Cyril Secq / Orla Wren: Branches

The seed for Branches was planted when Astrïd member Cyril Secq contributed guitar to Tui's Orla Wren releases and the idea of a fuller collaboration arose. But the two didn't start from scratch: Secq had on hand a number of guitar recordings he'd targeted for an intended solo project, which instead became the basis for Branches when the French musician passed them on to Tui for further development. In a not unusual move, the recording process advanced via long-distance file sharing, with Secq in France and Tui in Scotland, and over time the album's eight electro-acoustic branches grew into their final form.

A strong balance is achieved on the thirty-five-minute recording between the two musicians' contributions. Tui's digital processing and electronics are omnipresent, and his piano and organ playing is audible, too. Yet while Secq's harmonium and piano also are integral to the sound design, it's his acoustic guitar playing that is the recording's signature element, not to mention its strongest selling-point. In a representative setting such as “Deuxième branche,” Tui generates an alien-sounding backdrop of granular static and hum, whilst Secq uses his acoustic to paint a delicate and sombre picture. “Troisième branche,” by comparison, distances itself from the others by juxtaposing a percolating electronic swarm and the rustic cry of a bowed string instrument, after which classical guitar patterns lend the fourth setting a formal elegance that offsets Tui's Oval-like crackle'n'whirr. If anything, the latter's interventions in some places are too conspicuous, and this listener at least would have preferred to hear more of Secq's guitar without the accompanying textures. To these ears, Branches works best when the acoustic side of the electro-acoustic equation is emphasized.

Regardless, the album title is certainly well-chosen, suggesting as it does natural growth and connectedness. In fact, it's rather remarkable how organic the material is, given the production approach involved. That is, Branches sounds much more like a recording midwifed by two alchemists operating live in a shared physical space than one that was developed in back-and-forth manner with hundreds of kilometres between them.

May 2016