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Thursday, November 16, 2023

Three from Jean-Marc Foussat

By Stuart Broomer

Jean-Marc Foussat is one of the crucial workers who have made possible the spread of free music in all its rich and varied manifestations, as a unique musician and composer, as a recorder of concerts and as the creator of the label Fou, dedicated to releasing his tapes of significant vintage concerts, to contemporary ensembles, to his own collaborations and solo recordings employing vintage synthesizers, voice, little instruments and vérité recordings. Among the musicians presented on Fou are Derek Bailey, Daunik Lazro, Joelle Leandre, George Lewis, Evan Parker and Carlos “Zingaro”. Foussat is himself a distinctive artist, sonic and otherwise, made amply apparent by the three discs discussed here. 


Jean-Marc Foussat - Rêve (LP) (FOU Records, 2023) 

Here I begin a batch review, absurdly, with the singularity that is Rêve. It might be at least notorious for its remarkable packaging and presentation, but it is an essential gesture to alert us to an essential musical act, a musical dream that Foussat has taken pains to distinguish immediately and completely from the current, almost anonymous, near-endless flow of downloadable material. Rêve restores the traditional and sometimes sacred dimension to the presentation of recorded music. It takes a while to unwrap it. There is a beautiful image on a dark field, the embodiment of transcendent light, on a larger than usual sleeve to accommodate two LPs housed in inner sleeves, though there aren’t really two LPs. One is a 12” cardboard disc with a photograph of flowers on one side, the other side a naked cardboard disc with a label signed by Foussat, a kind of bouquet with the creator’s signature. There is also a sheet of heavy paper, each side a tracing of a hand in different colours (The visual splendour can be glimpsed here).

The work Rêve itself, housed in another beautiful inner sleeve, occupies one side of an LP, the other side is a shiny black vinyl surface without grooves, perhaps a symbol of the record as eternal potential, here symbolically trapped in the perfection of silence. The temptation to talk about the packaging is irresistible, but it’s the music that counts, that warrants this packaging. It’s a sequence, a journey through a series of distinct sonic fields: it begins with a short, high-pitched, recycling loop, almost a chance ostinato accompanied by intermittent whistling highs, suddenly expanding to include random noises -- junk percussion, hammering, almost random piano clusters and runs, snatches of nearby conversations – these complex sounds subtly mixed to create a kind of orchestra, a sequence of compound voices and textures in which piano and certain percussive sounds are foregrounded, but the scale and limits of the “orchestra” – shifting, complex – cannot be clearly delineated, cannot be known. It is in this mystery that the individual elements achieve their significance. Things begin to shift, the foregrounded instruments withdraw, the texture thins to electronic hues, a near silence of lightly tapped metal, a cymbal, bell or Tibetan bowl with some feedback, then it is lightly stretched until silence itself ensues. Nothing is rushed. The spirit of improvisation is everywhere in this assemblage, in the spontaneity of the piano and percussion, in the random sound of workplace percussion, in the mystery of the mix. The whole process becomes a singular coherent act, the work itself.

Rêve is irreducible, beyond critique, a double of ear life itself, worthy of its unusual catalogue number, 8 ½. Listened to repeatedly, it becomes the listener’s own Rêve. Where might one put it? In its very presence as symbol of record, it might assume an exalted place, at the oneiric end of an ancient and drifting record collection. Perhaps the excess and madness of The Anarchist Republic of Bzzz (Important Records) is appropriate neighbour, dayglo psychedelic terrorist graphics with each LP side at a different speed on red vinyl. To what else might one compare it? With what else might one keep it in a mental cabinet of auditory fetishes? Albert Ayler’s one-sided Bells, pressed on transparent white vinyl, the title silkscreened in red on the other side, in a matte black jacket with yellow silkscreened data? Or, more exotic still, a few shards of 78 rpm records, a Gennett among them, now pressed between glass plates, smashed at the end of a Victoriaville FIMAV performance by turntablist Christian Marclay, collected by writer Joe Woodard and presented to fellow critics?

Simply Rêve, its insistent presence is a clear sign of the value that its maker assigns it, physicality’s interruption of the flow of quotidian, near-anonymous music, an insistence that it be heard, though evidently not in download or sample.

Jean Marc Foussat - Ombres Onctueuses (Fou Records, 2023)

Ombres onctueuses, subject to numerous translations, but “harmonious shadows” is one possibility, as is “unctuous shadows”, continues the pattern of a long, dream-like collage of both musical and documentary elements, some altered, some not. It is more conventional. It’s a two-sided LP, each side devoted to a singular track running over 23 minutes, 'le sang du plaisir' and 'un jardin délicieux'. Foussat lists his instruments and materials as “AKS synth, piano, voice, jaw harps & toys, as well as various and varied effects, in Thoronet” the town in South-Eastern France where he resides. As with Rêve, each piece is a kind of sonic collage, a shifting travelogue of different instruments and techniques and social sounds, edited with an uncanny sense of form and otherness, instilling the work with an essential and ineluctable significance that cannot be named, but which creates relations among disparate elements that are sometimes minutes apart in time. Since the pieces can be heard on Bandcamp, I’ll forego attempting description, but recommend listening. 

J-M. Foussat, U. Leimgruber & C. “Zingaro” - l'Aile d'Icare (Fou, 2022) 

Foussat also improvises in groups, has done so for decades in distinguished company, including Evan Parker, Daunik Lazro, Paul Lovens, Joe McPhee and Ramón López, many available on Fou. The most recent, l'Aile d'Icare (The Wing of Icarus), released on CD, is a trio recording with violinist Carlos “Zingaro” and soprano saxophonist Urs Leimgruber and Foussat limited to AKS synthesizer and voice. Foussat’s extended introduction is fundamentally an environment, a web of electronic frequencies creating a profoundly internalized nowhere, including light bass blasts, here not a seeming impossibility. A certain pecking monotone may serve as Leimgruber’s entry or an instant of potentially blurred identity.

Both Leimgruber and “Zingaro” are brightly amplified, with high frequencies in their timbres expanded sufficiently to even the terrain between them and Foussat’s synth. There’s also a degree of electronic alteration going on, with Leimgruber and “Zingaro” at times echoplexed into Foussat’s universe. Working a maze of sounds, his fractured upper-register synth runs will suddenly combine with those of the violinist. It’s a work of constantly shifting textures and identities, spitting with vitality and breathing deeply to create meaningful layers so fresh that even the components are novel (a sudden street conversation arises), fusing in an extended collective improvisation that honours the practice, one of the highlights of the year.