The Contest of Pleasures

Albi Days

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In 2001, the French label Potlatch released The Contest of Pleasures by John Butcher, Xavier Charles, and Axel Dörner. The album had a strong impact in avant-garde circles and became a favorite among fans of the then-emerging extremely quiet form of free improvisation. Albi Days (now billed to the Contest of Pleasures) is the belated follow-up -- and it was worth the wait. The fascination exerted by this trio's music resides in the fact that they can make acoustic instruments sound so...non-acoustic. All three musicians use close-miking, toneless breathing, and key-clicking techniques to produce the most alien textures, ones that are more readily associated with digital treatments than any acoustic source. On Albi Days, the trio puts a twist on this aural illusion by composing new pieces from recorded live performances. Working with sound engineer Laurent Sassi, Butcher, Charles, and Dörner recorded in various venues and spaces with various acoustic properties, using various recording techniques. From these hours of recordings, each participant (Sassi included) assembled his own piece. The result is more schizophrenic than the first album, especially in "Les Oignons" (Charles) and "Karfiol" (Dörner), two tracks with a strong collage feel. Butcher's two contributions focus more on acoustic illusions, combining dry sax notes with echo-drenched trumpet, building a Frankenstein-esque acoustic ambience in the process. Sassi's "Les Cornichons" concludes the CD with a mesmerizing chorus of churchy long drones and bubbly textures. To their strong improvising instincts, the three musicians here add an uncanny, destabilizing sense of composition that draws the listener into a hall of mirrors worth losing yourself in. Highly recommended to fans of either of these fascinating artists.

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