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vendredi 28 avril 2006

Farmer now

Âpreté des sons
Tourmente des vents
Mémoire ...
Qui m'oublie, qui me fuit

Jésus ! J'ai peur
Jésus ! De l'heure ...
Qui me ramène
A des songes emportés,
A des mondes oubliés (...)
When the regular "pop music" writer at the Factory told me how miffed he was to be denied access to a Mylène Farmer concert in Paris's big Bercy venue simply to do his job, I was doubly surprised. Rotterdam Spacemusic presenter *TC*, whose broadcasts in English are a wide-ranging pleasure, apparently got in with some ease to give us a generous podcast on that show, while the AFP correspondent is as strong a fan of the woman as me and he's an experienced, likeable guy good at his work and not some pushy upstart who irritates artists and their aides.
If you know Mylène's nature and get the gist of those first lines above from the title track opening her new 'avant que l'ombre...' ('before the shadow...') album, which she sings like a real prayer of fear for worlds departed and dreams swept away, it's easier to make sense of the cold shoulder the man got from her entourage, though her lyrics remain as intimate as ever.

The "torment of the winds" in the second line of the song has for Farmer long been an interior turmoil that characterises this woman on the cusp of her 40s and gives expression to a morbid and bleak part of her with which millions of fans in the French-speaking world and more recently in "Anglo-Saxon nations" must identify, however strongly they might deny it in bright daylight. If this weren't true, she could never have achieved the superstar status a shy and long insecure poetess like Mylène began to acquire in the 1980s.
Many of the video clips she made then with her lover and producer Laurent Boutonnat, a musician and filmmaker who is equally inward-looking and richly imaginative, are short but real movies. None of your singer and band on stage with a few clever effects for these two, for some of those clips are brief historical narratives with scores of actors and extras. In 1993, Mylène and Boutonnat headed to a frosty Slovakia to make a feature film, 'Giorgino,' a World War I love story and psychological thriller that was not a box office success the next year. The terrifying intensity of atmosphere was compounded by an almost tyrannical turn the usually retiring director took on the set, where he subdued his heroine and gave the lead role to US punk musician and very wooden actor Jeff Dahlgren.

VideoFar better than a film that was also much too long because Boutonnat is a fan of David Lean and achievements like 'Lawrence of Arabia' and 'Doctor Zhivago', but lacks what it takes to make blockbusters on that scale, are the clips that form as good an introduction to Farmer as anything, like this set and maybe particularly the 'Music Videos I'. She did drama school when her French parents brought the family here to live in a leafy Paris suburb from Québec, where she was born, going on later to distort and then, it would seem by most accounts, quite genuinely to forget much of an ordinary, untroubled childhood. Once she met Boutonnat, his own darker upbringing coloured her mind and her music as revealed on her first album, 'L'Autre' ('The Other').
It's taken me this long to get to the music since there's no approaching Marie-Hélène Gautier without high expectations of the imagery full of symbolism ranging from the small crucifix she wears in several pictures in the new CD-DVD set and other potent Christian images to blood-splattered snow and devices like the giant metal spider that formed part of one of her more famous touring shows. It's not all sombre either, but a singer who renamed herself for Frances Farmer, a forgotten Hollywood starlet of the 1930s and '40s whose career ended in a mental asylum, frequently haunts and is haunted by our darkness without which there can be no light and when she puts on a show it is hugely spectacular.

However, in the darkness of some of her poetry, it's less an obsession with themes of death and rebirth -- though they are there with nightfall and the dawn and indeed that's how I listened to 'avant que l'ombre' a while back during a difficult night when I couldn't sleep so worked instead -- than the notions of memory and the loss of it, frequent childhood fears that linger on well into adulthood, a fascinated abhorrence of violence, and isolation and solitude that she often stirs up.

There are no two ways with Mylène Farmer. Many people immensely admire her savagely wild and stormy gifts and others seriously dislike her. In previous entries I've mentioned how some of the videos were banned by television channels or deeply upset the Roman Catholic church for her ambiguous take on good and evil. Ambiguity is so deep in her nature that it's a sexual theme she's used as both the hungrily carnal, wolverine hunter and a childlike virgin in white, vulnerable to abuse, with an androgynous nature that drew part of her public from the gay community.

