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Bruno LETORT (b. 1963)
Excitron [4;22]
Anneau dansant [3:51]
Machefer [3:52]
Eclisse [4;08]
Grand regulateur [4:19]
Trans Europ Express [3;03]
Hyperpointe [4:07]
Pont Ferroviaire [4:22]
Trainworld [4:16]
Machines a dessiner [2:24]
David Torn (electric guitar), Franck Vaillant (drums), Renaud-Gabriel Pion (bass clarinet), Bruno Letort (electronics)
Hungarian Symphonic Orchestra/Peter Illenyi
rec 2014/15, ISOKON Studio, Woodstock, USA; Studio 22, Hungarian Radio, Budapest; Studios Davout and Cube Studio, Paris
MUSICUBE CUB1501 [38:44]

This album has been released to mark the recent (2015) opening in Brussels of Trainworld, the new Belgian national railway museum. I spent the first eleven years of my life in a house on the main A6 Manchester to London road; our back yard led directly to a wall over which stood Heaton Norris Junction, Stockport’s equivalent to Clapham. I well recall steam trains parked directly outside during my early childhood. Indeed my mother would only hang the washing out at night when these grimy, oddly beautiful leviathans were not there to spew their acrid emissions. I was a sucker for trains then and I assume that’s why I respond to their sounds now. So I was very much looking forward to hearing this disc.

The tracks on Bruno Letort’s album constitute a series of what some of the marketing material I’ve seen describes as “sonographies for François Schuiten’s scenography” in relation to the museum. M.Schulten is evidently the person who has put the exhibition of artefacts together. Clearly Trainworld is much more than a collection of trains – there are thousands of exhibits related to railway life in general – station memorabilia, carriages, uniforms, miniature trains, ticketing apparatus, films etc – M. Schulten has thus created a massive and complex multi-media experience which involves visitors stepping back and forth in time. Letort and his collaborators have provided a series of soundscapes which are not literal sonic translations of trains on the track, although such sounds do occasionally appear to punctuate the mix – the concept seems to be more about evoking the sensory experiences, subconscious associations and physical paraphernalia associated with railways in general. In this sense the music that this album most closely resembles to my mind, conceptually at least, are three albums by the pioneering German electronic band Kraftwerk, namely Autobahn, Trans-Europe Express (one of Letort’s tracks shares this name, deliberately or otherwise) and Tour de France. It is the latter of these which strikes me as closest in spirit, however.

Two of Letort’s regular collaborators are involved on several tracks: the renowned American electric guitarist, composer and producer David Torn and French multi-instrumentalist Renaud-Gabriel Pion who here contributes the earthy bass-clarinet sounds. Several numbers are filled out with atmospheric, vividly arranged orchestral parts, but the whole is dominated by Letort’s expertly achieved electronics. The tracks are short and project their own unique characters.

So the opening Excitron evokes train horns with guitars alongside busy drum-led industrial sounds and rather menacing, orchestral interjections, clothed in a pleasing ambient halo of electronics. Anneau dansant involves very Reichian bass-clarinet motifs looped and presented in a dance-like panel, before the ominous rumbles at the outset of Machefer imply an epic cinematic orchestral sweep which never quite materialises, although the feedback and echo-laden guitar figures which emerge in its stead are deliciously Terje Rydpal-like and effortlessly invoke the feeling of speeding through continental tunnels on a beautifully smooth 21st century European locomotive. Eclisse zigs-zags between conventional string minimalism and subtle electronic and guitar washes. It elides into the clever, layered tick-tocking of Grand Regulateur. This presumably alludes to those parts of the world where trains actually run to some sort of timetable – a modus operandi those of us who live in North West England have long forgotten. There are occasional Kraftwerk-like textures in Letort’s Trans-Europ Express but this track is ultimately more redolent of musique concrète .

By now, without giving a description of every track, readers will have a good idea of what to expect from Trainworld the album. It’s impressive in its own way, a glossy soundscape which certainly hits the mark in terms of playing, production and the not-always obvious associations it yields between the listener’s ears. Some of the more minimalist-inspired music may seem hackneyed to some, but I found the style pretty convincing in the context of this ‘package’. There are no notes to speak of – just slivers of information on the sleeve. Google is a little more forthcoming if one digs around. The tracklist on the back of the cardboard sleeve did not correspond to what was on the disc – Anneau dansant is not mentioned – I only knew this because my player identified it. On investigating further, the download version of the album seems to feature a couple more tracks still – while the order in this form is different again.

I suppose the real question is whether Letort’s Trainworld album stands up on its own without the visuals or the kinaesthetic experience of Trainworld the experience. I suspect each of the tracks would fit perfectly into short films which visually explored the physical or theoretical impulses behind them. Superficially enjoyable as it is, I really can’t see myself listening to this disc again any time soon. A nice souvenir for visitors to Brussels, perhaps.

Richard Hanlon


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