January 25, 2001
Just as jazz in the past has adapted such initially strange adds-ons as the B-3 organ, other than 4/4 time signatures and Latin rhythms this new century will mark a rapprochement of improvisation with mechanically-based music making.
Although some professional traditionalists still disparage synthesizers, real time signal processing and electronics in general, deeper thinking musicians realize that what's created is more important than the implements with which its created. Experiments with found sounds and processing occupied jazzers as far back as the 1960s. And by end of the 1990s attempts to meld experimental electronics and real time signal processing with innovative music making had occupied the time of improvisers as varied as Sun Ra, Miles Davis, Evan Parker, John Butcher, John Zorn and Gerry Hemingway.
Historically, it appears that most impressive results appear from mixing sounds from conventional instruments with the timbres available from electronics. Perhaps that's why this short (43 minute) CD isn't wholly satisfying. For except for Xavier Charles' prepared bass and Jérôme Jeanmart's wind instruments — adoptive members of the jazz family anyway — every sound here comes from electronics and/or a homemade apparatus.
Sessions such as this coming from a collective of French musicians shouldn't surprise anyone either. Musique concrète first made its appearance in that country in 1948 when Pierre Schaeffer premiered his Concert De Bruits. Since then Gaelic improvisers have been especially proactive in working with electronic sounds, a concept which even fascinated such Americans in Paris as Steve Lacy and Alan Silva.
Elsewhere Charles is a clarinetist and Jeanmart a saxophonist, but on this disc all group members conceive of themselves as sound sculptors, operating without a hint of unprocessed instrumental sounds. There are no compositions as such and the listener must be prepared for hearing what appears to be oscillating currents, revving motors, metronomes and metal grinding against metal, amplified through loud speakers. When more regular rhythms appear, as on "Le sport de l'angoisse" ("The sport of agony") with an accompanying vocal, early post rockers such as The Soft Machine are brought to mind more easily than either Ornette or Steve Coleman.
Consequently, it's "Transe et demi" ("Trance and a-half") that seems most imposing, since its processed voices, altered currents and percussive electronics come across as a sort hypnotic of heavy metal improv. Ignoring improvisers who create using electronics is as short sighted as the stance of those jazz fogies who in the past spurned the electric guitar or orchestral instruments like the French horn out of a sense of outmoded purism. But for Silent Block itself, it seems as if a few passages from acoustic instruments would have added immeasurably to this conception.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Matèriere chargée 2. Capteur poliu 3. Strates de fond 4. Toujours courir 5. Elastic 6. Transe et demi 7. Pressons 8. Le sport de l'angoisse 9. T'as quelle heure
Personnel: Xavier Charles (vibrating surfaces, prepared electric bass, turntables, prepared CDs); Jérôme Jeanmart (home made drums, soundmachines, pendulums, mechanical rhythm box, voice, toys, wind instruments); Frédéric Le Junter (vocoder, trump, mechanical sound machines, strings, objects); Stéphane Levigneront (mix on stage)