Acousticity

Colleen and Jose Gonzalez pull strings and sound out reverberations
|
()
Jose Gonzalez
Photo by Frederik Egerstrand

johnny@sfbg.com

The Night of the Hunter is at the top of a list of favorite films compiled by Colleen, a.k.a. Parisian musician Cécile Schott, and Iker Spazio's lovely cover art for the new Colleen album, Les Ondes Silencieuses (Leaf), more than hints at that film's magic and menace. In Spazio's paper cut–influenced dark and starry nighttime vision, Colleen is viewed from the back as she plays the viola da gamba at the edge of a forest by a body of water. A bird descends to the ground, a butterfly floats by a tree, and a cat is curled up in a flower bed. The orphans of Charles Laughton's classic might as well be floating by, so strongly does the imagery evoke The Night of the Hunter's famous riverside ballad sequence.

The CD art's dark allure, mixing a sense of innocence with sinister undercurrents, is also present in the recording's title. While a relatively literal translation might be "the still waters," the phrase les ondes silencieuses is also meant to evoke the infrasonic sounds detected only by animals before an earthquake. It's tempting to view the album's spare, acoustic arrangements as ballads composed for the moment just before this world's apocalypse, a perspective that strips away any of the whimsy or preciousness that one might attach to Colleen's use of antiquated instruments — crystal glass, spinet, and the aforementioned viola da gamba — to create and play these latest compositions.

In the past, Colleen has been associated with unique electronic recordings such as last year's lengthy EP, Colleen et les Boîtes à Musique, which is composed of and constructed from loops of music-box melodies. On that recording, "Rock a Bye Baby" and "Pop Goes the Weasel" are contorted into new shapes, with song titles to match, but most often the enchantment isn't so easily recognizable, and the atmosphere is haunted rather than whimsical. The minimalist symphonic effect of "What Is a Componium? — Part 2," for instance, suggests Terry Riley in a bad mood. In interviews Colleen has noted that a search for music-box melodies in movies revealed that they were often paired with scenes of rape or murder, an observation that — along with Colleen et les Boîtes à Musique's final track, "I'll Read You a Story," with its oceanic, nighttime waves of classical guitar — brings us right back to the Grimms' Fairy Tales imagery on the cover of Les Ondes Silencieuses.

Bowed like a cello but with seven strings and guitarlike frets, the viola da gamba is at the center of the disc, which finds Colleen experimenting with acousticity and a live recording style that involves minimal overdubs. This approach yields meditative rewards on "Blue Sands," on which a sea- and seesawing rhythm cuts across delicate fingerpicking. The spidery spinet melodies on "Le Labyrinthe" and forlorn duet between clarinet and acoustic guitar on "Sun Against My Eyes" are as unsettlingly beautiful. There's a persistent sense of lightlike sound intensifying and then fading into deep empty space, especially on "Echoes and Coral," on which Colleen plays crystal glass in a manner that suggests Aphex Twin at his most ambient as much as it suggests one of her instrumental influences, Harry Partch. As one listens, it's hard not to think about the precataclysmic aspect of the album title. In fact, while The Night of the Hunter is on the top of Colleen's list of favorite films, the final position is occupied by Apocalypse Now.

Much like his cousin in classical guitar composition Colleen, Jose Gonzalez employs acoustic reverberation as a musical metaphor for personal or universal being.

Also from this author

  • Sounds of summer

    Concert and music festival highlights from air guitar to Woodsist this season 

  • Soul sounds

    The Weeknd and Hype Williams navigate music and identity in 2011

  • Snap Sounds: Jessica 6

  • Also in this section

  • Snap sounds

    Quick takes on new releases

  • Locals only: Outside Lands edition

    A cheat sheet to hometown pride at the year's biggest, priciest party in the park

  • Snap sounds

    Quick takes on new releases