Whatever she does, Mylène raises very high expectations and I had them for this latest release that came at a time when she'd been talking -- something she does less and less with the media -- about a retirement of sorts. It's a very good album too, with her fragile voice at its soundest, rich in her poetry and with some very fine musical touches from Boutonnat, who brings in instruments like a solo cello on 'Derrière les fenêtres' and the clarinet of 'Redonne-moi', and a touch of Pink Floyd's 'The Wall' in the school chorus on the track that makes for the DVD (along with a good "making of") called 'Fuck them all' -- an inside-out, upside-down "love and war" song where the video isn't Boutonnat this time, but directed by Agustin Villaronga.
Yet I'm disappointed and at first, with repeated listenings, it was hard to put my finger on why until I thought of what the Factory's music writer told me and decided Mylène is precariously treading water for too much of the album and she's drowning rather than waving over that very wall that came to mind. It's not quite that this is more of the same old; it isn't, Farmer is herself older than I'd realised before thinking about it and there's a maturity and new depth in the imagery and the word-play she can do very well. So if you don't know her, it's musically not such a bad place to start.

However, I wouldn't! It's a well produced album, certainly in the "digipack" version", and beautifully packaged, a work of art in itself, but it's too dark, too isolated and the love in it all, for there's plenty of that, is somehow predatory and self-consuming. This is a very far cry from a New York pair who disappeared from the log when I "lost" several entries last month.
This was even more evident in listening to Boutonnat and Farmer after the miraculous shared fantasy and passion on stage and in studio I'll reinstate on rewriting Jennifer Charles and Oren Bloedow, whose second of three Elysian Fields albums I intend to take as one was called 'Dreams that Breathe Your Name'.
Farmer then'Before the shadow...' -- let's read it that way in English -- is more fears and fantasies that "breathe our name" and seen as imagery, too close for real comfort to a snake swallowing its tail. Mylène needs some air again! It's fascinating listening sometimes and I've credited Farmer as the first musician I could bear and even thoroughly enjoyed in a previous entry written on emerging from a personal hell when somebody happened to be playing it in my local, Le Bouquet. By way of thanks -- though I didn't tell her -- I got a copy of this new one for the woman obviously very into 'Anamorphosée.'
The point about that 1995 album is how Farmer got some air.
She did a bunk after the Slovakian drama and headed off to California, where Florence Rajon, a writer to whom I owe a little of the biographical detail here, coyly says she enjoyed a close friendship with that "wooden actor" of 'Giorgino'. It's blatant from the zest and joie de vivre that counterbalance the intense side of Mylène on the "American album" she gave two fingers to Boutonnat and France for a spell.

It's by far the best place to start getting to know Ms Farmer. I guess Boutonnat was too wised up and mature to have been unduly bothered by his mate's affair with Rundgren. He threw in some deservedly chart-topping dance stuff and electronica too as part of some of his best music on this one. Knowing this tale amuses me, as I hope it does you.
I'd wondered what anamorphosis has to do with anything, but according to the site I bookmark for these things,, the word means: "2. Evolutionary increase in complexity of form and function" (hers or his?) and "1. An image that appears distorted unless it is viewed from a special angle or with a special instrument" or "The production of such an image".
The Kid, a literary creature herself, liked a lot of that stuff and went on as you might want to do, discovering 'Innamamorento', along with the Bercy live double album and another of my favourites, 'Ainsi soit-je.....'. Thus am I, so that unlike Marianne's my taste for Mylène is unchanged and I shan't accuse the bright little spark of doing whatever the word is for the opposite of an "evolutionary increase", now she's moved on beyond the heavy metal and techno that came later.

My problem -- a false one the way I like 'em -- is enjoying too much for the Kid. I guess it is a bit difficult if you're stuck with a dad who doesn't clap his hands to his ears at anything with which you try to shock him. But that digression apart, if Mylène hasn't packed it in -- which she won't, there's an EP coming next month drawing on this latest -- she's a "shocker" in need of one herself.
I wrote "she's drowning" in the present tense, but you can only do that once. This column started out with a severe case of splendid isolation. Should she go on keeping her more lenient critics the far side of a wall, I know the woman will find herself as off-balance as I was during that night's listening twice to 'Avant l'ombre...', when I also determined that the worst hours are not those of the two in the morning ideas Farmer sometimes plays with, but the ones just before the dawn.
She speaks and sometimes sings in English, so should she happen to browse this way, then my message to Mylène is that whether it's another 'California' she wants to get excited about or even Siberia, it doesn't make any odds to me, but that's enough of our innards for a bit, isn't it? I hardly expect her to break up with Boutonnat again, but they both need to take a leaf out of my book and get out of themselves. As a farmer should, she closes the album with a breath of air in 'Et pourtant', including the lines:

"J'entrevoyais le chemin
Qui mène à l'ombre
Et pourtant
L'amour comble."*


*Go on. If you don't understand, ask a friend.
The pics are scans, respectively, from the latest and from the "American album". Ms Farmer doesn't need a mid-life crisis quite yet, but then you know how fond I am of women in their 40s!

