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Ghédalia Tazartès - Repas Froid

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Artist: Ghédalia Tazartès

Album: Repas Froid

Label: Pan

Review date: Oct. 5, 2011

When Yazoo Records first released the four-volume The Secret Museum Of Mankind, they opened some doors into other worlds. One was a historical-cultural world that doesn’t exist anymore. This was a world in which people made music for people whom they could see because they were all in the same space at the same time. The very act of recording that music and cutting its traces into shellac set in motion its destruction; first by playing records, and then by listening to the radio, people very quickly got used to hearing music played at one time and played back at another. Awareness of the processes of transcription and transmission changed how music was made, and it is now quite possible to hear quite a lot of music without having any idea who made it or how it was made.

But The Secret Museum didn’t just introduce listeners to the world of music as it was heard in the 1920s; it introduced us to the internal world of one Pat Conte — the guy who assembled those compilations from his collection of 78s. Conte was introduced to collecting and the exotic by accident. When he was a kid, a guy on his paper route showed him a Tuvan stamp depicting a race between a steam engine and a camel, thereby luring him into an endless search for a world more appealing than his own. The world Conte chased was a vanishing one, but he has shared glimpses of it through his phono-archeological albums.

Like Conte, Ghédalia Tazartès has spent a lifetime finding a world richer than the one offered to him every day. He is, like Conte, a sonic traveler who doesn’t have to leave the neighborhood to hear sounds from around the globe. The world he shows is just as strange as Conte’s, but even harder to reach. That’s because Tazartès, a Parisian of Turkish descent, doesn’t buy and trade his portals to other places — he makes them up. His music sounds like it has been fashioned out of made elements of an old world somewhat like Conte’s, but he combines them with found sonic events that you could encounter walking through a Parisian neighborhood when it’s warm enough for the windows to be open. His main instrument is his voice, which he uses to sound like a Tuvan shaman picking a fight, a drunken muezzin calling the faithful to prayer whilst leaning dizzily out the minaret window, or a room full of stiff-limbed Buddhist novices chanting their way to a tea break that can’t come too soon. It is, in the Aboriginal Australian sense, a dreaming, an act of creation set in motion by a person of our world who is spiritually connected to another realm. With Repas Froid, Tazartès brings the ways of a marvelously alien world into our own.

It is also, as the title suggests, a grab bag served cold. “Repas froid” is French for a packaged lunch, and the words translate literally as cold meal. Visionaries aren’t always showered with praise and opportunity, and so it’s been for Tazartès. He released his first album, Diasporas, in 1979, and its bizarrely deployed vocalese earned it a place on the Nurse With Wound list. But it didn’t earn him a warm place in the hearts of people who like to sell records in large quantities, so it got progressively harder for him to make them. He made four records in the ‘80s, but just one in the ‘90s, and when Alma Marghen reissued his first two LPs on CD in 2004, he hadn’t released anything in seven years. Tazartès has made up for lost time since then by releasing five records.

Repas Froid was originally a 20-track, 44-minute CD culled from tapes he had made during his long years of total (as opposed to relative) obscurity. Talk about cleaning out the larder. The new version under discussion here is a two-track, 37-minute LP, and while it has obviously been transformed, I wouldn’t say that it’s warmed over. The act of combining the CD’s many brief tracks into a larger piece emphasizes the collage nature of Tazartès’s work. He combines his voice with found sounds and played beats to create confusing tableaux that team with messy life. Kids holler and imitate bird calls, couples on TV argue, a tango orchestra stamps out a looped phrase, drum machines sputter away in the next room, and there’s no titles or spelled narrative to tell you what it all means. One minute you’re walking down a Paris street, wondering why those people have the tube on so loud; the next, you’re riding the astral express from the steppes to a Saharan crossroads town, encountering things that are no less amazing for being totally incomprehensible.

Museums get a bad rap. Bourgeois, parent-approved, and (increasingly) expensive, some condemn them for showing a decontextualized or misleadingly spun misrepresentation of art and history. But when my parents turned me loose in one when I was a kid, they were wonderlands of weird and unfamiliar phenomena; it was also lots of fun for me and my friends (although maybe not the supervising adults) to play hide and seek amongst the stuffed animals and display cases. I hear a sense of play in Tazartès’s wildly exuberant throat maneuvers and his juxtaposition of borrowed and manufactured artifacts. I also hear a strange place where sounds from all over the world share space, like a medieval suit of armor sitting between some ancient Egyptian pictograms and a bolt of Chinese silk. Happily, Tazartès’s Museum of Mankind is a little less secret these days.

By Bill Meyer

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