2016 — doesn’t it feel like a long time ago? That was the year of the Brexit vote, of Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States, and of La La Land‘s dominance of the global box office. All seems like old hat now. More interesting is that 2016 marked the twelfth anniversary of the founding of Ensemble 0, and that the group decided to celebrate by releasing a new track for each month of the year. These pieces have now been collected on the album “0=12”, and demonstrate the magpie-like tendencies for which the ensemble and its members (principally Sylvain Chauveau, Stéphane Garin, and Joël Merah) are well-known, gathering a mix of avant-garde, modern classical, and pop influences.
Covers of Lou Harrison’s ‘Beverly’s troubadour piece’ and the traditional English folk song ‘I will give my love an apple’ show off contrasting styles of melodic acoustic guitar, the former’s constant drive offsetting the latter’s pensive lilt. 0’s version of Clogs’ ‘Lantern’ is ‘modern classical’ in style, and like most music of that genre too sentimental for my taste. But Rachel Grimes’ ‘Mossgrove’ proves an interesting ride as it gradually moves through changing harmonic scenery, a constant chugging piano ostinato shifting hue along with it. ‘Sekar gadung’ is a dizzying circular take on a traditional gamelan piece, the tuneful ringing chimes spinning the listener round and round in a joyful daze. Then there are the ensemble’s own compositions: ‘#68’ is a solo acoustic guitar piece that is nice enough without particularly standing out, but ‘For the black monk’ and ‘Monochrome gold’ (dedicated to Ad Reinhardt and Yves Klein, respectively) are intriguing experiments in translating monochrome paintings into music.
In my view, however, the four pieces for koto by Marihiko Hara are the most persuasive argument for spending time with this album. First piece ‘Janvier’ is presented straight, with plucked notes and chords falling like snow, Reiko Oe’s delightfully calm yet decisive playing filled with piercing white light. ‘Mai’ is remixed in sublime fashion by Machinefabriek, who flips some notes around and freezes others in repeat to create a gorgeous languid warmth touched with curious buzzing and fluttering. Rainier Lericolais’ take on ‘Août’ is splintered and fragmented, like walking the streets of a city you visited once before a long time ago, while ‘Decembre’ is coloured by some tastefully inserted field recordings by 0 themselves. For me, these four pieces are the album’s standout moments.
All in all, a knotted magpie’s nest of twigs, twine, and more than a few shiny glints of silver. If “0=12” is a summary of a dozen years of musical development for Ensemble 0, then I look forward to hearing what the next dozen brings![bandcamp width=100% height=120 album=1194589287 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 tracklist=false artwork=small track=3183109955]
Image by Jérémie Kerling