Frédéric Gerchambeau / Bruno Karnel — Amra
(Bandcamp no#, 2019, DL)
by Peter Thelen, Published 2020-03-06
I’ve been listening to this collaboration between these two French artists for about four months now, scratching my head, trying to figure it out, trying to think of something intelligent I could write about it, shelving it and coming back a couple weeks later for a retry. Fact is this is very unusual music that doesn’t really follow any standard rules or fit into any pre-existing genres. We know Gerchambeau via his Catvaratempo collaborations with another French electronic artist, Bertrand Loreau, perhaps it’s one of the finest electronic releases of 2018. Here on Amra (a word meaning “Eternity” in Sanskrit), he accompanies Bruno Karnel with a Eurorack modular synthesizer and analog sequencer. Karnel has a number of previous releases going back to 2011, and here, he wrote and sang or recited (some pieces seem like poetry with musical accompaniment) all of the lyrics, and played a variety of instruments including electric guitar, mandolin, peruvian charango, turkish saz, and various other things with strings. There are seven tracks here, and on the early ones the lyrics are predominamtly in French, but on later tracks we hear other languages – not sure but I believe they are various Native American tongues given titles like “Tatuyan” or the sixteen minute closer “Axolotl.” Gerchambeau’s synths and sequences are bold and powerful, pretty much driving everything forward with pulses, grooves, bleeps, and strange electronic sounds, while Karnel’s instrumental contributions are more incidental, a little of this here and that there to highlight Gerchambeau’s synth work, until we get to the aforementioned closer, where distorted electric guitars dominate all the instrumental textures. Throughout, there are no drums per se, just some glitchy sounds produced by the synths and incidental guitar distortion, but more than anything the vocals are way up high in the mix, and Karnel is a superb singer, so voice and instrumentation are in a everpresent battle for dominance; at first it was a bit shocking but after a half dozen or more plays, it all works well together. So what does this sound like? Read the second sentence again. If pressed for a comparison, imagine Silver Apples with a full blown modular synth instead of a table full of primitive oscillators, ditch the drums, and present the vocals mostly in French, with saz, guitar, and other strings supporting. Amra really is like nothing else.
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