release date: 03.03.2023 on Crammed Discs, Made to Measure Vol.48
In the wake of their acclaimed comeback album Figures (2020), Aksak Maboul took a playful sideways step to create this total work, a 63-minute, conti- nuous suite of fifteen pieces, which could be described as an experimental audio play.The thread running through Une aventure de VV (Songspiel) is Véronique Vincent’s text, an enigmatic philosophical-poetical tale unfolding through monologues and dialogues, spoken and sung by a series of characters. The music was written & arranged by Marc Hollander and features his characteristic genre-hopping tendencies: strands of electronica, pop, jazz, collage, techno, ambient, improv, krautrock, contemporary classical & systems music are merrily woven together, in the inimitable Aksak Maboul style.
The album’s subtitle, Songspiel, highlights its theatrical/musical aspect: the work pays oblique homage to the those experimental radio plays that once emerged from the creative workshops of the BBC, the RTF and the RAI, and especially to those German Hörspiels which, at their best, might combine spoken word, instrumental or electronic music, songs and sonic research.*
Une aventure de VV also modestly alludes to certain stage works written by adventurous composers during the first half of the 20th century, which em- braced singing, spoken dialogues and elements inspired by popular music. Those composers sometimes invented genre names to describe their pieces: fantaisie lyrique, mimodrama, or… songspiel).
* Incidentally, that tradition seems to be regaining ground thanks to the popularity of creative podcasts, which draw audiences into the experience of extended, active listening, rather than simply seeking to offer instant gratification.
Here’s the summary of the songspiel: a character named VV leaves her room by climbing out of the window. She realizes that she’s lost the use of language, and sets off on a long trip, walking. She enters an orange cabin, falls asleep, and is confronted with a storm of words, scattered letters forming “an incoherent flock of signs… above the earth”. She leaves the cabin and follows traces of blood in the sand, expecting to find a body. Entering a forest, she finds herself engaged in a conversation with various non-human beings: birds, trees and rocks. The birds direct her to a place where she meets a funambulist [a tightrope-walker] and a scribe who, day after day, are preoccupied with delineation of an analemma (the path in the shape of a figure eight, traced across the sky by the sun when observed at the same hour everyday for a year). VV encounters The Woman, and together they set out to destroy a huge (physical and symbolic) wall. Once the wall is down, each goes their own way. VV penetrates a dead zone “omitted from all maps”, which she explores in the company of her shadow. During the course of her journey, VV brushes against a number of literary ghosts. Eventually she walks into a city, recovers her language, and pushes open a door…
Initiated in the spring of 2020 (just before the release of the previous one, Figures), the writing of this album started without any rules or general plan. The idea was to work freely, to have fun, to create open-ended tracks with texts which would form a single story, and to further explore some of the more experimental directions which were touched upon in Figures. The overall shape of this record — the suite format, the architecture of the text, the different modes of elocution/vocal delivery — gradually emerged along the way.
The opening sections of the album feature spoken monologues and sparse soundscapes. The story gradually unfolds, becoming more animated with La Tempête. Then other figures appear to join VV, surrounded by a host of unpredictable sounds and rhythms. From then on, the text — in French, sometimes in English and Spanish— is sung or recited, sometimes in a manner that might be described as sprechgesang à la Aksak Maboul.
“To play the various characters the heroine encounters along the way” says Véronique Vincent, “we called upon our close circle. The Heron couldn’t be anyone else but John Pearce aka Alig, the founder of brilliant London band Family Fodder. He’s a long-time friend, and contributed to the Honeymoon Killers recordings in the early ’80s (he wrote and co-performed the dialogues in the Subtitled Remixes EP). We also invited three people who had become close friends since our collaborations in 2016: Audrey Ginestet & Benjamin Glibert (Aquaserge), and Laetitia Sadier (Stereolab), who respectively play the parts of The Funambule, The Scribe and The Woman.”
“For the part of The Shadow, we thought of the impressive voice of Don The Tiger, the Berlin-based Spanish artist” adds Marc Hollander. “We wanted strings in certain pieces, so we called our old acquaintance Blaine L. Reininger (Tuxedomoon), who performed and recorded his contributions in his studio, in Athens, Greece. Naturally the members of Aksak Maboul’s current live band are also involved: Faustine Hollander (who co-produced Figures) lends her voice to The Robin, Lucien Fraipont (aka Robbing Millions) overdubbed sharp guitar parts, and the hyperactive Erik Heestermans added great drums and percussion”.
Just like its predecessors, this album’s dense fabric blends acoustic instruments (piano, clarinets, saxophone, guitar, violin, flute, drums), electronics (synths, organ, drum machines, programming), field recordings, collages and sound design. Aside from the above-mentioned guitars, violins, drums & percussion, all the instruments were played by Marc Hollander, who also took care of production, arrangements, programming & montage. The final mix was made by Bob Hermans.
Véronique Vincent & Marc Hollander , credit: Diego Crutzen
1. The Escape
2. I Walk & I Walk
3. Miracle au jardin
4. Veille au rêve
5. La tempête
7. Talking with the Birds
9. Thème du mur
10. Le mur
11. The Eraser
12. Zone blanche
13. Dans les airs
14. La parole de la peau
15. Brown Dwarfs
Une aventure de VV (Songspiel) is released as part of the Made To Measure composers’ series*. This underlines the special character of the project: a detour though an unexplored zone, rather than the follow-up to the previous album (this could actually have been said about each of the records in Aksak Maboul’s discography so far…). The front cover features a painting especially made by French artist Ronan Barrot, entitled VV ou le ciel renversé.
The double-vinyl version of the album includes a 24-page libretto with the texts and their translations. The digital version is best listened to without gaps, for full enjoyment.
Aksak Maboul — Une aventure de VV (Songspiel) double vinyl, CD & digital Made To Measure Vol. 48 — out on 3 march 2023
* The recently-relaunched, legendary collection inaugurated by Crammed Discs in 1984, devoted to ambient, neo-classical, soundtrack and experimental music.