The tears of PrometheusThierry Zaboitzeff

Records 15.11.2022

Co-founder of the Art Zoyd collective, Thierry Zaboitzeff comes back today, in 3 CDs, on 50 years of music(s). The occasion to rediscover one of the most singular and transgenre adventures of the French musical landscape.

In 1984, the musician Thierry Zaboitzeff publishes, on the Cryonic label, a first solo album called Prométhée. The cover of the disc, a painting signed Raymond Majchrzak, shows two visibly worried doctors at the bedside of a dying man, who probably doesn't have much longer. The strangeness of the relationship between this image and the name of Prometheus has haunted me ever since I discovered this record, a few years after its release. The deconstruction of the myth to anchor it in a daily life as banal as sordid lets imagine a music drawing its roots in the same dichotomy, linking the sacred to the grey of the daily life.

When this first solo opus, Prométhée, was released, Thierry Zaboitzeff, a native of Maubeuge, already had a long career behind him, within the Art Zoyd collective, active since 1968. Collective more than group, because about thirty musicians came to play there over time, even if the hard core was composed of Zaboitzeff, Patricia Dallio and Gérard Hourbette, whose death in 2018 marked the end of the activities after 50 years of good and loyal services. Initially formed for stage music, theater, dance, Art Zoyd released his first record in 1976, the already very successful Symphonie Pour Le Jour Où Brûleront Les Cités, and the fifteen years that followed saw masterpieces flourish: Music for the Odyssey (1979), Generation Without a Future (1980), Phase IV (1982), The Unquiet Spaces (1983), The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1985), as well as, our two favorites, Berlin (1987) and Nosferatu (1990). 

When the group started, it was without equivalent; this music had never been heard before, nor would it be copied afterwards. Nevertheless, Art Zoyd's influence will be determining on all the adventurous music of the end of the XXth century. Influential, but inimitable. From the very beginning, the strong characteristics of the Art Zoyd sound are affirmed. It is a liturgical music, which does not fear to use symbols, and which mixes influences as diverse as progressive rock, free jazz, neo-classical, contemporary music and, distant cousin, experimental music. The works are often instrumental, and when the voice is heard, it is guttural, seems to come out of the darkness, chanting more than singing.

Accustomed to composing for the stage, Art Zoyd became passionate about another discipline, that of composing for the cinema. But their specificity will be to compose music for films from the golden age of the silent era. Pioneers in the genre, they created gigantic and impressive cine-concerts, an exercise to which many musicians nowadays are accustomed but which, at the time, was a real event. They opened the series with Murnau's Nosferatu, followed by Faust by the same filmmaker, and then introduced the public to Benjamin Christensen's wonderful Häxan, at a time when the film was invisible. This was followed by soundtracks for Fritz Lang's Metropolis, Jean Epstein's The Fall of the House of Usher, and Dziga Vertov's The Man with the Camera. These film-concerts are real scenic experiences. Art Zoyd is not content to play the music of a film by hiding behind or next to the screen, but puts himself on stage in a spectacular, sometimes grandiloquent way, creating a living spectacle where image and sound communicate permanently. The films are thus taken out of their programmed museification to find a saving contemporary resonance.

The disc which makes us speak about Thierry Zaboitzeff here has the merit to be named one can more simply: 50 years of music (s). Besides the number 50 which is impressive (who can indeed boast to have composed during 50 years and to continue to do it with the same ease?), it is the " s " between brackets which holds the attention. A true jack-of-all-trades, multi-instrumentalist (even if the bass has always been his favorite instrument), Zaboitzeff has multiplied styles, desires, and projects, which means that, 50 years later, his music is necessarily plural. This copious box of 3 CDs filled to overflowing, presents nearly 4 hours of music spread over 43 tracks. The intelligence of the tracklist is not to organize the pieces in chronological order, nor by formation, to better reorganize the whole in the most harmonious way possible, creating a new work, gigantic, protean, seeming in perpetual mutation, offering us the possibility of devouring again this incandescent and forever regenerated liver.

So we hear some Art Zoyd, excerpts from Les Espaces Inquiets, Phase IV, a remix of Marathonnerre I, and reinterpretations of two of his best songs: Unsex Me Here and Baboon's Blood, the original versions of which were on the Berlin CD release. Zaboitzeff composed a lot for Art Zoyd, he and Hourbette being the two masterminds of the project, but he has voluntarily chosen to under-represent this prolific part of his career, privileging the recordings that are probably less known by the public. The box set also offers us two excellent tracks of Aria Primitiva, a trio formed with Cécile Thévenot and Nadia Ratsimandresy and offering syncopated electronic atmospheres, or ambient, of any beauty; as well as six tracks of the Zaboitzeff & Crew project, the crew in question being composed of Gerda Rippel and Sandrine Rohrmoser. The main part is logically dedicated to his solo works. Because, in a more and more confidential way, and since the inaugural Prométhée, Thierry Zaboitzeff signed with his name alone about twenty albums. We rediscover with a lot of interest extracts of the excellent Dr. Zab & His Robotic Strings Orchestra (1992) or Heartbeat (1997), from which comes the superb El Amor Brujo (Live), one of the most exciting pieces of the box set.

Even if this triple album is a compilation, it is good to specify that a great part of the tracks were reworked for the occasion. Between the remakes, the remixes, the remastered versions, those played again with the piano, the live versions, the short versions, the long ones, even the most attentive listener of Thierry Zaboitzeff's work will have the feeling, legitimate, to rediscover a work unceasingly reinvented. Because it is about that, finally. These 50 of music (s) stroll us since the ashes of the progressive rock of the end of the Sixties until the techno of the beginning of the XXIst century, of the most insane experiments until moments of gathering full of reserve and intensity mixed, and this journey, these journeys, are not those which are made of a point A, which would be the departure of something, in a point B, its arrival; no, the crossing to which Thierry Zaboitzeff invites us here plunges us in the eye of the cyclone, within a spiral in movement whose only conceivable, reliable way, through this inextricable maze of music (s), is the one that the listener will have chosen to trace himself. Alone, but nicely accompanied.

Franck Marguin

About 50 years of music (s), retrospective box set of 3 CDs by Thierry Zaboitzeff - Monstre Sonore / Thierry Zaboitzeff / WTPL-Music - Distribution : PIAS


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