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Jean-Claude Vannier - L'Enfant Assassin des Mouches

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Artist: Jean-Claude Vannier

Album: L'Enfant Assassin des Mouches

Label: B-Music

Review date: Oct. 1, 2006

Jean-Claude Vannier’s best-known work – for the Anglophone and Francophone world alike – remains the arrangements for Serge Gainsbourg’s lush, peripatetic epic Histoire de Melody Nelson. It’s the kind of album that has been both cannibalized and canonized, not least because it manifests a weirdly synthetic intelligence. It’s proven an incredibly rich vein; the two-minute swoon “Ballade de Melody Nelson,” for example, lays the emotional template for Blonde Redhead’s career. But while the tidal, gently discordant strings and loping bass lines of that album buoyed Gainsbourg’s weathered mumble, the queasy arrangements and musique concrète juxtapositions of L’enfant Assassin des Mouches – re-released here for the third time – are deliberately fractured. The album, whose 1972 release follows Histoire de Melody Nelson by two years, is in fact a Vannier solo LP, though Gainsbourg provided the text (reproduced in the liner notes) that accompanies each composition.

In his own prodigious output as well as in his collaboration with Vannier, Gainsbourg’s texts manifest a narrative coherence that he deliberately subverted with contextual irony – take, for example, the notoriously perverse ventriloquism of France Gall’s early hit “Les Sucettes.” It would be inaccurate to say that Vannier’s pastiche of everything from carnival waltzes to classical ragas on this LP is dialectically opposed to Gainsbourg’s pop manipulations; there is a sense in which its fractured surface betrays a certain thematic consistency.

The use of soaring, profoundly unsettling choral arrangements is the greatest point of contact between L’enfant Assassin and Histoire de Melody Nelson. Here, however, the sleazy psych-funk simmer of that canonical LP is replaced by a barely-contained violence that is more overtly menacing than anything that came out of his most famous collaboration. Like the howling oceanic winds that form part of the album’s opening sound collage, these wordless voices point less to transcendence than to the void, an unbounded and perfectly empty space in which, as on the album’s cover, the protagonist is adrift.

The work lacks a clear, discernable narrative; the frequent intrusions of ‘nonmusical’ sounds between compositions rank among the album’s most uncanny moments. The chorus of ringing alarm clocks that serves as an outro to “Le roi des mouches et la confiture de rose” is unsettling not because it’s loud, but rather because, in surgically removing the sound from its context, Vannier giving the listener a glimpse into the quiet hostility that manifests between us and the banal, demanding objects which regulate our lives. Our bodies are surcharged with the demands of machines; they’ve taken on an agency we didn’t give them. These moments recur regularly enough in the course of the album to indicate that the affect they produce arises as much from the idea that they are cues for a missing narrative as they are the narrative itself – a narrative that is concerned, like so much of Gainsbourg’s work, with the contradictions, and grotesque inversions of modernity.

If Histoire de Melody Nelson was the sound of two idiosyncratic artists finding a tentative, provisional middle ground, L’enfant Assassin des Mouches bears the traces of this dialogue. At its most successful, it manages to rearrange the listener’s organs; in so doing, it sketches out a pop-philosophical project that anticipates the work of artists as disparate as Yellow Swans and Matthew Herbert. A major accomplishment in a minor language.

By Brandon Bussolini

Other Reviews of Jean-Claude Vannier

Histoire de Melody Vannier (Mixed by Andy Votel)

Roses Rouge Song / Electro Rapide

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