The only time I’ve seen the band 0 (pronounced ‘zero’) perform, it was an ensemble of one; the ranks swell and subside depending on the project at hand, with a dozen musicians contributing to their recent recording “For Large Ensemble”. Their new album on Brussels label Matamore is performed by the three core members of the group: Stéphane Garin plays percussion using small pieces of metal, and Joël Merah and Sylvain Chauveau play acoustic guitars. The 0 repertoire includes pieces by composers such as György Ligeti, Morton Feldman, John Cage, and Rachel Grimes, but the seven original compositions on “Soñando” veer off the well-worn contemporary music motorway in the direction of a sound the press release refers to as ‘chamber folk’, a term that perhaps doesn’t quite capture the experimental leanings of the album.
If folk is to be used as a reference point, then it would definitely be the folk music of Spain and southern France, rhythmic and airy and suffused with sunlight, rather than the more plodding heavy-handedness of northern European folk traditions. The upbeat tempi, simple chord patterns and recurring melodies borrowed from folk give the album a familiar, welcoming face. But 0 have clearly not abandoned their contemporary influences, making liberal use of polymetric rhythms and flaunting traditional harmonic rules left right and centre. Abrupt changes of direction occur three or four times in a single piece. The effect is not to shatter what was so inviting or approachable about the music, but rather to add depth, shape, colour. It is as if what had been retained from the band’s adventures with Cage et al is a certain openness — not a negation of conventional tone, rhythm, and structure, but rather their sudden infinite extension in all directions. The same sound, but infinitely different, as if difference had become part of the sound itself. Listening is like watching a Renaissance painter (or viewer) discover perspective.
I could waffle about the marriage of pop and the avant-garde, of high and low cultures, but such claims would be redundant. 0 seem less interested in bridging the gap between two cultural discourses than in simply making the music they want to make, using all the tools they have picked up over the years; perhaps in this sense the ‘folk’ label is entirely appropriate. As long as they carry on making music this enjoyable and enthralling, they can call it whatever they like.
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