Dorine_Muraille: Mani

Mani arrives from Fat Cat as part of its Splinter series, suggesting that the release will be more avant-garde in comparison to the label's already adventurous fare. Dorine_Muraille is the nom de plume of Julien Locquet, a Frenchman in his 20s, who is ably assisted here by a number of contributors but most prominently by French novelist Chloé Delaume who provides lyrics and vocals. A quintessential example of laptop electronica in its embrace of collage and cut-and-paste methodologies, Mani is most obviously indebted to Oval. Imagine Markus Popp locked in a studio for a week or two with nothing to work with but French chansons and folksong instrumental sound sources as well as his own Oval Process software and Mani might conceivably be the result. While Oval is the primary influence, the guitar treatments on “50actionexpress” and “dans ton doki” are clearly reminiscent of Fennesz's Endless Summer . What distinguishes Mani from other recordings in the genre is how it maintains tension throughout between the natural sounds of piano, vocals, drums, violins, and guitar which carry with them sentimental traces and the digital treatments that slice and rearrange them into shredded soundscapes.

Track one, “le supplice de la baignoire,” is fairly representative of the overall approach. Acoustic guitars, spoken male and singing female voices, piano, and violin are besieged by incessant hissing, crackling, and aural jump-cutting. The original recordings of acoustic elements are subjected to such an overwhelming amount of processing that the source materials become fragmentary, phantom traces seeping through the digital stew. However, the effect is, in fact, not jarring but strangely moving and poignant. The nostalgic melody traces provide a warmth that is offset by the colder electronic treatments which prevent Mani from lapsing into kitsch. Furthermore, there is a restless, constant engagement with the material that is invigorating and inspired. Admittedly, the effect can become wearying when stretched across 45 minutes but that is perhaps more an acknowledgement of the amount of exhaustingly dense detail that occasionally threatens to and at times does drown the natural source elements (‘perdre' a case in point). “Muraille_1” by contrast begins refreshingly with a largely unadorned piano section which is abruptly swallowed by an onslaught of strangulated treatments. Still, Delaume's vocal manages to pierce through the digital miasma, saving the track from collapsing under the weight of its fusillade of treatments.

Aside from the generally positive impression Mani leaves upon the listener, one wonders what Locquet might do as a follow-up. Having explored so thoroughly this fusion of French singing, country folksong, and laptop digitalia, one might be forgiven for wondering whether Mani might not already have exhausted whatever potential this tiny corner of the genre might have. At the same time, Markus Popp has proven himself to be remarkably resilient and resourceful in constantly finding new ways to transcend whatever constrictions his own approach might seem to have imposed upon him. It will be interesting to see whether Locquet has the requisite artistry to transcend the stylistic limitations implied by this accomplished release.

March 2003