Greg Davis & Sébastian Roux: Merveilles

Listeners familiar with Paquet Surprise, the first collaborative outing from Greg Davis and Sébastien Roux, will know pretty much what they're in for with the second Merveilles (French for “wonderland”). True to its song titles (e.g., “San Francisco”), the new release consists of edits of live recordings made during the duo's 2005 tour through Europe and the US. If anyone's up to the challenge of executing free-wheeling travelogues on the fly, it's Davis, whose appetite for experimental music-making is well-documented (e.g., Yearlong and Ku, his respective collaborations with Keith Fullerton Whitman and Jeph Jerman), and Roux, IRCAM employee and music concrète devotee. Though the two are artists of contrasting temperament and approach—at the risk of being overly reductive, one might put Davis's acoustic guitar playing and harmonic drones in one corner and Roux's bold cut-and-paste interventions in the other—, their styles naturally blend during this fifty-five-minute journey through landscapes dotted with field recordings, noise, acoustic guitar episodes, and samples.

After a throat-clearing blast (“Geneva”) cleans out the cranium, we settle in for a quartet of sequentially longer pieces, from the eleven-minute “ London ” to the seventeen “Aalst.” Recorded at Luminaire, “London” emerges from silence peacefully with nature sounds (water, birds) and scattered rustlings before slowly swelling into an immense drone of steely shimmer. What sounds like horses galloping brings the piece to its close, after which “San Francisco” immediately begins. The mood's initially bucolic with Davis 's pretty acoustic guitar playing given the spotlight, even if such placidity is constantly derailed by a battery of noise eruptions that occur alongside. The guitar soon vanishes, ceding the stage to a rich tumult of laptop-generated tones and effects. At one point, the dive-bombing roar the two generate is so loud it's like being strapped to the underside of a 747 as it's leaving the runway. “Eugene,” recorded live on air at KWVA studios in Oregon, brings the intensity down a notch, so much so one can even hear Davis, presumably, saying “That's a bald eagle, dad” in one field recording. A gently lapping rhythm leads the way until it's gradually supplanted by a wavering drone. At disc's end, “Aalst” unfolds unhurriedly through detail-packed passages where abrasive screeches sit side-by-side with piano playing, until it ultimately comes to rest in a sea of ambient tranquility before vanishing into silence. Though Merveilles teems with material that's uncompromisingly adventurous, it's anything but off-putting but rather terrain that can be traversed with ease by any open-minded listener.

November 2008