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Jean-François Laporte - Mantra

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Artist: Jean-François Laporte

Album: Mantra

Label: Metamkine

Review date: Apr. 30, 2002

Jean-François Laporte’s recent drone piece Mantra on Metamkine records raises some provocative questions, both concerning its creation and its composer’s choice of a title. First, the album’s origin: According to the all-knowing clerks at San Francisco’s Aquarius Records, Laporte’s 22-minute ohm is in actuality a Zamboni. They aren’t quite sure, considering they heard it from a friend, who was told by X, who overheard Y, who caught the comment on Scot Jenerik’s European radio show. The CD’s liner notes only hint at such, that Laporte’s musique concrete recording utilized an air compressor from an ice hockey rink. As a sports reporter, however, I spent many a winters’ evening in hockey rinks across Vermont, and the only air compressors in the joints were located inside the Zambonis. And upon first listen, anyone who’s spent those twenty minutes in between periods watching the grand machine make its rounds would immediately and justifiably jump to the same conclusion.

Laporte’s title, Mantra, is as strange as his source. Mantra is usually defined as a mystical incantation, often associated with Hinduism. However, Laporte perspective differs slightly from Webster’s. In writing about his recording, Laporte states, “To be a mantra, a sound must possess certain qualities: it must have a fairly long duration, it must be a periodical sound or repeat itself in a cyclical manner, the progression of the sound events must take place almost imperceptibly, and finally it must have some kind of influence on our energy.” His examples of mantras are the sounds of refrigerator, automobiles on highways, or “the noise of the machines which are an integral part of our daily working life.”

In Laporte’s postmodern world, the barrier between sacred and profane sounds has apparently been destroyed by a Zamboni. Yet, Laporte is hardly off the mark, at least in terms of his composition. Mantra is a deeply moving piece of mechanical mysticism, like a lawnmower on acid. While the Zamboni keeps things cold, Laporte’s sound is quite warm, never harsh, and flows from timbre to timbre with a gentle fluidity. As the whir morphs from a deep zum to puréed clicks, you can imagine the Zamboni circling the rink, growing louder and clearer as it approaches, becoming sonically intense as it passes you by, then softening on its way to the opposite blue line. Near the mantra’s conclusion, a bolt comes loose somewhere inside the beast, causing an arrhythmic rattling, similar to something Autechre might dream up.

Knowingly or not, Laporte’s Mantra makes perfect sense in the end. Laporte, president of the Cercle des étudiants Compositeurs de l’Université de Montréal (CECO), is probably in touch with his nation’s passion for all things hockey. In his quest, Laporte meshed Indian mysticism and Franklin J. Zamboni to create a mantra that truly paves a path to Canadian enlightenment. Mantra is a wonderful twist of the avant-concrete medium and reveals the beauty hiding in our wide world of din.

By Otis Hart

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