6:36:50 PM  link   your views? []

jeudi 27 avril 2006

Mahler No 2In light of recent discoveries and developments, I've shunted aside large numbers of the rocker fellas on the iPod, such as the J. Geils Band and the Stones, and even "progressive" Pink Floyd" to make way for the giants who have been sitting in iTunes unheeded for far more than a year.
I've haven't put Wagner's 'Ring' cycle back yet!

It may not be some people's idea of relaxing to listen to Liszt's 'Faust Symphony', Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, Bruckner's Fifth, or as I am now, to Mahler's 'Resurrection' Symphony No 2 under Leonard Bernstein's brilliant baton, with long logging pauses for the quiet passages ... but I think you get the drift.
SchoenbergSince there's also just enough room on a big iPod, without removing any of hundreds of "popular" women musicians, I'll be going on trips like Arnold Schönberg's 'Gurrelieder'. This work, illustrated as I now have it conducted by Riccardo Chailly but wonderfully recorded too by Pierre Boulez, is about as powerful as you can get any love story beyond until death did they part. I also find it's perhaps the vast piece that could lift somebody who thinks "I don't know anything about 'classical music'" -- a nonsensical statement* foisted on too many people -- straight through from the 19th to 20th centuries without an explanatory word needing to be said, apart from the fashion in which the composer himself introduces speech and the springtime; this is, if you've managed to survive a ghoulish onslaught until that stunning moment of surprise (and even that doesn't give the game away). The tale of Tove and Waldemar is an overwhelming epic of a kind I used to dose myself with about once every couple of years when I was a sprightly lad.
In such a slowed-down mood, I've also got a ready ear again for other "late romantic" masterpieces like the operas 'Der Ferne Klang' by Franz Schreker and Ferrucio Busoni's 'Doktor Faust', I'm going for rather a long stroll because all those were written around the turn of a century ago.

It would seem my friend Dom has opened a very rusty door, but nothing the other side of it needs oiling or dusting down. It's more a matter of sending the minute electro-chemical charges down some neuronal pathways like memory lanes waiting to be lit up again.
Dutilleux and LutoslawskiOne or two very old friends remember how I adored -- and used to write about -- taking the kinds of cosmic excursions and inner journeys created by people in the last century who are still scarcely all household names, such as Horatio Radulescu (Piano Concerto 'The Quest'); Henri Dutilleux (Cello Concerto 'Tout Un Monde Lointain'); Edison Denisov (Symphony); Ernest Moeran (Symphony); Benjamin Britten ('War Requiem' and a concerto where the solo violinist is expected to double-stop** her or his way about as high as the Pole Star in the last movement); Alfred Shnittke (whose 1977 Concerto Grosso No 1 included some of the wittiest and sudden "jazz fusion" of the pre-Perestroika period); Michael Tippett (for the première of his choral work 'The Mask of Time', some decades after the oratorio 'A Child of Our Time', which some readers will know I love); and the bushy-bearded Per Nørgard (who burned my brain with the 1976 first performance of his Third Symphony, then went on to achieve what Wagner had in mind before he died and wrote 'Siddharta', an opera on the life of Prince Gautama, the Buddha); and many others too long neglected.
I just feel that fully to resource myself, I need men like these arm in arm with the ladies right now. Concerning the latter, today a decision was made: I do have a deeply favourite record to sum up my 2005. It just has to be Heather Nova's 'Redbird' (but you've had plenty of pictures).

I may be gone for some time.
Given the woman's seeming capacity to turn her moods, spirit and hand to anything, I wonder what Heather Nova would think of doing a concerto for alto voice, chorus, acoustic guitar, Bermudan band and an orchestra whose brass section is about the size of Mahler's...
Certainly gone, I fear, are the days I might have aspired to help write it!


