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Art Zoyd — Häxan
(Atonal ACD 3023, 1997, CD)

Häxan Cover art

Art Zoyd's instrumental palette has been downsized in recent projects from its historical acoustic and electronic diversity, now relying primarily on samplers and synthesizers along with some occasional percussion. The group's uncanny ability to portray emotion with seemingly limitless nuance, however, has adapted itself quite well to the new set of sonic tools. On Häxan, the ensemble's music, as always, engenders stark, disturbing visions in its gothic moods. Collages of mechanical effects bleed into atonal clusters of digital tones, occasionally parting to reveal somber melodies or dreamy textures sprinkled with alien sounds. Yet the effectiveness of this music lies not as much in its surreal atmospheres as in its structural detail. The refined compositional abilities of Thierry Zaboitzeff and Gerard Hourbette, who each contribute about half of the album, are what give this otherwise rather amorphous collection of macabre aural imagery its subtle sense of direction and purpose. Over the 70 minutes of this disc, diverse textures and varied sampled source materials are blended craftily into a coherent emotional progression, shrouded in, but not subdued by the minimalistic instrumentation. Unsettling and at times downright chilling, Häxan is another engrossing musical journey from this unique French ensemble.

by Steve Robey, Published 1998-02-01

Despite Art Zoyd's consistent member roster, it is worth noting that, like classical composers, they rarely collaborate. This soundtrack (their third, not counting commissions for ballet) comprises 72 minutes of music divided into roughly two sections: a 30-minute opus composed by Gerard Hourbette, and a series of six shorter morsels by (the now estranged) Thierry Zaboitzeff. The first segment is based largely around strings and thickly layered orchestral bursts, depicting director Christensen's disturbing visceral imagery. Cynics would call it Art-Zoyd-by-the-numbers; the stoic work doesn't really tread any boards they haven't already firmly walked upon in their twenty-year-plus career. Perhaps the film's narrative didn't allow it to develop as an independent creation — always the hazard when working in soundtracks. Dramatically it builds to an almost oppressive climax, but lacks the shadings that a dash of percussion or cello could have imparted. Thierry, on the other hand, never seems to have repeated himself once. His "Epreuves d'Acier" astounds for its sheer audacity and ability to juxtapose headspinning rhythms at breakneck speed with contrasting moods, all couched in a daring post-atomic miasma. Noisy sound events and bizarre non-verbal chanting (Art Zoyd's trademark) heighten the tone of blasphemic turpitude with which the demonic subject of the film will concur. Denis' stupendous percussion does wonders — one can only shrug at why they score so scantily for him at the kit. For richness of musical heritage, compositional depth, and originality, what other French group can compete, even with this sub-par effort? Häxan should be a must-have item then for those sympathetic to the Zoyd ethos.

by Mike Ezzo, Published 1998-02-01

Art Zoyd's last release, Faust, established a high water mark in the genre of neo-classical chamber-rock for the latter half of the 90s. Combining the performances of four talented electronic musicians (including Thierry Zaboitzeff and Univers Zero alum Daniel Denis), it was also the "soundtrack" to the classic silent film of the same name. The music was composed and performed in sync with the film in a large theater. Häxan is the sequel, if you will. Using the same fundamental approach, and many of the same sounds and instruments, Art Zoyd have pushed themselves into more abstract territory this time. The music is far less concerned about harmonic content, and instead favors minimalism, voices, percussion and samples as the primary drivers. Where Faust was an emotional and powerful piece of multi-layered music, Häxan is the antithesis, despite being built from the same principles. For those who loved Faust, there is plenty here to make it worth your while. But for those new to Art Zoyd, stick with Faust. Evidently it was a better movie, too.

by Dan Casey, Published 1998-02-01

Filed under: New releases, Issue 14, 1997 releases

Related artist(s): Thierry Zaboitzeff, Art Zoyd


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