, the pressing of every key on a piano at once, then you might think that the opposite of noise is harmony: a structured selection of frequencies ordered according to a set of rules. But the more I listen, the less I hear the relationship between noise and harmony as one of dichotomy or dialectic. Some other conceptualisation is needed, one that hears nothing contradictory in music that is noisy and harmonious at the same time, that offers structured ambiguity and patterns of fog.
Clara de Asís and Bruno Duplant’s ‘La lenteur’, from their new album “L’inertie” on the Marginal Frequency label, is one such piece of music. A strange metallic tinkling or rustling, like a scouring pad being rubbed ever so gently across a cymbal or guitar strings, is heard alongside a warm oscillating organ chord. The effect resembles lapping water and the sun glinting off of it in hundreds of little crests of light. Between the solidity and steadfastness of the chord and the indeterminacy and uncertainty of the rustling, the trace of something beautiful and elusive is perceived; but this language of between one thing and another still implies a separation or division that isn’t really present in the music itself.
This piece is paired with another in a similar vein, titled ‘La paresse’. Here the multiple intersection of noise and harmony occurs through the resemblance of some of the many droning pitches to transformer hum or other electromechanical noises, those tones heard from fridges and washing machines and other kitchen appliances while sat eating breakfast on a dark winter’s morning. Not rough, exactly, but not ‘tuned’ either. These tones join with more sculpted, refined organ sounds to form a rich, oscillating chord. Pitches are gently, carefully bent, flexed, and deformed, pushing slightly in the direction of dissonance without quite arriving there. Oscillations at different pitches and tempi create a sense of movement and surge.
Without this infolding of noise and harmony, these two pieces of music could have been reduced to bland mush. De Asís and Duplant are too skilled to let that happen: instead they allow ambiguity and clarity to interpenetrate over and over in innumerable subtle and entrancing ways.