Thursday, July 9, 2020
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Artist: Bernard Fort
Title: Fractals / Brain Fever
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Recollections GRM
The fascinating Recollection GRM series has been revisiting lesser-known or out-of-print old electronic, electroacoustic and experimental works for a long time now, and continues to throw up some surprises. Here, they’ve grouped together two distinct works from Bernard Fort composed almost forty years apart, and the contrast is intriguing.

“Fractals”, from 1981, is a sonic collage of the unfamiliar, built from squeaking noises, found sounds, hisses, insect swarm-style buzzes and hums, mostly imbued with a live performance feel. It’s comprised of six parts, with silence inbetween, feeling rather like six vignetted scenes, but they are all originated from the same sonic ingredients, bringing a consistency. There’s a strong sense of the improvised and theatrical about it, with much ebbing and flowing- quite at odds with the mathematical precision and scaled repetition that the title ‘Fractals’ might imply. Certain points (such as 18:30-ish) sound like radiophonic workshop-style alien versions of everyday sounds like alarms and kettles. At times, such as around six minutes in, it almost borders on the comic- as though the performer is playing a balloon. (Anyone with a phobic aversion to the sounds of nails on blackboards, or balloons being rubbed, will want to steer well clear.)

“Brain Fever” from 2017 is a different beast. More specifically, ostensibly, it’s the field-recorded sound of a brainfever bird (also known as a common hawk-cuckoo), recorded in Southern India. The ambience dominates, but crucially, is not alone- it is permeated by a collection of other noises. Human sounds, ranging from choral vocalisations to gentle scrubbing sounds (possibly even brushing teeth I think) and electronic hums and whirrs that sit in an uncanny valley inbetween musical and mechanical, seem to line up and take turns to either compliment or drown the birdsong. Like “Fractals” before it, there are some lengthy near-silent parts contrasted against parts where this becomes quite chaotic and almost funny (just before the ten minute mark as an example of the latter, the twelve minute mark for the former). But when these sounds periodically fade, the birdsong keeps coming back- which feels quite telling.

It’s a pair of intriguing experimental performance pieces in a somewhat classic experimental style, with expressive and strongly humanised interpretations of everyday noise into something otherworldly. It doesn’t necessarily push any envelopes, but as these works go, it’s more dramatic and curious than average, with plenty to hook your attention into.


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