Like the German isolationist electronic composer Thomas Köner, Christopher Bissonnette is an accomplished sound designer with an extensive background in visual and multimedia art. Like much of Köner's vast repertoire, Periphery, which is Bissonnette's first full-length solo effort, is an ambient recording based around manipulated sound sources culled primarily from sampled piano and orchestral artifacts. Bissonnette, along with Mark Laliberte and Chris MacNamara, was a founding member of the Windsor, Ontario-based experimental media collective Thinkbox, who also create experimental and improvisational recordings built upon reassembled constructions of cut-up field recordings.
Aside from his musical pedigree, Christopher Bissonnette's recordings have a similar resonance to much of the work of Thomas Köner; particularly Köner's 2001 Die Stadt release Unerforschtes Gebiet. As was then and is still the order of the day in the field of abstract electronic composition, Köner's recordings were assembled using digitally modified analog recordings to create extended passages of deeply immersive drone-based noise. On Periphery, Bissonnette uses analog samples of classical instruments as his primary source material. The result is a series of atmospheric, glacially-paced compositions fashioned solely from these reconstructed sounds. Bissonnette has developed a process by which brief audio fragments are electronically drawn out and remodeled into monolithic slabs of sound that seem to evolve as they progress, demonstrating an impressive variance in textural density. His work as a multimedia artist has somehow percolated into these recordings, which, in most cases, have an incredibly visual, almost impressionistic quality.
The album begins with "In Accordance," which features what may be the only discretely recognizable source samples to be found on Periphery. The track opens on a hushed note, with what sounds like the sonar ping of a submarine repeating at intervals. The ping gradually concretizes into the distinguishable sound of a single piano key being struck, against a backdrop of introspective and delicate drones that seem to breathe, and then subtly decay. The piece is so undeniably evocative that the listener can almost visualize rays of ocean blue sunlight filtering in through the lower depths of the sea. Bissonnette ultimately changes the context of the "In Accordance," however, by supplanting the track's organic components with digital clicks and pops, and other sounds associated with damaged electronic media. This technique is applied to a few other pieces on Periphery, having the cumulative effect of contrasting the organic elements of the album with the cold, clinical sounds of synthetic electronics. The glitches serve no rhythmic purpose on the record, and, though they are not entirely unsuitable, conceptually, to the recording, these "malfunctions" frequently have the effect of becoming a distraction to the point of nuisance (and almost had this listener scrutinizing the surface of the disc for scratches).
As a whole, Periphery is a beautifully conceived and well-recorded effort that is a worthy addition to the Kranky catalogue, and bodes well for future releases by Bissonnette.
1. In Accordance
2. Proportions in Motion
3. Comfortable Expectations
5. Tenor Viol
6. Travelling Light