Femminielli Noir Échec & Mat

[MIND; 2017]

Styles: hypotaxis
Others: Charles Baudelaire, Bernardino Femminielli, Jesse Osborne-Lanthier, N-Prolenta, John Wiese

“Often, to amuse themselves the men of the crew 
Lay hold of the albatross, vast birds of the seas-
Who follow, sluggish companions of the voyage, 
The ship gliding on the bitter gulfs.

Hardly have they placed them on the planks, 
Than these kings of the azure, clumsy and shameful, 
Let, piteously, their great wings in white, 
Like oars, drag at their sides.

This winged traveler, how he is awkward and weak! 
He, lately so handsome, how comic he is and uncomely! 
Someone bothers his beak with a short pipe, 
Another imitates, limping, the ill thing that flew!

The poet resembles the prince of the clouds 
Who is friendly to the tempest and laughs at the bowman; 
Banished to ground in the midst of hootings,
His wings, those of a giant, hinder him from walking.”

– Charles Baudelaire, “The Albatross”

“Often times, even the grammar and syntax are wrong, misspelled, disjointed, crookedly blurted out, cut-up — but this makes it more engaging, it leaves the writings open to interpretation and makes it more real for me.”
Bernardino Femminielli

Metaphor is excess. It hulks, bulky and decadent, hustling to substitute the phenomenological with the alchemical, to condense. Baudelaire’s albatross — a mise en abyme of the metaphorical gesture — finds itself bloated with Symbolist indulgence, too chunky to fly.

As a sprawling endeavor, translation undertakes the transmutative crisscross of metaphor. And, like metaphor, translation rarely dislocates without leftovers, without glut. Take “checkmate,” for example: in French, an extra sign, an extra action materializes in the transfer. “Checkmate” transposes into “échec et mat” — or, as Bernardino Femminielli and Jesse Osborne-Lanthier would have it, Échec & Mat.

A recent communiqué from the pair declaims that “French is a suitable metaphor for the inability to understand metaphors,” and it’s not a surprise that Échec & Mat, the long-gestating full-length debut from the pair under Femminielli Noir nom de plume, is stylized in French, especially when the press release announcing its arrival is in English. The choice here discloses something ugly, something extra: Échec & Mat is unclean translation, cumbered with a curlicuing ampersand materializing during the process of transference, of translation, of metaphor. It’s precisely here, amid the space of deferral and condensation, where Femminielli and Osborne-Lanthier fianchetto, dilly-dally, pick at the tenuous chessboard they upend on Échec & Mat.

The corkscrew begins on “Félicitations Éphémères.” Wheedling trills convolute to fill the early seconds; in most games, a board would be set and the pieces arranged. Échec & Mat, however, unravels from the start. As the track gyrates along, treble wobbles gratingly as rancorous percussion broods. The félicitations the title suggests are harsh and dissatisfactory: the words that situate the track, that name it, can’t possibly contain — much less intimate — the anarchic parquetry that churns and curdles beneath the signifier. As a title, “Félicitations Éphémères” is a failing metaphor. But, like the overblown and unwieldly albatross, it collapses on its own weight, fettered by the lingering semiotic trace. The échec, the failure, here is deliberate and deliberating, dispatched to abrade the vocabularies imposed to describe and contain. Out of the cracks squirms nonverbal possibility.

“Jeunesse Dans La Discotèque” needles this juncture even further: its off-kiltered, pittering drum machines and moaned vocals offer a false lead. It doesn’t sound anything like music in a discotèque. The Proustian recollection, crystallizing through language, is exposed as fraudulent: it assembles a retrofitted vision of an imagined past. The affective realities, the embodied and concatenating vibrations and elaborations of the sound, rewrite — through gesture and play — their own syntax, their own rules. At the site of the fissure — between grammars of corporate music-making and tactility of bare sound — Femminielli and Osborne-Lanthier perforate the rift. At the site of the metaphor — the airless transubstantiation — Femminielli & Osborne-Lanthier defer generosity & form & meaning, rewriting the rules of the game through laceration and frustration and provocation.

By the time Échec & Mat, battered and tumescent, lurches into “Califato,” all that’s left is excess. The chessboard of stylistic coherence, elongated and rerouted and diverted and distended, no longer possesses the architecture to suggest — much less circumscribe — a logical regime. But this isn’t stalemate: such fixity embalms a rigid positionality, stiffening into an order of configurations: contiguity, metonymy, parataxis. Check[ & ]mate, however, seethes and recurs and relentlessly recombines, meting out its punishing physics, its gravity of domination and control. Échec & Mat mutates and hybridizes, its aleatory modulation deviating and redirecting with handclaps, kicks, and voice. On “Pissuer (Rapide),” for example, synth egesta trickles upward and downward across scales, rebounding across sonic registers as it accretes astringent kicks into its reticulating inertia of sound and speed. The momentum continues into the accelerating squelch and burn of “Fianchettoed Hustle” before bottoming out into the erogenous bass and tinkling exhalation of “El Gardián.” Through the course of the record — the long game — Femminielli and Osborne-Lanthier engorge the acidified techno into something grotesque, decadent, impossible: through this tactic of attrition, music becomes albatross, whose wings becomes oars and whose overloaded metaphoricity reneges on the transformative capacities of metaphor itself.

On Échec & Mat, Femminielli and Osborne-Lanthier unspool the ampersand and retool poetics and crisis and hybridity into hypotaxis. Drifting across languages and regulations, Échec & Mat is fugitive sound, metaphor denatured. Gone is the king, gone is the castle; the board is overturned, but the results are clear: check and mate.

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