Released 1975 on Pôle
Reviewed by achuma, 13/03/2006ce
After completing the ‘Libra’ recordings, Besombes was making music for contemporary ballet and the Groupe de Recherche Théâtrale de l’Opéra de Paris, as well as playing synths in Luc Ferrari’s live group, along with Jean Louis Rizet (also on synths – the two had met in 1974 whilst working on music for a ballet group), David Gisse and several others, with other instrumentation including percussion, sax and flute. This group was usually billed by the names of the musicians (topped by Ferrari), but sometimes went by the name of ALM, short for musique à la maison, which translates into English as house music! Besombes and Rizet were requested by the Pôle label to make an album together, and they set about assembling session musicians and working out new music, some of which (such as ‘Synthi Soit-il’) was based on stuff the two had created whilst playing live with Ferrari.
Besombes handled synths, claviers, accordion, guitar and voice, and Rizet contributed synths, claviers, flute, trumpet, guitar and voice. Guests were Jacky Vander Elstraete – drums; Alain Petit – sax; and Françoise Legros – voice, character improvement(!). A great array of keyboards and synthesizers were used – VCS 3 AKS, ARP 2600, Electrocomp 101 & 500, Farfisa Synthorchestra, Yamaha FY 1, Oberheim Expander, Solina String-ensemble, Crumor & Fender Rhodes electric pianos, Hammond organ and Mellotron 400. Incidentally, Besombes had developed connections with the Mellotron people and became their French agent for a while; other contacts gave him access to the latest synth equipment. They would all be used to full effect on this album (though particularly the synths), which would turn out to be a double, packed with ideas and sonic wizardry.
This album is sometimes considered as being ‘Besombes-Rizet’ by the group Pôle, due to both names appearing on the cover in similar size. Not that it really matters either way, given the intended extra confusion generated by the label name (see my reviews for Pôle’s ‘Kotrill’ and ‘Inside the Dream’), but although Rizet played on two tracks of the second Pôle album ‘Inside the Dream’, this should be considered primarily a Philippe Besombes/Jean Louis Rizet collaboration. Besombes told me that ‘Pôle’ had been put on the cover at the last minute without the consent of himself or Rizet, who were opposed to it. The album was probably the best-selling title from the whole label catalogue (and consequently, one of the easiest to find – though still scarce), selling approximately 20,000 copies. It was reissued by Tapioca a few years later, after the Pôle label went out of business. Tapioca pressings of Pôle titles generally have lower sound quality. In 2004 this album was reissued for the first time on CD by MIO, at last making it more readily (and cheaply) available to a wider audience.
This epic album just oozes sanctified mystery, psychic menace and playful insanity and exists in a timeless zone of tripped-out lysergicity all its own. I’ve never heard anything quite like it, nor quite as special for the kind of music that it is (and really, there’s not that much of this kind of thing, from then or now). Have you heard Achim Reichel’s ‘Echo’? That special – but quite different again, in another parallel sphere but just as exalted in my mind and heart. Psychedelic progressive synth-based music doesn’t get much better than this, in my opinion, though it’s clearly not for everyone – some people just find it cold, too weird, and occasionally too repetitive or slow and can’t get into it. It’s the kind of album with heaps of textural depth you need to give time and attention to, and I’d never put it on as background music. It demands to be taken seriously (though it occasionally has some strange fun) and I treat this album as a piece of sacramental music to be played only when all present are prepared to lay back quietly, shut their eyes and let it work its way inside for the next 75 minutes (maybe with a smoke break and breather in the middle!). Indeed, it’s ideal for thorough shamanic journeying without New Age namby-pambying, and after previewing some of the first track when a friend introduced it to me (the same friend and the same time I was introduced to Besombes’ ‘Libra’), I first listened to the whole album whilst tripping on mushrooms, and was utterly blown away. Those two albums changed my life, completely altered my perspective of what was possible on that mind-bending night. Likewise both are still potent aural experiences listened to without psychedelic boosting (and still never fail to impress me), but they are totally and authentically in their element with it – again, even more impressive given the lack of psychedelic experience of the modest genius from whose mind they sprang (although, certainly this collaborative album under review here must give equal credit to Rizet, I still believe most of the insane and often unpredictable creative madness to be heard here derives primarily from Besombes, but both men are brilliant at creating incredible, vivid and deeply psychically affecting synth textures). I can’t guarantee of course that you’ll embrace this stuff as warmly and completely as I have, as I’m a bit of a rarely rabid enthusiast for 70’s Besombes, but you should at least give it a listen to see how it grabs you if you haven’t heard it before and like vintage experimental synth rock.
