Marking the birth of his daughter, extensively prolific composer Phillipe Petit, alongside an impressive cast of improvisers and contributors, has assembled an ornate bricolage of melancholy bowed instrumentation projected onto musique concrète sketches and yearning field recordings. Recently, rather than considering pieces emerging from such a model exhausting suites of avant-garde expression, this music, where the modes of the classical Romantic orchestra are exposed to electro-acoustic experiments and the tenets of ambient music, has become for me somewhat of a guilty pleasure. Guilty, as too often the open-ended atmospherics veer into sentimentality, saccarine and reassuring amniotic warmth, allusive without grasping or confirming anything; a fantasist escapism of empty placation without meaning.
On ‘Eugénie’ there is an inevitable element of this, the sweet acoustic guitar on Pyramid of the Moon perhaps, but Petit’s responsiveness to collaboration and willingness to explore strange sonic variation with turntables, ‘glass manipulations’ and esoteric instrumentation (such as the amplified cymbalon and electric psalterion) instead creates a hazy unpredictability alongside its immediate pleasures. Buzzing static and repeated samples interfere with the cello’s grand emotional statements, emphasising instead ambience and transmission, becoming soft, almost indistinct without sacrificing concision (all the pieces except Petit’s final solo flourish resolve under six minutes). Prepared piano interventions from Reinhold Friedl, of the Zeitkratzer ensemble, disturb the rising bowed notes and delicate vibraphone on Clapoutique, as the voice of his daughter alters Magma from the Aquarium.
As past work with Lydia Lunch, Eugene Robinson and Cosey Fanni Tutti indicates, partially the relentless movement and alteration here emerges from this fantastic understanding of how to apply collaboration. Situated alongside a contemporary such as Richard Skelton, this contributive, ensemble dynamic combined with minimal orchestration and manipulation is key to the possibilities of Petit’s work. Where Skelton is pastoral, organic and isolated, Petit is electrified and never settled, constantly manipulating and combining with other musicians to create even more diffuse sounds and oblique emotional states.
The traces of instrumentation are obviously insubstantial, explicitly intangible, but linger all the longer for it, marking a brief and beautiful contribution, and potential entry point, to Petit’s eclectic and substantial work.