Charles-Eric Charrier Silver

[Experimedia; 2011]

Styles: experimental, drone, jazz fusion, raga
Others: Guillaume Gargaud, Gastr del Sol, Danny Paul Grody

I was tying up loose ends last month — mercilessly quantitative News Year’s resolutions, letters handwritten-by-necessity — and one of them was translating feelings into thoughts vis-à-vis Charles-Eric Charrier’s Silver, which for nine months I’d been sitting on. In that interval, this relatively spare, instrumental work has been always pendulous, ever swinging in or out of favor/rotation and not always at the same time. At points, toward the beginning of the year, I was convinced that Charrier’s album was a sort of coming, that its alchemy represented a hugely uncommon alignment between the physical and the metaphysical; more recently, he has seemed to be a fluent musician constructing relatively spare, instrumental music. I know that comes off as evaluative or whatever, but it’s really any organized mind’s attempt to negotiate those knowns and unknowns — if this here codification tilts slightly toward the latter, that isn’t to say this album isn’t a proboscis dense with Important questions. Here’s one: Why does music make so much sense as a spiritual outlet?

I ask that as your standard contemporary agnostic-spectrum twenty-something, politically resistant but otherwise fully aware that my listening to certain albums borders on Pagan ritual (probably why I haven’t been able to unlink this from Gastr del Sol, even though in no way is Silver that same sort of Rubik’s Cube). Charrier asks the question knowing that it’s age-old — like, do I really have to link a YouTube of Handel here? — but also knowing that spirituality simply doesn’t age the way most things do. In a brief interview conducted by Fluid Radio about a year ago, Charrier explains (in the sort of elliptical language one often sees in both French translations and French learners of English) that regardless of what was happening on the level of musicianship, the heft of the project originates in a personal, spiritual moment. (Don’t ask about the oddly clinical track titles.) Charrier would do his best to explain this spiritual feeling to his bandmates Ronan Benoit and Cyril Secq, who would then flesh out Charrier’s “question mark” to the best of their understanding. What we have here, then, is Spirituality translated into Language and subsequently translated into Music — my job being to translate the Music back into Language. So when I hear in “9 moving” a fairly obvious guitar-raga idiom that threads through the Fahey/Rose/Bishop/Chasny/whoever-else lineage, I’m even accusing myself of not reading between the notes (and there’s some amazingly fraught space between those notes) or doing justice to the layers at work.

Dave Hickey shares my self-deprecating smirk in his essay “Air Guitar,” wherein he compares criticism to the namesake: “flurries of silent, sympathetic gestures with nothing at their heart but the memory of the music.” Which, despite being an admission of the weakness at play here, still goes a long way toward answering that central question raised by Silver. At their best, neither music nor spirituality are effable. The fact that “9 moving” ends up being idiomatic reveals what a leap of faith the act of translation itself is, and how musical lexis is always already limited by collocation. Fittingly, in the aforementioned interview, Secq jumps in to corset Charrier’s vague processualism; we learn in relatively concrete terms that the drums and bass were initially improvisational “skeletons” and that the guitar and keyboards were added in a second session of overdubs. In other words, the weight of the first session’s memory inevitably guided or ‘composed’ the second — just one of the many ways that the ‘composed-improvised’ binary, harangued by my colleague Matthew Horne “last year,” can be derailed. The tension between structure and structurelessness is audible; the bass in “6 I” is constantly curving away from the center of the song, while the guitar, customarily the idealist, dies of thirst on the tonal DADGAD plane. And I can’t say enough about the termitelike drums throughout, their persistence and infinitesimal variation creating as much space as possible.

I would suggest that, at its best, Silver becomes a thing of extraordinary depth and complexity, but I’d really be referring wholly to “12 moving” — a massive, scending cloud of ricocheting hi-hats and gaseous organs sucked into and spat out of tiny slats — which could transfix for well more than its 11 minutes. But the piece is more straight-up otherworldly than sublime, an entity so witnessable that it loses all connection with belief. And it casts, perhaps, an unfair shadow over the tiny synchronicities (the major third that relaxes everything at the end of “9(8) electricity”; the electric violin that rises out of the tonic in “9 moving”; even the foregrounded imperfection of that first spaghetti chord a minute and a half into “21 echoes short”) that thread their way to the signified and, therefore, seem so much more in line with Charrier’s project.

Silver presents the listener with a choice: We can either get bummed by the fallibility built into the project of translation, the fact that post-rock or jazz or whatever other histories find their way into the apertures of Charrier’s evermore-surfaced “spiritual idea”; or we can rejoice in the implication that spirituality, even if we don’t like to call it that, can still be an infinite wellspring for (musical) creation in the post-everything millennium, that it can still converge with the recognizably post-everything. Translation requires not only belief in your own phenomenological experience — that’s the easy part! — but a belief that it has transferability, currency, value beyond the self. The impossible task of further ‘purifying’ phenomena like the ones behind/within Silver is exciting for the same reason that the album itself is exciting: The irreversible not-quite, pacified by idiom; the radial exponent involved in missing the mark.

Links: Charles-Eric Charrier - Experimedia

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