|Recorded and mixed at la Muse en Circuit on 24-26 November 2002.
There's a certain hour of the evening when I'm the only one awake in my house, when even the cat and dog have chilled out. It's at this time that I usually play very quiet music, not only because it won't wake anybody up but because I can actually concentrate on it in solitude and give it the appropriate attention. But I must say that, even for quiet time music, this new disc from pianist Agnel (also credited with "mechanics") and guitarist Benoit (also responsible for "electricity") had me checking the speakers to see if the stereo was actually on.
Part of an interesting young cohort of French improvisers, these two have made some excellent electroacoustic recordings over the last few years (Agnel's Potlatch collaboration Rouge Gris Bruit and her participation in Phosphor, and Benoit's role in Hubbub or his duo with Jean-Luc Guionnet spring to mind). It goes without saying that on these recordings, conventional expectations surrounding piano and guitar go out the window. Not that anyone really expected Bill Evans and Jim Hall, but these are players whose horizon is more clearly formed by the example of Tilbury and Rowe. Even knowing that, though, I was unprepared for the extreme sparseness of Rip-Stop.
Though occasionally one hears actual notes, it's not too common. For the most part each player appears to be using a number of devices and preparations—brushes, whisks, small fans, and so forth—to stroke, caress, and activate their instrument's strings. Agnel seems, much like her Phosphor bandmate Andrea Neumann, reluctant to explore the percussive aspects of the piano (with all the free improv associations that attend that approach). But who cares what's avoided and embraced in terms of conventional strategies; this might be useful for those keeping score, but it's not really necessary in terms of appreciating this quite subtle and provocative music. After all, some of the most interesting contemporary guitarists have defined themselves by resisting the associations of the most heavily mythologized instrument of the last century, just as surely as pianists like Agnel are doing interesting things by retreating from—rather than hacking away at—customary pianisms.
Comprising something of a suite, the four parts of Rip-Stop were recorded during a three-day residency at France's La Muse en Circuit in November 2002. There are certainly sections of the disc (the third in particular) where things get thick and heavy, with thick pedal sustain and guitar reverb oscillating robustly. But there are also very long periods of silence or barely audible sound which, save for the occasional percussive plunk or electric hum, resist identification or naming of any sort. It's a fascinating essay in meta-music, where you get a good glimpse into contemporary reconsiderations of musical "fundamentals"—the electric guitar is, in Benoit's abstracted approach, almost de-technologized while the piano is, subject to Agnel's arch preparations, almost electronicized—which is at the same time captivating and gratifying. Surely these two are inspired by the aforementioned giants of AMM, whose Duos for Doris sets a different standard (nearly unreachable by anyone else) of improvisation. But the young French improvisers are charting their own way, floating along with the music of electric ghosts.