Les Halles Transient

[Not Not Fun; 2016]

Styles: new age, ambient, uchronia
Others: Dolphins into the Future, Matthew Barlow, Dan Gibson

The very act of recording is a safeguard against time, a grab for immortality. A common bit of internet trivia tells us that the laugh tracks on TV belong to audience members long since deceased. Harlan Ellison’s short story “Laugh Track” describes a woman trapped in tape, forced to laugh at increasingly terrible sitcoms through the years. Representational media such as photographs and recordings imply not only a synchronic authenticity, but an ahistorical longevity. However, we know this to not be the case, and every time we recover a phantom voice from the vault, it is essentially changed by that temporal disjuncture. To tear something from its context and re-present it is to make it new.

Leyland Kirby’s Caretaker moniker gestures toward a sense of archival integrity, but upon listening to his work, melancholy and nostalgia surface from old-timey dance numbers. Vaporwave is another example of difference through recontexualization, calling forth the (relatively) ancient sounds of the 80s into the contemporary moment in a gesture irruptive and destabilizing. Whether it be Dixieland tunes or Muzak jazz, repackaging a cultural artifact has an effect and that effect can best be described as uchronia, an imagination of and an engagement with a time that may have existed, but did not. These resurrections typically have an eerie or disruptive mode, inspiring uncertainty and unease or demanding cynicism and distance. The Caretaker constructs an ominous history of 1900s transience and anxiety, while vaporwave scribbles a Reaganaut fanfic culminating in our psychosocial ills at the End of History. All in all, the technique is simple: pilfer the past to upset the present.

A curious phenomenon to note alongside the development of such styles is the serious critical reevaluation of New Age music from a huge variety of outlets. Small labels dedicated to recapturing the sound have sprung into existence alongside larger players, such as Stones Throw, RVNG Intl., and Numero Group, reissuing and reviving older artists. Perhaps most integral to its return to focus was the Yoga Records & Light in the Attic reissue I Am the Center, which allowed an alternative genealogy to be traced to contemporary ambient artists (A friend of mine once described Alice Damon’s “Waterfall Winds” as “essentially a Grouper track”).

It is in this reemerging New Age arena that Baptiste Martin, under the airy moniker Les Halles, seeks to make the most delicate of splashes. Having recorded since 2012, his newest release, Transient, is far from his first grappling with New Age uchronia. He founded, alongside Magnétophonique, Carpi Records and was issued on self-described spiritual imprint Constellation Tatsu and had a 2015 release on Noumenal Loom. No longer confined to a C26, Transient is actually a little less so than previous releases, but the methodology remains the same. Using recontextualization and subtle manipulation, this record is built primarily out of samples from Amerindian flutes and washed out with delay, the atmosphere one of hypnagogic drift. Rather than indulge in the conveniences of doom or criticism, Les Halles uses the sounds of these New Age recordings to create something therapeutic, a psychospiritual embrocation against anxiety while grappling earnestly with ubi sunt.

Opener “Hypochondria of the Heart” features scaling pipes echoing over themselves, constructing their own hazy backdrop. It’s a circular feeling, as these samples fold gently into a swelling hiss only to resurface, reminiscent of the interplay between shoreline and a gentle lake. This cut — and Transient as a whole — is almost a digital take on Dan Gibson’s Solitudes, meshing together what is extant and natural with what is human-made and manipulated. However, in both cases, the result never feels constructed. Rather, it is an organic extension of art and nature or the lost, foggy past of anonymous “folkloric” recordings and the hyper-personal artistic present.

The bodies that moved the breath in “Above Dust” are now dust themselves. Moving through the grainy cloud of sound, lilting and listless, the inherently spectral nature of the record asserts itself. Rather than conjuration, which carries some contractual implications, Les Halles is involved in evocation, diverting the spirits from their original home to a new one. In the Roman usage, it justified the looting of cities, since divesting a place of spiritual presence meant it was impossible to offend local divinities. However, in the case of Transient, this calling forth, in New Age fashion, is not for a material purpose, but for an imaginative one. It’s an engagement with these uchronic worlds, worlds that resemble ours but never existed. Rather than a utopia that occupies place, this music is concerned with a temporal image.

Take the titular track, for example. At nearly eight minutes, it’s by far the longest on the record, but it devours its own lifespan. On the surface, it seems to rejoice in static cyclicity, looping the same melody over most of its length, but it reveals more depth as tiny embellishments timidly break its placidity. This repetition with a difference is how Les Halles makes the most of his compositions. Meditation demands that you focus your time on one idea, make it your center, your mantra. Over time, new dimensions of these foci appear, complicating particularity and building something far more complex than a single image might imply. With track titles such “Our Way in the Flowing Sand,” it is impossible to deny his temporal concerns.

In an interview with TMT, fellow Not Not Fun labelmate and New Ager Lieven Martens (Dolphins into the Future) recognized several things going on in his own work that we might like to bring to bear on Transient. The first is the obvious one: “My music is no more or less than the music created hundreds of years ago by some indigenous inhabitant of a small atoll in Micronesia.” Although using different sources, the fuzziness, technically and texturally, in both artists’ work can be read through this impulse to connect with a past that possessed a questionable relationship with history. Whether it’s harnessing the slow rhythm of ocean waves or the diaphanous melody of decaying flutes, there is an attempt to occupy a dreamy outertime through music. The second statement I would like to bring attention to is at the close: “In these postmodern days, a lot of things could be approached with the filter of ‘naivete’ or irony, but that is not something I’m dealing with.” What Martens is dealing with is himself as he works through the development of his compositions, and the same could be said for the work of Les Halles. There is nothing critical or sarcastic about Les Halles’s engagement with New Age sounds; rather, it’s an earnest attempt to imagine and reimagine himself. The self always exists in and over time, and one of the ways to escape that temporal anxiety is to take oneself into another stream, another world in which the apprehensions of the future and pressures of the present all dissolve beneath the oracular light of the past.

Les Halles recalls the night he began his project as a lonely one. He heard for the first time Elton John’s “Rocket Man” and composed “Ursa Major” while staring into the depths of the evening sky. It’s a short tale, surely, but one filled with anxiety and solitude, an attempt to decipher the coded constellations and hoping that, once you do, you might find your own name in their archives. Like Gibson’s Solitudes, it’s a composition of only himself and the world around him. Even behind the camera, Gibson was always present in his work, reclaiming a significance in the face of a nature so grand it could exclude him without a thought. Transient, as the name suggests, is Les Halles’s bulwark against the entropic march that dissolves and anonymizes gradually and painfully, shoveling all things onto the heap of shattered symbols. It is his step into another time in which the ephemeral exists alongside the eternal as a procession of discrete significances. No kitsch and no irony, rather an honest attempt to resuscitate those feelings of connectedness and individuality that the New Age promised.

Links: Les Halles - Not Not Fun

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