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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Gonçalo Almeida & Pierre Bastien - Room Sessions (Cylinder, 2020) ****

By Stef Gijssels

We're on principle open to listen to anything. This helps us to broaden our minds and to open our ears even more. Today, we have a wonderful duo with bassist Gonçalo Almeida, the Netherlands-based Portuguese musician with whom we're familiar through his solo work and his work with musically uncompromising bands such as Albatre, Spinifex, Bulliphant, The Selva, The Attic, Lama and many more. Despite this prolific activity, his collaboration with French musician and instrument builder Pierre Bastien, brings us into even more uncharted territory. 

Apart from being a trained trumpet player, Bastien is fascinated by musical mechanics, or automatons. He has created hundreds of machines that produce music, using anything that can be attached to something else for repetitive sound production: metronomes, cymbals, pulleys, kitchen utensils ... you name it. He even developed his own "Mecanium Orchestra", an ensemble of musical automatons constructed from meccano parts and activated by electro-motors, that are playing on acoustic instruments from all over the world. which includes the complete mechanical performance of Chinese Lute, Moroccon bendir, Javanese saron, koto and violin. I add a video below with some of his contraptions to explain all this a little clearer. 

Needless to say, the machines cannot but produce rhythmic sounds, but then very unusual and bizarre ones, as the result of the engines driving the different tools forward. At the same time Bastien also intervenes like a god in his creation, adding pipes, removing tools, switching on new levers ...

For Almeida, this rhythmic environment gives him the possibility to go beyond rhythm and to accentuate, colour and add his bass sounds, obviously without the possibility to influence the core set-up of the machine (I assume), but luckily Bastien picks up his trumpet once in a while which makes the music even richer. On the last three tracks of the album, the real instruments take over the dominance of the machines, and the sound becomes more open-ended. 

The result is absolutely unique and mesmerising. The seven improvised pieces offer completely alien beats and sounds, a weird and fascinating sonic environment that defies categorisation. Since you cannot see Bastien's machines, you wonder how the music is produced (and that thought process risks to detract from the music itself), but I can only recommend the interested reader to listen to the album many times, until the sound becomes familiar and 'natural' if that word can be used. 

It's a little bit of a gimmick, but the production is solid enough to stand on its own. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

The video below gives a good picture of Pierre Bastien's mechanical instruments and music. It is not related to this album directly.