Christophe d’ALESSANDRO (b 1961)
Les douze degrés du silence (2008-9) [25:10]
Symphonie de l’empereur jaune (2010-11) [42:37]
Christophe d’Alessandro (organ)
Markus Noistering (electronics)
rec. August 2012, l’église Sainte-Elisabeth de Hongrie, Paris.
The combination of organ with electronics can create fascinating worlds of sound, and one of my favourite contemporary discs of recent years has been Han-Ola Ericsson’s The Four Beast’s Amen (see review), which I would urge on anyone willing to take on a wild inner journey of the imagination. As the title suggests, Les douze degrés du silence is a quieter affair, at least to start with, the electronics more often than not creating an ‘augmented reality’ rather than putting our perceptions through a sometimes hellish hall of mirrors as Ericsson does. The pieces are brief, intriguing and improvisatory; the sounds captured and transformed live using computer programmes. The techniques used are outlined in some detail in the booklet notes. Sound quality in the recording is decent if not hugely spectacular, if that’s what you are hoping.
Each number has its own title based on the vision of Dorothée Quoniam, or Sister Marie-Aimée de Jésus (1839-1874). No. VIII Silence de l’esprit is particularly haunting, taking the already unearthly half-stop glissando effects of the organ and turning them into something even more animal and unnerving. This could easily have been given 25 minutes rather than the meagre 2:55 we are allotted. Much of the music of Les douze degrés du silence is very approachable, some of it even sounding distinctly ecclesiastical. This rather easy-going character moves us without a bump into the Symphonie de l’empereur jaune, a rather lyrical opening Prelude taking us into an overwhelming crescendo and climax, (In)harmonic fear. The piece is a musical commentary on texts by 4th century Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi and started out as an improvisation, the present recording a recreation made with the organ of Sainte-Elisabeth in mind.
There are some marvellous and magical effects along the way in this piece, and numerous passages of static exploration of sound which can captivate or irritate, depending on your point of view. I like the way d’Alessandro often delivers on the promise of moments of eloquence after periods of exploratory development, the way he tempts with tonal teasers and arouses interest with a variety of electronic effects. As is always the risk with extended works of an improvisatory nature, there are a few passages which defy categorisation as either interesting or eloquent, and the attempts to make an upward glissando effect work in track 18 can be held up as an example neither fish nor flesh. I admire many of the effects we are given here, though struggle a little to find the compositional integrity I feel is so strong in Hans-Ola Ericsson’s disc. The subject of the music could be almost anything, and given a blind audition of the piece I suspect that China and the Yellow Emperor would be one of the last associations which spring to mind.
These comments are probably just me being overly picky, but sometimes I just wish composer/performers would explore and develop just a few of their best and most effective ideas into music with a distinctive and irreducibly powerful message, rather than filling time with daisy-chains of enigmatic curios. The final Chaconne “glossolalies” of the Symphonie for instance, is a stand-alone masterpiece, gothic-horror chord progressions heightened in effect and given nightmarish proportions with gargling sounds of bestial suffering which grow as the music develops, enveloping us in prehensile terrors. Yes, we’ll have some more of that, please.
Dominy Clements
Intriguing and exploratory, the organ ‘augmented’.

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