*What is truly "nonsensical" is to be put in a position where you've got a perfectly sound musical ear but are led to think you know nothing about so-called classical music by people who are pretentious and put you down -- outside their élitist arena.
Most people simply begin by knowing what they enjoy, much as I love some impressionist or surrealist painting while knowing very little about most of the artists, how they do it or their place in art history.
If you catch me writing about music like some pompous academic, the "comments" box is there for you tell me to pack in that kind of off-putting bullshit immediately! The chances are, however, that along with the women, from now on we shall find a place on this log for composers of both sexes like the ones named above.
I'd never suggest one kind of music is "light" while the sort listed above is "heavy" since there's so much radiance as well as darkness in many such orchestral and choral works, but to try to say the impossible -- that is by weighing music in a way nobody really can -- some of these extensive works calling for huge forces are a ballast I feel I've been missing for too long.
To take such a line of argument any further, though, would be as absurd as asking if a magnificently storm-tossed ocean is more or less beautiful than a crystal mountain brook. It all comes from the same wellspring in our shared humanity, doesn't it? This music log has never been about anything else.

**To "double-stop" on a violin or other stringed instrument is a technique of playing two notes at once. If they're in a very high register or soaring pitch, as in the third, closing part of Benjamin Britten's concerto, a good player can draw joy from your tear ducts and lift the hairs on the back of your neck.

10:28:23 PM  link   your views? []

samedi 22 avril 2006

Revised ... under threat.
I had said if one of my kinder pals is right, you're in for a treat.
I've written nothing in The Orchard since February 15 and it's been longer still since you've had news of the Literary Lion, the would-be Al Capones of my part of Paris and other local tales. And there are new members of a cast of characters some of you mourned as if they'd died once I stopped blogging fables, perfectly factual, of one of this city's last real villages. I've also been asked to write about the so-called "side-effects" of a new drug, what I made of the Great French Upheaval of the past two months, and something many say you'd like to know: what Taliesin thinks of France's new copyright laws.
I think we're in for a magical mystery tournament in a glade bright with banners amid a number of stout trees and he's taken sides already. I've chosen my weapons for this joust too: words and music. More and freer music.
All that would be tiresome without shaking hands with a software genius ... or describing how I determined my weekly food shopping weighs about half as much as me ... or even straying into some white realms of witchcraft.
Yes. There is a musician in all this.
Tia KnightThe threat, mailed by Dom for the next log entry, was to cast an unpleasant spell if I left everything I'd said of a pagan musician there in The Orchard as well.
But it was a hunch, firmed up by Tia Knight herself at Blackwood Manor Music based on my admiration for quirky and stubborn classical musicians Glenn Gould and Scott Ross, both now deceased, that led me to hear their ways in this woman, who stepped forward to see me through Friday.
Ross was sometimes a harpsichord player. He was at home with J.S. Bach, G.F. Händel and Antonio Soler (as in this 'Récital de clavecin') and with the music of royal courts such as French ones. They usually had so little time for "witches" the poor women got toasted.
On her second album, Tia makes a 2003 'Homequest' return to such origins -- the simple, song-like and short keyboard piece 'Jester's Folly' does this beautifully -- while also using her woodwinds and electronics. She gets cast as New Age at the intriguing and varied Weed Music download site, where I pinched this picture. Now I'd really like to get to know a third album, 'Smoke and Mirrors' she announces as "swirling with sexy".
'Homequest' can have the same near hypnotic effect as high-flying mediaeval music, using repetitive forms and tonalities still widely thought alien to our modern ears until we simply listen to the music. It is an uplifting but laid-back album. Tones Tia borrows are almost outside time, like monastic Gregorian chant, a kind of "forever" music, coming and going as from nowhere yet simply being, here and now.

The smoke and mirrors will be sounds and how Tia plays with them. She offers an introduction to her range on a Knight music page, with no fewer than half a dozen pieces to download. The six songs are the kind of high-quality generosity and sharing I've come almost dangerously to expect from so many of the women about whom I write.
They are gifts.
Try 'Perfect Love', a track where the opening toll of seemingly vast ancient bells leading into an electronic drone -- very much a "dark age" and mediaeval thing, "drones" -- and overlaid departure lounge-type announcements make for motion amid stillness that can be conveyed only in music, not words of mine.

Still, until I've heard lots more music, given the stories I did tell in The Orchard, my feeling remains that 'In so dense a forest, we'll need a Knight like Tia' and how she came to my rescue. For watch out! Modern mediaeval ghosts are about...
..and some very powerful people did try to exile dreams.

11:59:09 PM  link   your views? []

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