Spoiler alert: if you already think this might be up your alley and you want to listen to it tripping (where legal, of course ;-)), don’t over-familiarise yourself with the descriptions of the music. This is best when you’re not sure what’s coming next. Enjoy!
Beginning the album, ‘Haute Pression’ [11:01] is a lumbering beast of rhythmic, throbbing synth sequencer and angel-air oozes of icy tone icing, as a meandering, serpentine synth melody solos through it, weaving mystery and anticipation as the music treads ever onwards. The feel is broadly similar to Pink Floyd’s ‘One Of These Days’, though more thoroughly zoned. Not really spaced out, more spaced in, psychically penetrating and serious but of minimal emotion, like this isn’t going to be a party pal, we’re going to some deep and dark places, so strap in and go within. Drums kick in at near the 3 minute mark, at first with a few hesitant stop-start rolls, before dextrously dropping into the slot and grooving along like a more motorik François Auger decorating and propelling a Heldon track with the greatest of technical ease. However the drums still keep stopping and starting for ages whenever you think he’s going to keep going this time around, as weird tension builds and builds in subtle waves, synths sucking your mind deeper and deeper into some dark rabbit hole. Throughout the same single note sequencer throb pulses on and on relentlessly, occasionally rising and falling into glassy orbs, simple but unpredictable and deeply absorbing, before spiralling madly into a peak of insanity only to stop suddenly, with the drums (that had been absent for a couple of minutes now) equally suddenly reappearing out of the dust to pick up the pieces of a groove all alone and pace off indestructibly into the distance.
‘Evelyse’ [7:26] oozes gorgeously into existence as soothing medicine for the mind and spirit, gently droning blobular synth tones and healing soft flute feather brushes stroking your synapses into blissed oblivion. A subtle keyboard melody, seemingly improvised, patters and swells tastefully but innovatively in the web of undulating sound, the whole bulging and crashing like a wave against the shore a couple of minutes from the end before subsiding fluidly into glassy pulsing synths and more beautiful flute.
‘Armature Double’ [18:11], taking up all of side 2, is a bit of a headfuck, beginning with growing low rumbles that fade in and climax in sombre bell tolls, seguing into bizarre vibrating alien voice transmissions from an alternate dimension, before weird synth wire weaves into a very slow, meditative and kind of grim droning tone progression, with a shimmering, mysterious melody taking form on top and ever changing. It feels like you’re sitting in the midst of a very sacred ceremony, your mind submerged in a torporous trance as illuminati monks work their magic on the wiring of your subconscious. This music would fit right in to some of the more ritual-based parts of the film ‘The Holy Mountain’. After 6 minutes of this it all stops, and as kettle drums roll away an ominous broken-rhythm melody shifts into a weird space of transition, before suddenly ZANG! the veil is whipped away and a DMT flash rips through your perceptions, spinning off into chaotic madness as bizarre synth notes bend, rend and split open, careening off into every direction you never knew existed. Just as you’re reeling from this instant mental maelstrom and beginning to adjust to it, it all subsides back into the slow, oozing sacred space from before. At near the 14 minute mark this has dispelled and a strange atonal transition takes us into a spiralling inner world of cyber synth, layers of clicking, hissing and pulsing one-note sequences carving out spheres in your ears from the inside out, as a slow melancholy melody adds watery, throbbing detail and occasional squelches make adjustments on the living machinery. It’s pretty stunning in its feel, sounding like it could have been made recently (makes me think a little of Autechre, though not really the same kind of thing necessarily), but still having that gorgeous, organic analogue vintage. Man, I just love this stuff!
‘Lundi Matin’ [5:44] begins LP 2 with a gentle procession of glassy keyboard notes, before setting into a staccato riff, and a cheesy but weird-ass synth tone takes its place, like a big glowing electronic mantis making rhythmic stabs and running its claws like chopsticks down the keyboard, driving the whole piece along in an insectoid simple repeated riff. A web of interlocking keys takes form behind it, creating an unpredictable but harmonious mesh of notes, as another synth flies off in soaring improvised melody, and after a couple of minutes lazy sax enters and oozes out restrained globs of bop melancholy.
