Since 2012, the Austrian label Editions Mego has been digging through the archives of the French organization GRM (Groupe de Recherches Musicales). Formed by Pierre Schaeffer in the late 1950s, GRM explored musique concréte, early electronic music and electro-acoustic composition—Iannis Xenakis, Luc Ferrari and Bernard Parmegiani, among many others, were involved with the group over the course of its decades-long history. Mego head Peter Rehberg, with help from Sunn O)))‘s Stephen O’Malley (who’s designing all the covers), has been reissuing rarities from the GRM vaults on LP, with new bilingual (English and French) liner notes.
To date, there have been nine individual artist releases, reissuing works by François Bayle, Ferrari, Ivo Malec, Parmegiani, Guy Reibel, Jean-Claude Risset, Schaeffer, and Xenakis. There have also been two compilations, Traces One and Traces Two, gathering work by a variety of lesser-known composers. Traces Three will be released next week; pre-order it from Amazon.
Traces Three contains four pieces, all composed between 1975 and 1979. It begins with Charles Clapaud‘s “Ruptures,” a 15-minute storm of stereo panning, surging almost-vocal chittering sounds, sudden bursts of speaker-horn-punishing noise, and steadily rising tones like swarms of robot insects coming to inject us all with mind-control drugs. By the time the massive drone-bed has surfaced, and the death rays are zapping across the landscape, you’ll have long since surrendered to joyous oblivion, and the piece is only half over. You still haven’t gotten to the massive electro-apocalypse sounds that hit just after the 8:30 mark. This is genuinely unearthly stuff, and so beautiful in its total lack of concern for your “listening pleasure” that the only real question is, what kind of maniac thought this stuff up?
The second track, Janez Matičič‘s “Hypnos,” is shorter—only 8:33—and somewhat more conventional, at least if you listen to as much Main and early Tangerine Dream as you should. In some ways, it recalls The Orb‘s best beatless work, keyboard melodies gently shimmering as long tones like distant sirens oscillate and waver. A telegraph-like beeping waxes and wanes a time or two, and Matičič‘s almost as big a fan of making little sounds skitter, robot-mouse-like, across the stereo field as Clapaud, or Bernhard Günter. In the piece’s final three minutes, a filtered, distorted voice begins to appear for just an instant at a time, timbrally similar to the transmissions from the future (sampled from John Carpenter‘s Prince of Darkness) that interrupt DJ Shadow‘s Endtroducing….., except nowhere near that clear. It’s just a syllable at a time, bursting in like the whole thing is some insane dubplate. Headphones are absolutely mandatory with this album.
The LP’s second side kicks off with Servio Tulio Marin‘s “Impresiones fugitivas,” which is mostly built on static, white noise, and chittering sounds, with occasional bursts of what could be recordings of massive machines. A lot of the music on this album seems like it could have been used to score intensely paranoid 1970s thrillers like Capricorn One, The Parallax View, or the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Marin’s composition, with its disorienting zings and whooshes, could definitely run beneath a scene where someone’s being brainwashed, or suffering flashbacks. And when someone starts calling “Hello?” through a distortion box, you’ll look over your shoulder a time or two for sure.
Traces Three concludes with Eugeniusz Rudnik‘s “Moulin Diabolique,” which is a musique concréte piece (electroacoustic music that incorporates real-world sounds, electronically manipulated) intended as critique of the military-industrial complex. (The title translates to “Diabolical Mill,” and much of its source material comes from recordings of military orders—in multiple languages, to better universalize the critique—and soldiers responding, marching, and generally going about their duties.) This is easily the least successful of the four pieces; the sampled martial chanting, coupled with the heavy electronic drones, make it sound like a more abstract variation on ideas explored pretty thoroughly by Laibach and even Ministry. Of course, Rudnik was doing his work in 1979, but if no one hears it until 2014, that hardly matters. And it has plenty of cool moments—it just lacks the ice-cold post-human feel of the other three pieces.
The whole Recollection GRM series is brilliant, and totally essential if you consider yourself in any way an adventurous, open-minded listener. But some of the pieces are pretty massive—Bayle’s L’Experiénce Acoustique is a three-LP set, and Ferrari’s Presque Rien and Parmegiani’s De Natura Sonorum are doubles. Traces Three, on the other hand, is a concise sample pack of some of the most mind-warping, perspective-altering sounds you’ll ever hear. Get yourself one.
Stream Janez Matičič‘s “Hypnos”: