ulien Ottavi doesn’t care about me. This computer musician has crafted a work of sonic extremes so listener-unfriendly, so enervating and tense, that I’m shaking as I write this. Nervure Magnetique is a two-track, 72-minute blast of energy funneled through inscrutable computer processes and spat back out as lumbering multilayered drones and hushed tinkling bits of static. The contrast between these two extremes is what makes this album so compelling (and often torturous).
The first of these untitled tracks begins with a reverberating, circular bass drone that slowly, steadily gains both volume and density as time crawls along. At first, as omnipresent as the sound is, there seems to be at least some space in it, and the drone is almost pretty, like a finger circling around the rim of a half-filled water glass. The drone changes almost imperceptibly, new layers of processed tones seeping into the warm mix, until the drone is oppressive and all-encompassing, infused with crackling static to disrupt the previously sterile proceedings. Pattering beats of interference skip pebble-like across the smooth surface of the drone, like Morse code transmissions being received through the vast ether of space. As the track grows ever denser, the crackling static becomes darker, threatening to burst like thunderclouds into an outburst of Merzbow-like noise.
It never does quite make it to that level, though the grainy glitches do eat up the more melodic drone for a while, leaving just a faint, ghostly hint of its presence lingering in the air, perhaps not even present anymore at all except in memory. Even at this intensity, this is a very nuanced form of noise, never just an impenetrable wall – below the explosion are submerged all manner of beautiful sounds, for those willing to listen a little deeper. At around twenty minutes in, the background begins to sound slightly like a church organ solo, though with the density of sound in the foreground, it’s never clear what’s real and what’s imagination. Then, after over twenty minutes of this, Ottavi cuts everything off, and out of a tense moment of silence emerges a bubbling, vibrating bass drone of intense quiet. This soothing lull is just as full of detail and nuance as the louder moments, and the extreme contrast between this section and the one that preceded it opens the ears to anything.
The second track is even more severe, beginning with soft and sporadic shards of computer noise, at a level too low to be heard without turning the volume way up. At this point, Ottavi’s sense of humor becomes apparent, as twelve minutes into the song a massive explosion of sound crashes out of the silence without any warning. Somehow I keep forgetting about this, and the result is the sound of a Mack truck crashing into the side of my house, with me frantically scurrying to bring the volume back to manageable levels. Once the shock of the moment wears off, the remainder of the track – a ferocious stream of static-y noise, followed by another lull of gentle percussive electronics – is as packed with detail as the first, though the contrast in the extremes is far more sadistic.
Nervure Magnetique is laptop improv at its most exciting and perverse. Ottavi’s music is incredibly complex, both beautiful and challenging. Just make sure you keep your finger poised on the volume control.
Reviewed by: Ed Howard
Reviewed on: 2003-12-18