Thibault Gondard + Thomas Charmetant
(2009 Stochastic Releases)
The element of surprise has always been one of the aspects of the cassette scene that draws me to the subculture, and I believe it might be a sort of nostalgic attachment to my childhood love of baseball cards. Plucking a Topps 12-pack from a protruding rod that flanked the checkout conveyor belt at Target; reading the fine print beneath the foil wrapper's middle fold, which listed the probability of opening up a rare 'gold' edition card, or one that held a small swatch of a game-used jersey; peeling that wrapper away to behold a starting lineup's worth of all-stars and misfits; studying statistics and summaries printed on the back of each. To purchase a tape that I know nothing about gives me that same feeling I had with a new pack of cards in my hand. There's so much to examine on the way home in hopes of striking DIY gold. Though I may never have opened up a rare baseball card as a kid, yesterday I found what you might consider the cassette equivalent of one.
I made a trip to Newport Kentucky's Torn Light Records after receiving a message from the store's owner, Alex York, notifying me of a box of cassettes that had just arrived at the store that he thought might interest me. He was certainly right, as I arrived to a briefcase of tapes that nobody in the building was able to identify. York told me that they were a donation from Art Damage, a small space that used to function as Cincinnati's premier spot for experimental music performances. I took home three of the tapes from the box, including a rather peculiar-looking selection: the cover was simply a square of printer paper adorned with the initials "TG + TC" scrawled all across its surface as if it were the front page of a notebook belonging to a lovestruck middleschooler. The tape itself was Mountain Dew yellow with small star sticker affixed to the center, the kind placed next to perfect spelling test scores. Popping the tape into my brand-new walkman when I got home, I discovered that the childlike innocence of the tape's design is reflected by the music it contains. It's a masterpiece of art brut, a raw art form that exists only partially rooted in reality; it's not quite abstract, but it channels the quixotic aim of a child artist who lacks the motor skills to deliver his thoughts to paper. By means of minimalist, free form instrumental noodling (with the addition of some psychedelic sampling) French artists Thibault Gondard and Thomas Charmetant create beautiful soundscapes that transcend reality without doing anything technically impressive.
The A-side of the cassette opens rather startlingly, an unaccompanied male voice speaks a sentence in french, ceasing to talk as soon as you've realized what you're hearing. It is quickly replaced by the somber wheeze of an organ, looping three trumpeting notes ad infinitum. These are supported by a subtle, yet omnipresent synthesizer chord, always passing through but never moving, as if the neck of a stream were stationed in the background of this living soundscape. Voices re-appear, and it becomes evident that we're eavesdropping on a conversation between a man and a woman. For twenty resplendent seconds, all these elements converge into one, each instrumental track travelling in its own direction, like a single vein in a body of many. The second half of this side of the tape consists of a minimalist composition for solo guitar, variations on a simple loop fleshed out by the bubble of manipulated feedback.
The B-Side is the highlight of the tape for me, though, opening with spacious bass chords, vaguely jazzy, that accompany a clumsily played cello. It's a rather ominous sounding improvised piece that actually has a few chill-inducing moments. Then comes the album's grand finale. A melancholy acoustic arpeggio gallops along as a chord organ swells and tumbles like one of Van Gogh's swirling night skies. A spoken word vocal, wonderfully mellow, eases into the tune. It's been said that French is the language of romance, and the beauty of a song like this is all the proof I need that it's true.