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Thursday, July 15, 2021

Polyorchard - An Excess of Primary Forms (Out and Gone Records, 2021) ****½

By Sammy Stein

An Excess of Primary Forms is the new album from Polyorchard featuring Laurent Estoppey on sax and David Menestres on bass. 

‘Grid 17 Autscopic Orography’ opens with scratchy, loud electronic noises, gradually receding to a hum before more loudness, a silence of almost a minute and a series of explorative interludes- overblowing and dissonance rule but there is also a pattern of bases around which the interactions whirl. Then a section of overlapping female voices under which a gentle, then not so gentle waves of electrifying sound rise. A little altissimo and back to eerie, phantom-like amplified sounds. The final phrase is buzzy and finishes with a series of pings.

‘Wilmington’ is a series of interactions, some with melodic phrases, some with slap-tongued waverings and emphatic delivery. A constant bass theme is set up over which the sax plays and cavorts. Again, there is that contrast of open sections with deeply textured interludes. At open point the bass leads with threatening, sonorous deep throated growls over which the sax, mindful and creative, enters, eventually taking the lead for itself. As the track progresses the interaction between sax and bass develops into more of a duel with bass offering continual lines of full bodies sounds, over which the sax flies and weaves altissimo, slap-tongued retorts. There is a mesmeric sax solo across the top around the 15-minute mark, with bass thuds in the background.

‘I. A Way Of Departing From All Points at Once’ begins with bubbling electronic sounds, under which a rhythm is set up briefly, which melds into various sounds, scrapes, scything starts and the ebb and flow of voices. At one point a male voice is heard speaking short phrases about items like red feather duster, flexible tube, silk stocking, postcard, chair table. Then a brief ‘phone call and a whole host of strange noises, some familiar, like dripping water, which falls in a rhythm, some unfathomable – a difficult and confusing listen, which, like the title suggests, pulls the listener in many directions.

‘Dolores’ is exploratory with explosive sounds and rhythm patterns emerging seemingly at will and without reason or form. There are some intricate, interesting sections where multi-stringed bowed bass works under eerie and overbearing electronic sounds and the works its way up and out of the chaos briefly before gentler electronics override – for a moment. Then slapped bass and a slightly manic sax section delights before the exploration begins in earnest and the bass body, strings and bow are used under a sax which powers up and blows itself towards oblivion - in a delicious way. The final phrases see the sax fly and soar, and the bass reacts. The outre is surreal.

‘Grid 38 Reality Orientation’ is a gentler affair with rivulets of sounds pouring forth and joining to create extended, textured phrases with almost melodic overtones. The varied rhythm patterns seem to converge and digress, as does the sound as if driven by some internal kinetic force.

‘Grid 38 11 Orisons’ is stuffed with sounds, rhythm patterns created by watery, popping noises and the whole track is a journey into a place of playful oddities. ‘Grid 38 111 Focus Puller’ is like listening to waves – the waves created not be a benevolent oceanic force but by a musical deviant who pushes and pulls back with energy and drive one moment, only to be tempered and withheld the next. The playful sax around the 4.20-minute mark is a welcome respite from the menace of the electronics – which rise up underneath and swell to overtake the sax in terms of sound. From short silences to breathy, body notes of the sax are used to produce yet another layer of sound and the track holds many surprises in the depths. From warped voices to slap tongued control it is revealing. Not necessarily an easy listen but more is heard each time.

‘This That’ is full of phrases which chop and change in tempo and volume. The bass holds fast through many phrases whilst the saxophone offers short, altissimo trickles of sound and fleeting melodic phrases which weave textures across the top. The track is busy, energy- infused and intriguing.

‘The Excess of Primary Forms’ is a lesson in how to include as many techniques and deviations from technical norms in a single track as possible There is taut, ear piercing electronics, infused delicately with voices, waves of fluctuating scrapes and warps, crashes, breaks and in some sections, a relentless, powerful rhythm which drives relentlessly.

‘Backyard’ is wonderful, pure and simple. The sax excels with short, quick phrasing, sometimes pushing forwards, sometimes falling back but right through offering a delicacy and prowess of slap-tongued stut notes which work really well with the bass – which walks, frets, bows and struts underneath – for four minutes. Then the bass creates the rhythm patterns with sax offering melodic overlays: gentle, like placing delicate layers of tissue paper. Just before the 8-minute mark the sax blows and honks changing the feel again while the bass scrapes and sighs underneath. A slightly irksome rustling accompanies the bass for a while as the strings are plucked to create a repeated, then varied motif before the sax trumps its entry, the bass responding with deep sighs and the sax buzzes overhead. As the sax plays more melodically, the bass saws and drives the rhythm forward, adding energy and drive.

Be prepared. Listening to the album is not for the barely bothered nor faint-hearted. The music comes from deep within the psyche of the musicians involved and several journeys are required to be made both in terms of imagination, and possessing an open mind to music which feels as much as it sounds. Listening to this, you could be somewhere in the middle of a storm, the different sounds whirling around with you at the centre, in a safe eye as you prepare to step into the swirling vortex for moments at a time before being overwhelmed and retreating to the calm again.

At times, the sounds are just audible, at others they are ear-splitting, but, forget convention, forget listening with preconceived ideas. Simply open your mind to this and you will find surprises, little secrets held within which are revealed only after several listens – and you might feel you do not want to make that journey, which is fine, but if you do, if you step into the swirling sounds, you will be washed anew with musical ideas and imaginative ways of interpreting sounds. There is energy here to be tapped, there is thoughtfulness and delirium too. Each listen will deliver a different aspect, especially when you hear ‘Dolores’ or ‘Backyard’ for the second or third time. It is perhaps trite to finish with ‘enjoy’. Rather listen and allow yourself to be enveloped in the sound. 

A digital version of the album will be available on July 30, 2021 from Out & Gone Records.

 A physical art edition will be available later this fall from Thodol Records. Amongst other things, the art edition will contain a custom interface allowing people to rework the material presented on Primary Forms.