"I saw my entire life pass by" — by Neil Horner November 2004


This is an exemplary collection of Alain Amouyal's "Catharsis" music on 10 CD singles. This is presented in a state-of-the-art plastic CD wallet with some brief notes, unlike the two related discs I recently reviewed, with which it shares six tracks.

Expanding Consciousness, despite its excellence, is omitted but four additional pieces (almost another 80 minutes!) are included, and it seems sensible to focus on these. Certainty is the shortest, at just over thirteen minutes, with the longest (and most complex), Resonance, lasting a full half-hour. The soundworld on these other tracks is as idiomatic as any, again bringing the words redemptive, healing, and, unsurprisingly, cathartic to mind. The effect, to these ears, would be less successful, if it did not take us, en route to its ultimate resolution, to some fairly bleak and desolate places. The quote above, from the sleevenotes, should indicate this - a film of most of our lives would be likely to plumb some sort of emotional depths at some point. Alain Amouyal's music, as I pointed out in my previous review, has something to say to us all, with its timeless and universal relevance.

Resonance, on first impressions, might seem to be compromised by its incorporation of ambient wave sounds (surely now close to being a cliché) but soon I was reminded of the subtle and highly appropriate use of similar material in Jan Garbarek's inimitable Molde Canticle. Later, I was also put in mind of the marvellous Danna and Clément piece To the Land Beneath the Waves (from the forgotten classic Summerland) and even the artistic highpoint of the "Balearic Beat" movement, A Man Called Adam's recently reissued Barefoot in the Head. In the end I decided that the sea sounds were so integral to the piece that they transcended (a word that crops up a lot in my thinking about Amouyal) any simplistic preconceptions and, after all, Studio Plateforme, where all this astonishing music issues from, is located in Sete, on the shores of the Mediterranean. What does it sound like? Quite typically, the music is predominantly slow, often very slow, pretty melancholic (Eric Serra's soundtrack to The Big Blue, filtered through the mourning muse of late Joy Division?), wailing (whaling?) synthetic organ sounds rising and falling as the tide ebbs and flows, subconscious, submarine cathedrals invoked by tintinnabulist percussion. Eventually the waves give way to running water (in a cave?), reminding me of the composer's Orphic affinities - given what has gone before, I naturally think of the River Styx, also a recent inspiration to the great contemporary Georgian composer Giya Kancheli. All in all, Resonance, heard in the right conditions, undisturbed with full concentration on the music possible, comes across as a piece of desperate beauty, a musical yearning (what the Germans call sehnsucht) for a mythical/archetypal Arcadian reconnection to the land, the soil, nature, the elements, now lost in the mundanity and busy triviality of a great deal of modern life.

Certainty is perhaps more typical Amouyal, using melancholic woodwind sounds over muted martial percussives, but not quite reaching the heights attained by tracks like Experiencing the Rise, Plateform and Passage (also included here and reviewed previously). It is, however, softened a little by the addition of some haunting, uncredited female vocals and piano and therefore looks forward to the later excursion into full orchestral music on Frames for a Fairy Tale. Still, the very effective and affecting archaic, "Greek" atmosphere is very much to the fore.

The cry of the earth starts with a warmer, more immediately welcoming sound than most of this music, although a strange, repeating (bird?) cry fades in and out in the distance. The latter aside, and it isn't really disturbing, just a slightly unsettling constant, there is an unusually beatific aura to this track (see also Enlightened heart), a calmness that only tends to emerge at certain points, usually towards the end, in most of Amouyal's music.

They came to us is different again and, although the familiar footprints (modal and pentatonic sequences invoking ancient, pastoral idylls) are in place, there are some faster, but not fast, sections than usual and some lovely, keening viola sounds. Eleven minutes in, a trumpet heralds some of the most driven and overtly percussive music I have heard from this source. This shows us the composer at his most filmic, with echoes of Shore's score for the Ring Trilogy, although far less opulent in terms of its soundscape.

In addition to the pieces described above, you also get all bar one of the tracks from the two series samplers, including what I would regard as the two masterpieces of the composer's œuvre to date, Callingout and  Journey on the Spiral. Some may prefer the more conventional format/packaging of the sampler discs but this set is virtually definitive; I repeat my strong recommendation of this music to anyone interested in modern composition/electronica/improvisation but who also enjoys music which is both listenable and substantial.

Neil Horner

Alain Amouyal



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