Colleen Les Ondes Silencieuses

[The Leaf Label; 2007]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: fugue, minimalism, chamber music, meditations, melancholia
Others: Rachel’s, Eluvium, Max Richter, Stars of the Lid

Sitting in pure calm and stillness is a hard thing to do for long, even if we find a nice spot to do so. The human mind wants to move and, if not, to sleep. In trying to absorb Cecile Schott's new Colleen release, I felt myself drifting into unconsciousness. And I wasn't really that tired -- well, maybe I was, but physically I was well-rested enough. The music of Colleen, even in its newly unlooped live instrumentation form, contains the sort of stillness we wind up longing for but rarely know what to do with when it's there: the stillness that leads to a blank, granular settling of pure doze.

There's a plaintive quality at work as well, usually brought on by the fingerpicking rather than bowing of Schott's intruments (which, incidentally, are viola de gamba, clarinet, classical guitar, spinet, and crystal glasses). But it's no less molasses-like in its overall effect. This is perfect bedtime or unwinding-from-a-hectic-experience music. But in a less practical sense, it's also very elegant and mesmerizing in the way it can evoke the fleeting nature of beauty taken in. It's so natural to appreciate beauty, yet it mutates mercilessly, especially when we try to hold it. So there is a sort of restlessness to these songs after all, the restlessness of passive sadness -- all the miniature tragedies that undercut the more acceptably relatable social ebb and flow of human interactions, like looking at the everyday reality of road kill and suddenly feeling a twinge of regret about it. This is sorrowful music, but it's not at all melodramatic. It's that soft, faintly acknowledged inner pulsing that beauty doesn't sustain us. It's a dry reminder of the heedless subjectivity of being an individual consciousness.

The songs on this album move unconsciously, yet deliberately -- like fingers tracing lines across a dust-covered table. There is an alluringly mundane and dusky qualilty to their sparseness, which bolsters the rich textures of the instruments as much as it leaves them naked. Whereas previous Colleen albums exuded a gauzy warmth and faintly seasick headyness, Silencieuses is cooler, more somber. There's still a sense of disorientation at play (the almost arrhythmic bowing of the viola over the guitar picking on "Blue Sands," or the yawning clarinet sustain around the halfway mark of "Sun Against My Eyes"), but the less patterned repetitions of live performance allow space and restraint to ground the proceedings.

While there is no doubt that this album will inevitably make you feel a little sleepy, there are also moments where it could recapture and perhaps meet you halfway on those tenuous times of peace and transparency. Either way, it's delicately gorgeous music that you should take in however you can.

Most Read