he allure of electronic music has always been the seemingly limitless boundaries of the genre and the ability to create sound environments that exist nowhere else. When applied to natural, acoustic instruments, a synergy is created that far exceeds the potential of either by itself: predictable sounds become otherworldly and the experimental becomes approachable. This, however, is not the case with Songs.
After the gorgeous digital guitar explorations on Sebastien Roux’s debut album, Pillow, and last year’s foray into multilayered, avant-garde pop experiments with Greg Davis, I had high expectations for Songs, Roux’s second solo album. Ultimately, though, it is an unorganized mess in the same way that Stockhausen’s Kontakte is. Yet, where Stockhausen’s contribution was a landmark achievement in the world of sound, brilliantly melding alien electronic textures and warped tape manipulations while erratic percussion and piano drowned in the mix, Songs, at best, seems to be lost in its shadow and struggling for a voice.
In 1960 Kontakte illustrated the ability of electronic sounds to mingle with acoustic instruments in order to create an unpredictable and unprecedented result. Songs follows very much in the tradition of this piece, yet utterly misses the point: it’s not the sounds Stockhausen used, but the radical approach to music it demonstrates. That is where the true inspiration lies. Roux’s album attempts to use acoustic instruments as the source for each track and to then amputate them from their natural roots and swath them in a squall of digital noise. Unfortunately, here it comes off as forced and prosaic.
Still, “The Classical Guitar Song” exhibits Roux’s ability to gather natural notes that emanate from the guitar and create a song that scatters sounds in every direction while retaining a melodic intent and a structural arc. It is the best moment on the album, but also the shortest at just over two minutes. Here, as in many places, Roux does not let his ideas unfold long enough—he is too quick to resort to shredding the sounds into a fragmented mess of laptop din that characterizes much of the material on Songs.
Roux clearly understands the lineage of electro-acoustic music—he’s a musical assistant to contemporary composers at IRCAM in Paris—which is why his failure to unearth his own ideas here is a particular disappointment. This, coupled with the fact that Roux’s recent projects have been of the highest grade, leaves Songs inadequate and uninspiring.
Reviewed by: Ryan Potts
Reviewed on: 2006-03-10