The mystery according to Aquaserge

Reviews 02.11.2021

The Crammed Discs label has the good taste to reactivate its mythical "Made to Measure" collection, by welcoming among others The Possibility of a New Work for Aquaserge. A record (and a show) which sees the French rock band, decidedly unpredictable, "aquasergise" the music of Varèse, Feldman, Scelsi and Ligeti...

Originally, The Possibility of a New Work for Aquaserge was to be a musical theatre show entitled Perdu dans un étui de guitare, with the participation of the singer Jeanne Added. The idea for the show came from Cyril Jollard, the wise director of La Soufflerie in Rezé and a great admirer ofAquaserge; and we understand him, as the adventurous career of this French collective with variable geometry - in the course of which we come across the Japanese Acid Mother Temple as well as the American John McEntire (Tortoise), Stereolab, Aksak Maboul or Bertrand Burgalat - seems to augur possibilities... The idea was originally to invite Aquaserge to offer its interpretation of some of the great works of 20th century Western written music: a welcome idea, as Audrey Ginestet and Benjamin Glibert recently confirmed, which was met with the musicians' desire "to move towards something new" and "to open the Aquaserge Orchestra to other musicians" - among them the formidable percussionist Camille Emaille...
Las! This was without two major unforeseen events. On the one hand, of course, the health crisis generated by the Covid epidemic, which has plunged the world - and concert halls in particular - into chaos. On the other hand, the reaction of rights holders (and publishers) who were often devious, or at least not very inclined to respond in the affirmative - when they deigned to respond - to this attempt at offbeat appropriation. A regrettable reaction, but one that reveals the hiatus that continues to separate these two worlds, despite what Alex Ross wrote at the end of his unmissable The Rest is Noise At the dawn of the 21st century, the temptation to perpetually oppose classical culture to popular culture no longer makes sense, either intellectually or emotionally.
The show will nevertheless see the light of day, with the world premiere scheduled for 12 November in Perpignan - without Jeanne Added, who was only able to participate in the " online " premiere on 14 May, live from Le Lieu Unique in Nantes. A show in which it is largely a question of these musico-legal tribulations, and of the tragi-comic setbacks that the collective has suffered by venturing into the world of "great" music. The show was directed by Elise Simonet (a collaborator of Joris Lacoste) and borrows its funny title from Morton Feldman, as the musicians tell us in this teaser: 

Against all odds, The Possibility of a New Work for Aquaserge - Lost in a Guitar Case began as a record. A "home-made" record, recorded "with the means at hand". But a record that can pride itself on being released today on one of the most mythical labels. It is indeed one of the first new references of the " Made to Measure " collection of the Brussels label Crammed Disc (which released the last three Aquaserge records). A collection launched in 1984, at a time when Brussels was home to an arty and cosmopolitan music scene, embodied by the Israelis of Minimal Compact or the Americans of Tuxedomoon, or by other labels such as Les Disques du Crépuscule or Sub Rosa. A collection conceived, as its title indicates, to host music "that had or could have been created as soundtracks for other media" (we quote the press kit), such as cinema (with notably the magnificent soundtracks of Jim Jarmush's first two feature films, works by John Lurie and his Lounge Lizards), dance, theatre, fashion... A collection which, from chamber music to electronic music, from minimalism to experimental rock, hosted some of the most beautiful adventures of what was then called "new music", revealing artists such as Benjamin Lew or Hector Zazou - 35 references in total, published over a decade.
Put on hold since the 1990s, the 'Made to Measure' series is now being reactivated by Crammed Discs, which has just celebrated its 40th anniversary. And it is no small compliment to say that the Aquaserge disc - which bears the subtitle "Made to measure... to explore 8 possibilities for celebrating the work of great classical composers of the twentieth century" (each disc in the series is "tailor-made for" a different occasion) - is by no means out of place in this prestigious catalogue.

The CD contains only two of the scores originally envisaged by Aquaserge - and these are two vocal works: Only, an a cappella piece composed by Morton Feldman on verses by Rilke (1947), of which two different interpretations are proposed, and Un grand sommeil noir, an early melody byEdgar Varèse on a poem by Verlaine (1906). 

For the rest, the musicians had to rely on their own inspiration to remain faithful to the spirit and the letter of the music they were not allowed to interpret. Music with which they all already had a real connection: several members of Aquaserge went to the conservatory, and Benjamin Glibert even obtained a diploma in electroacoustic music at the Toulouse conservatory. As Audrey sums up in the teaser: "We wanted to give access to this music in its most interesting aspects for us, which are the search for timbres, the search for dynamics - the grandiose side, the mystery...".
Undeterred by their obstacle course, the musicians set off from Morton Feldman 's graphic scores to improvise a joyous moment of free-rock(Comme des carrés by Feldman). In their Hommage à Scelsi, they transpose for their heterogeneous instrumentarium the work on timbres and held notes of the Quatre pièces sur une seule note, which the Italian composer conceived at the end of the 1950s on an ondioline (ancestor of the synthesizer). With Nuit terrestre and Nuit altérée, they address a wink to Ligeti in the form of a spectral canon, for which Aquaserge wrote the score without any indication of tempo or meter...

In the end, listening to this record is both exciting and fascinating: it is indeed thrilling to see how the collective manages to attract into its fold, itself nourished by experimentation, composers who have, each in their own way, contributed to writing the history of musical invention.
A listening experience that one is eager to see extended on stage - where Aquaserge also performs, in particular, the piece for electric guitar that gives the record its title.
A listening experience that sounds like a manifesto for aesthetic openness, which would end up proving Alex Ross right: "There is a good chance that the music of the 21st century will lead to a form of osmosis, in which pop artists and the most open-minded composers will end up speaking the same language.

David Sanson

Perdu dans un étui de guitare: 12/11 in Perpignan (festival Aujourd'hui musique), 13/11 in Montignargues (Atelier Gest), 14/11 in Grenoble (Le Ciel), 27/11 in Brussels (Les Halles de Schaerbeek) and 18/12 in Lyon (Opéra Underground, with Jeanne Added).

Photo © Philippe Lévy
buy twitter accounts