A slow, icy breath is wrapped in rapid phased pulses, then burned through with a welding torch. Odd interjections like stuttered breath, an oscillating chord and loud metallic whirring. Vague thumping and scraping, a single-note bass riff that develops into a squelchy syncopated melody beneath the warbling and swishing of a UFO laser battle. Clicking like cicadas, fragments of voices and brass and woodwind blare, an overheard telephone conversation while an orchestra warms up next door. Echoing, gleaming tones, erratic almost-rhythms swelling and crescendoing, harmony growing in complexity as the echoes overlap and interfere. Beware of the growling, heard briefly and intermittently, from the monster in the sewer.
In “Frozen Refrains”, Bérangère Maximin has created an album steeped in the acousmatic tradition: a wealth of different tones seemingly detached from all notion of source or origin, existing for themselves in a variety of different patterns and combinations, sounding from nowhere before returning to the same. References to non-sonic objects in the above descriptions are almost always superficial and subjective. Yet what frequently emerges across the album’s seven tracks is a strong sense of musicality, by which I mean that concerns such as harmony, rhythm, structure, and intensity are given the same weight as timbre and spectral analysis. A particularly striking manifestation of this is the way in which certain elements from one piece are often repeated in the next one, a risky ploy that could’ve easily come across as lazy or overly repetitive, but in Maximin’s hands gives the album an organic sense of wholeness and of different ideas growing from the same root.
This strategy of reuse also hints at the way the music dances on the threshold of familiarity, even as it severs the link between sounds and their sources. Despite the indescribable timbres of many of the sounds, there’s sometimes an uncanny sense of having heard them somewhere before. The most obvious example of this is the woman’s voice in ‘Les Boucles Rebelles’, which is chopped into fragments and frozen in loops mid-phrase or even mid-word. The editing is jarring, and yet somehow so reminiscent of a sound heard everywhere these days: the public mobile phone conversation, one half inaudible, the other half constantly fragmented and interrupted by the utterances of the unheard interlocutor.
What I like most about “Frozen Refrains” is the continuity between and within pieces, the melodic bass riff, quiet drone, or repeating chord that forms a steady base for all the clatter and swoosh and helps the music leave a stronger impression than the ever-changing parade of disparate sounds that often characterises acousmatic music. There’s continuity too between the hermetic, sealed-in world of the studio, where nothing has a past, and the quotidian environment beyond where everything is the product of what went before it. Bérangère Maximin seems equally at home in either, and brings the two together in intimate and enthralling conversation.