[ reviews ]

belle confusion 0020. belle confusion 00 [ rec. 2000 ]

> rel. 2000 - CD .absolute.[seattle], USA
Francisco López & Amy Denio "Belle Confusion 00" (CD - .absolute.[seattle] 2000)
Amy Denio and Francisco López are devoted sound explorers with extended roots in (and deep commitment to) the underground experimental community. Over the years they have created, refined and developed their personal sonic worlds. 'Belle Confusion 00' is the amazing confluence of these worlds. The basic sound material of the piece -recorded between December 1999 and September 2000- consists entirely of Amy Denio's voice, recorded in various places - the standing-wave generating stairwell in her home, the massive underground (and empty) water cistern at Fort Worden in Port Townsend, WA, as well as in concert with Francisco López in Boulder, CO; Los Angeles, CA; and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Unlike most voice-based works, 'Belle Confusion 00' explores the most essential sonic properties and nuances of the original material and turns it into a thrilling immersive trip complete with deafening silence, intense layerings, and out-of-this world harmonic excursions. A must for the fans of these two worlds and for those of the new one. (Anomalous Records, Seattle, Feb. 2001)

Francisco López / Amy Denio "Belle Confusion 00" (CD .absolute.[seattle], 2000)
Francisco López / Michael Northam "Belle Confusion 0247" (CD .absolute.[seattle], 2000)

A brace of excellent new recordings on López's new label .Absolute., which (reflecting his very mobile lifestyle) has branches in Osaka, NYC, London and Seattle. These releases reached me through Anomalous. Belle Confusion 00 is one which you may as well try and absorb in its entirety. Though episodic, it's all one long track; a series of different recordings from locations around the world, treated and escalated to unbearably clear and terrifying levels of volume - sequenced together with loooong passages of absolute silence.
Making it to the end of these silent tracts requires the stamina of a Marathon runner - it's possibly the record-listening equivalent of crossing the desert. When sounds imperceptibly begin to re-emerge from the silence after their long vacation, you're so grateful for them it's like a droplet of water to a man dying of thirst. Then again, maybe the porridge-like consistency of these soaring airplane-motor drones can get a bit too intense to endure after a while. Not to mention that intensely sad sequence, where the sounds are so attenuated and wretched you can hardly bear to observe their meager existence; it's like seeing tiny emaciated tortoises drying up in the sun. So the listener starts to crave the next passage of silence, simply as a blessed relief. As we're pitched back and forth between these two extremes, the work starts to acquire a simple pattern of tension, a series of structural oppositions, one of which cancels out the other. It's like exploring a very strange terrain from the air, without a map of flight plan, where two conditions prevail: we're either completely lost in the fog, or looking down on a near-empty plain through the clouds.
Not every listener will welcome this kind of 'belle confusion' into their private brain-space, and this kind of systematic and extreme experimentation not only plays hob with your expectations, it also appears to offer little in the way of normal enjoyment. However, if you can adapt yourself to its slow pace and learn to glean what you can from the imperceptible movements upon its micro-structural surface, then I daresay you would then be equipped to endure any hardship or deprivation that life might have to throw at you.
And that includes anything from a bout of insomnia, to long stretches of loneliness, starvation, life in prison, or being accidentally buried alive. And if you think some of those scenarios sound implausible, then you should come and visit my house sometime. Maybe we all need a bout of 'belle confusion' to develop a more meaningful relationship with the vagaries of the universe.
...the Mnortham disc isn't quite as compelling, lacking that push-pull dynamic of its sister CD, but only a captious listener could be seriously disappointed by it. Imagine the sound of church bells ringing across the English countryside, but you're 100 miles away and only a ghost of the clanging tone makes it across the wet and windy English weather. How your heart yearns to be the other side of the country, where the wedding or joyous service is taking place, but instead you're trapped in some dreary activity in a small village where nobody knows your name. Well, this approximates the feeling of distant longing evoked by these spectral timbres. The long tones mutate and shift gradually, acquiring strange new tonal values, and gaining something in intensity while losing an awful amount in terms of volume. The sad sounds drift away into the wind. Whether you can capture every last dying moment might depend on the effectiveness of your sound system. I estimate that there's about 40 minutes of this activity before a long silent stretch kicks in. Subsequent sound passages are, if anything, even more attenuated and sad; a will-o-the-wisp blowing from one speaker to another. You'll be straining your ears to catch anything, forcing your imagination to perceive something that is barely there...but how refreshed your senses will be. You may end up cancelling that booking at the avant-garde movie festival, because somehow the prospect of watching that film of clear acetate passing through a projector is just too gosh-darned busy. The Sound Projector (UK, 7/01)

Francisco López & Amy Denio "Belle Confusion 00" (CD - .absolute.[seattle] 2000)
Even through his collaborations (as seen here on Belle Confusion 00 with Amy Denio), Francisco López has successfully resisted procedures, craftsmanship, and semantics. What's left behind are paradoxically both ominous and serene compositions of open ended droning mysteries to be researched and investigated by the audience as they see fit. While Belle Confusion 00 uses Denio's voice (no saxophone) as the basic sound material, López and Denio have built a haunted gray drone from the complex harmonics of a human voice that never utters anything except its own somatic textures. Their collaboration begins with a mirage-like sound of undefinable yet delicate fluctuations, then a silence, followed by a slow rumble of similar sounds as the first interlude but much less friendly, and then another silence. I find myself thinking that López has stretched out two brief syllables from Denio's voice over the course of an hour. Aquarius Records website (USA, 2003)