Marc Baron initially made a name for himself as a saxophonist, but like his fellow Frenchman and sometime collaborator Jean-Luc Guionnet he also works with electronics. His new album “Carnets” doesn’t feature a trace of sax that I could hear, instead mixing tape noise and synth with field recordings in innovative and intriguingly knotty ways. A key structuring device is the use of rapid cuts between different musical/auditory ‘scenes’, in a manner evocative of film; whereas film editing traditionally uses cuts to create the illusion of a single coherent narrative, however, Baron’s cuts often serve to jolt, displace, and confuse the boundaries between different sound sources.
The album opens with a low-frequency burble, over which static rain soon begins to fall. Already, it’s becoming hard to tell what was recorded ‘in the field’ and what was electronically generated, or perhaps made through the mangling of some other unrelated source material. As the music switches between ‘studio’ sound and that of various indoor and outdoor spaces, a sense of material being replayed and rerecorded in different environments and contexts, in different states of development or decay, begins to emerge. However, it’s not at all obvious that this is what in fact is happening, or whether my ears are just grasping at straws amid the general disorientation caused by the rapid cuts and frequently harsh timbres.
Snatches of rain are again heard on second piece ‘2008-2013’, followed by violent tape hiss. One thing sounds (vaguely, distantly) like another; a constant misrecognition pervades the clatters and crashes, the rough analogue pattering, the hints of tonal pitch arranged without pattern. In the longest piece ‘1965-2015’, these tones coalesce into a slowly meandering melody hovering over thrumming, pitch-bending drone. A second, sawtooth-led drone gives way to a wide open landscape with wind noise, birdsong, and distant tolling bells, before a final section lullabies with an old keyboard’s ‘Magic Dream’ preset, replete with snoring and a sound almost like fireworks.
The Luc Ferrari reference in the title of the final track ‘2015-Pastiche (le style n’est rien)’ is lost on me, but the evocation of sleep continues with a close, uncomfortable breathing sound, tossing and turning. Footsteps, background tunes, dogs barking. In a restless half-doze, it’s not at all certain what is ‘real’ and what is dream; the threshold between the two is vague but intensely palpable. As the album closes with a melodic howl, I’m left with impressions of moments half-remembered and forms half-grasped, faces I’m sure I’ve seen before, perhaps, a precarious and ambiguous noise full of the prickliness and inscrutability of life. A curious record, this, and a very fine one at that.