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Sebastien Roux - Revers Ouest*

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Artist: Sebastien Roux

Album: Revers Ouest*

Label: Room40

Review date: Mar. 26, 2008

Art and music that is created in an experimental mode sometimes forces you to wonder if you’re being taken for a ride. It’s a question reserved for both the best and the worst. Whether it be the flummoxed sensation some spectators get upon viewing a plain white canvas hung in the Museum of Modern Art or a parent’s response to the drone music emanating from a child’s bedroom. But such questions should not be seen as only for philistines and the hopelessly square. Art that works in this terrain should get credit for risking these questions and judgments, but such credit ought not exclude our skepticism and critical consideration. Minimalism is, of course, especially susceptible to these critical issues. Is a given emptiness or lack in a composition effecting, is it productive? Or is just an emptiness or lack? Is a given repetition illuminating and enthralling or no? Answers, of course, vary and the paradox is that the best approach for both critic and listener to even the most ostensibly challenging or conceptual work is ultimately based in the pragmatic.

Enter Sebastien Roux’s Revers Ouest*, an album the press materials describe as a,

    “radiophonic work based on text fragments drawing a futuristic and mental description of the Nantes city. It’s an isolated utopist vision of architecture, buildings made like concrete waves.”

Or, in a seeming and unexplained contrast to the above description, Roux states that the album,

    “is the story of a man marked by an image of his childhood … or perhaps it is the story of a woman coming here to meet a beloved stranger at the Grange-Au-Loup street? Or maybe their story?”

Lurking behind the task of interpreting the content of these mildly incomprehensible explanations is the question of whether we should need them at all. Given a successful piece of music, such prose would be seen as supplemental, if necessary at all. If the music was doing more work we could ignore this. But here, a precarious amount of the interpretative faculty is dependant on such external explanations.

The recording was first conceived as a commissioned performance for the Sonar Festival and consists of three longer tracks connected by brief interludes. The music is sparse, disjointed, and rarely musical. The pieces consist primarily of snippets of semi-dramatic text reading (sometimes unnervingly whispered) and assorted processed clatter. Nothing against harsh or atonal sounds, but here they lack the impression of composition and are too intermittent to achieve the more physical powers of which noise music is capable.

I should note that I do not speak French and thus cannot glean whatever insight might come from interpreting the occasional text fragments that dot the recording. And while I won’t try to pass this fact off as insignificant to the reception of this album, it might very well be just that. Roux is a capable composer. Paquet Surprise, his collaboration with Greg Davis, was an often enjoyable weld of breezy acoustic guitar and electro-acoustic hum. Revers Ouest*, however, doesn’t hold enough weight as an album of music and would perhaps make more sense as an element of an art instillation or score for an experimental film.

All music must be judged in the parameters it establishes within itself, and so the criticism put forth here should not be seen as rooted in, say, a lack of any one quality (melody, punch, or rhythm for example). But all we have of any work upon which to judge merit are the effects it produces, and this record has precious few to even consider.

By Brandon Kreitler

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