Franck BEDROSSIAN (b.1971)
It, for seven instruments (2004-07) [14:58]
La Solitude du Coureur de Fond, for alto saxophone (2000/2008) [6:12]
Tracés d'Ombres, for string quartet (2005-07) [10:55]
Manifesto, for eight wind instruments (2008) [6:48]
Bossa Nova, for accordion (2008) [7:32]
Propaganda, for saxophone quartet and electronics (2008) [8:00]
Pierre-Stéphane Meugé (saxophone)
Pascal Contet (accordion)
Habanera Quartet
Ensemble 2e2m/Pierre Roullier
rec. Conservatoire de Gennevilliers, Paris, 22-25 May 2009, 17 January 2010. DDD
AEON AECD1106 [54:26]

The digipak-style case of this new release by French label Aeon has a slightly pretentious look about it, and the French-origin liner notes only underline the impression with typical IRCAMese language that sees sounds only from the viewpoint of the sonics-cum-social scientist in a lab coat with a casual grasp of grammar. Thus: "Together with this reflection on spectral thought, Franck Bedrossian also carries out a critique of the dominant discourse of the 1990s, [...] Saturated music refuses to confine itself in the Lachenmannian dilemma bringing proletarian 'bruité sound' into conflict with the more philistine 'philharmonic sounds'. It sets complex sounds as the paradigm of a new music, having integrated Varèse's 'sound-energy' as well as free jazz's 'sound-gestures'. It is by this standard that most of the works in this monograph must be listened to."

That last edict can be safely ignored, but French composer Franck Bedrossian, though currently teaching at Berkeley University in California, is a son of IRCAM and his music reflects as much. These six variously scored works, all from 2007 or 2008, are more about sounds than music, and the sounds are often bizarre: in Bossa Nova and La Solitude du Coureur de Fond, for example, it is hard to believe at times that the instrument heard is the one indicated or that there is only one instrument. There are frequent flirtations with free jazz in La Solitude, Propaganda and It, but that in itself is no indication of approachability - in Bedrossian's conception, far from it. Tunes are in short supply in his music, to put it mildly, as are recognisable rhythms - only a peg-legged, demoniac girl from Ipanema could dance to Bedrossian's Bossa Nova! At the same time, the long, exploratory sections of multiphonics, Larsen effects and sonic saturation, as the notes would put it, also yield occasional passages of more orthodox sounds loosely bundled into relatively accessible material.

Nevertheless, most items, such as the extraordinary Tracés d'Ombres and La Solitude du Coureur de Fond, should not be tackled by any but the doughtiest. Tracés d'Ombres is Bedrossian's first string quartet, but it is such a concentrated, jaw-dropping barrage of effects - very reminiscent of Xenakis, especially his Ergma quartet - that he may already have said with it all that he can with such forces.

There is no aural respite in the title track Manifesto, a Varèsian noir work for eight wind instruments, yet so far outside the tradition of wind writing that it sounds like music from an alien world. Nor in It, perhaps Bedrossian's most performed work, and a thrilling manifesto for the avant garde, which, on this evidence, has not only not mellowed with age, but actually stepped up its disquisitions into the outer limits of the various components of music. The success or failure of these expeditions does not depend on general audience approval, which is a good job, because that will never happen. But composers like Bedrossian have every right and every artistic justification to continue writing this kind of music. With luck, enough audacious listeners will try out and perhaps even enjoy this and similar CDs (there are more to come from Aeon shortly) to allow the avant garde - a quaint term now, perhaps, but still apt - to continue at least to exist.

Bedrossian's music demands superhuman feats of concentration and application of the various soloists, mainly drawn from and supported by the remarkable Ensemble 2e2m, and performances are outstanding - or at least as far as can be told! Sound quality too is excellent. The CD booklet, actually neat and tidy inside, provides comments on the works by Bedrossian himself - these are far better than Omer Corlaix's general notes, adhering as they do to facts expressed in clear language.

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Bedrossian is a son of IRCAM and his music reflects as much.