‘Montélimar’ [7:43] is another rhythmic piece based on a simple, repeated throbbing synth melody, but this time lumbering and sliding like a simple-minded snail on a single-minded journey home, as the first glimmer of a happy glow appears on the horizon with child-like synth washing over us and another viscous trickling synth drips treacle (this makes it sound a lot cheesier than it is, but I couldn’t think of another way to describe it! It’s really pretty cool). There’s still a melancholy vibe of hidden brooding menace present, though, amongst this blobular bulge of sound, and after a while tabla percussion enters unobtrusively and the web of interweaving melodies even takes on a quasi-middle eastern scale. A trumpet starts wailing away as the net of synths grows ever more complex and thriving, morphing now into a great marching caterpillar, moving on and on, contentedly chewing whatever vegetation lies in its path, before coming to a quick stop, perhaps having been stepped on by some giant shoe from above.
‘Rock à Montauban’ [3:33] is a wacky respite from everything that’s gone before, and a light-hearted interlude to balance the impact of the dark journey to come. It’s basically an intentionally badly played and sung weird pop ditty based on acoustic guitar, bass and vocals. The lyrics are silly and seem to not really mean much. Actually, listening now, it strikes me that it sounds like it could be an irreverent Faust song. After a minute and a half, bleeping and blooping piston rods of synth notes start squelching through your ears and into your brain from every direction, like rotating shafts of Brighton rock, the vocal deliveries become more and more silly, and the song becomes delirious acid ear candy, before the electronic confectionary subsides and all falls tumbling into a stoned heap.
‘Synthi Soit-il’ [21:54] is a sprawling shamanic workout to top off all the shifts in consciousness (hopefully) brought about by the rest of the album so far. It begins fairly low-key, as glacial phased mellotron and sinister throbbing synths weave and drone away like intergalactic serpents, though carrying the feeling that some serious stuff is to come, leading us into the lysergic meatgrinder. Soon this gives way to menacing, humming machine drones and throbbing synth globs, and drums subtly fade in and out, racing around the periphery of the rotating tube that is spiralling into the centre of your brain. The synth drones begin to shift and morph, taking on alien forms and racing straight into that tube along with the drums. It all gets pretty hallucinatory here for a while, and trying to describe it all is like trying to write down everything you’re experiencing in an acid trip, while it’s happening, which is impossible because it’s all so complex and intricately layered and constantly changing into something more remarkable and inexplicable. This is truly some of the most tripped-out and magically intuitive synth rock I’ve ever heard, and it pummels on and on into deeper, darker and stranger realms of the mind and soul. At about the 9 minute mark the maelstrom subsides somewhat and drops into a pulsing motorik quick-throb with the drums and synths, all elements still present and accounted for but now entirely unrecognizable from their former guises. Indeed, this track sounds like a series of threads that run from beginning to end in parallel, but changing form throughout and still managing to cohere psychically with each other in this utterly weird improvised ritual journey, and it was amazingly actually recorded more or less live in the studio all in one run-through, with only some creative mixing and sparse overdubs later. Snaky, nebulous synth melodies continue to slither, and after a while muffled, wordless mantric vocals emerge in the murk below, treated electronically, and strange, talentless, but morbidly apt sparse deathly guitar chords stab away like a zombie serenading decay on a broken, rotting park bench. You could say the piece sags a little in this section, but you’ve gotta respect these guys for even trying to stretch out such a grand opus for such a long time and keep it thoroughly interesting and penetrating. A little while later this all gets swept away literally by a giant swishing, sweeping synth tone and day-dreamy sing-song vocal in the background that must be the cosmic cleaner and his ruddy great robot broom, wiping away all your psychic debris, polishing up your cerebral cortex, with strange but friendly synths twinkly and baffled... it all feels a bit like coming to dazed on the floor of a futuristic psychic surgery room, having just had the most incredible extended nitrous oxide’n’acid binge, but finding everyone has gone home and you’re left there blinking, still mentally intact, but certainly reassembled differently than before and better for it.
For more on what Besombes did next, see the review for ‘Ceci Est Cela’. Rizet went in to production, opening his Ramases Studio, and would occasionally pop up in guest slots on other albums such as Philippe Grancher’s ‘3,000 Miles Away’ (also on the Pôle label, and has been due for reissue on Mellow for many years now – they haven’t responded to my occasional enquiries over the years, nor has Grancher himself) and Jean Philippe Goude’s excellent zeuhl-tinged experimental synth prog rock ‘Drones’.