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Bernard Parmegiani - Chants Magnetiques

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Artist: Bernard Parmegiani

Album: Chants Magnetiques

Label: Fractal

Review date: Apr. 6, 2007

Of the many disciples of musique concrète pioneer Pierre Schaefer, few – including such vaunted figures as Pierre Henry and Luc Ferrari – have created music as immediately accessible and enduringly satisfying as that of Bernard Parmegiani. His pieces can be both endearingly over-the-top in their conceptual ambitiousness and utterly exquisite in their technical execution. It’s not surprising then that he’s also the member of the INA-GRM camp who is most often cited by younger experimentalists like Aphex Twin, Autechre, and Sonic Youth as a major influence. In recent years there has been a veritable (and very welcome) avalanche of Parmegiani releases, ranging from impressive new records (such as last year's “Immer/Sound" split EP with Australian sound artist Philip Samartzis) to CD reissues of classic works from the 1960s and ’70s in cup-runneth-over proportions. The majority of the reissues have been published on INA-GRM and featured relatively well-known Parmegiani epics, such as the utterly essential De Natura Sonorum and Violostries, but there have also been a few non-canonical surprises along the way.

Chants Magnétiques (not to be confused with the much later Jean-Michel Jarre record of the same name) is a reissue of a long out-of-print 1974 rarity. This is the second Parmegiani record published by the French label Fractal, which is best known for releasing Japanese psych-noise freakouts by bands like Acid Mothers Temple and Mainliner. Three years back, Fractal released an enjoyable, if ultimately light-weight album by Parmegiani titled JazzEx, which collected four of his jazz-meets-tape-music vignettes from the late ’60s and early ’70s. But Chants Magnétiques is a rather different, less fluffy, acousmatic animal. The title translates as "Magnetic Songs," but it is also a play on the French homophones "chant" (meaning "song") and "champ" (meaning "field").

Yet, in spite of its name, the nine "songs" on Chants Magnétiques are no catchy Parmegiani pop ditties. Bereft of traditional melody and utterly lacking in verse-chorus structure, each is a dystopic, electro-acoustic mood piece. The breadth and detail of sounds is amazing with anxious, quavering tones, metallic clangs and burps, synapse-rattling buzzing, and spectral organ drones. Pieces, such as the wonderful organ meander "Ondes" and the ominous, skin-crawling "Pulsion," find Parmegiani at his most dark and hallucinogenic.

Lest the prospect of psychedelic musique concrète conjure nightmarish auditory images of that blighted collaboration between Pierre Henry and Spooky Tooth, have no fear. While Chants Magnétiques is not top-tier Parmegiani – look for De Natura Sonorum or La Creation du Monde if you really want to scale the heights – it's still a pretty wonderful record, and one that reveals an unfamiliar facet of an old master.

By Susanna Bolle

Other Reviews of Bernard Parmegiani

De Natura Sonorum

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