Murcof The Versailles Sessions

[Leaf; 2008]

Styles: sound installation, site-specific musique concrète, ambient
Others: Stephen Vitiello, Yoshi Wada, Toshinori Kondo, Josephine Foster

Tijuana native Fernando Corona has made a name for himself over the last five years with a clutch of gorgeous ambient albums, each less tied to beats and structure than the last. In 2007, the earlier traces of glitch electronica disappeared almost completely from the weighty Cosmos. Follow-up Océano is slated to come out some time next year. In addition to his platters, Corona has been working steadily to score films and collaborate with other artists on the festival circuit. This release, The Versailles Sessions, documents a site-specific piece he created for Les Grandes Eaux Nocturnes, a festival of light and sound held annually at the Palais de Versailles outside of Paris.

His source material here is a battery of baroque instruments, including harpsichord, viola da gamba, and flute. Don’t expect anything similar to labelmate Colleen’s baroque-flavored release from 2007, Les Ondes Silencieuses. Murcof takes these antiquated instruments and anneals them in distortion and echo before they’re released into the sonic atmosphere like grand satellites. Indeed, it’s as if one is listening to a baroque ensemble from a galaxy away, the timbres and melodies scrambled across the distance into dazzling, supernatural data streams.

Corona’s manipulation of the traditional instruments occasionally reminds me of Toshinori Kondo’s galactic unwinding of his own trumpet, except done with more grace and a finer sense of dramatic tension. Rather than bathe everything in celestial effects, Corona allows some sounds to die away in tinny oblivion, emphasizing the grandeur of their echo-heavy counterparts. “Louis XIV’s Demons” sets this dynamic on full display, capturing the fury, pettiness, and might of the impetuous monarch in a lacerating symphony of swords and space. The disc swerves into bleaker orbits as it continues; “Death of a Forest” is a keening threnody that recalls Penderecki’s dissonance with a somber viola da gamba solo and an elegiac vocal line, both seared in distortion. “Spring in the Artificial Gardens” spills out over 12 minutes, a track that seems to indicate that Corona now thinks of himself more as a composer than as a producer, but “Lully’s ‘Turquerie’” is a cagey reminder that he still knows how to mold a sample to the shape of a beat.

Within the extravagant walls of Versailles, this cosmic, spacious work must have been transfixing. Coming through a humble set of headphones, it’s still pretty enchanting.

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