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Following his 2009 EP release, Baroque Tardif: Soli (CA21051), Florent Ghys is back with a full-length album, Baroque Tardif, revealing the various directions his work has taken him the last four years.
The answer to the common question musicians often get - "what kind of music do you play?" - is summed up neatly in this title (meaning "late Baroque"). Says Florent, "When I was a teenager I had an odd classical guitar teacher who was convinced that baroque music would come back one day and would crush all other kinds of music. I remembered this peculiar idea while working on the first draft for this album since the pieces in it are often very dense and contrapuntal. Baroque Tardif could be like the resurrection of a very late baroque."
Baroque Tardif encompasses a diverse medley of multimedia experimentation. Phase parisienne features some contrapuntal experiments while Quatrieme implores an extended canon technique. Pull blanc, chemise rouge, always remaining playful and modal, brings out an accessible pop side to Florent's music. The album also unveils Florent's personal vocal technique, as in Simplement, in which his voice sings on top of a speech sample. Even more compelling is the dominate use of solfege (do re mi...) as lyrics, leading the listener to consider voice as an instrument.
As with his first EP, Florent has recorded this album using a unique and personal tuning of the double bass, bringing the instrument nearer from the cello and extending the range of possibilities of his virtual "multiple-me ensemble" made of basses, guitars, voices and percussion. - Cantaloupe
Earlier this Fall, Cantaloupe (the record label created 10 years ago by the founders of Bang on a Can) released Florent Ghys’s first LP, Baroque Tardif, following a 2009 EP, Baroque Tardif: Soli. Born in France, Ghys is a composer, double bass player, and prolific videographer.
The title of the album (meaning late Baroque in French) is a tongue-in-cheek reference to a wacky guitar teacher that Ghys’s studied with as a teenager, and who was convinced that Baroque music would come back one day and rule other genres (#Barmageddon… discuss). The overall vibe, though, is DIY Post-Minimalism infused with a heavy dose of 21st century counterpoint.
The album opens with Phase Parisienne and Ghys starts by building counterpoint patterns on the bowed double bass in an additive fashion—layer by layer. They point, at first, towards Reich’s processes but soon haunting harmonics accompanied by hand clapping make the piece almost sound like some minimalist Gnawa music. Awesome. The following track Pull Blanc, Chemise Rouge (White Sweater, Red button-down shirt) introduces another element of Ghys’s very personal idiom: syllables as musical objects. Ghys sings dislocated modal melodies in solfège syllables (fixed do) with a thin voice and each note thus named loses its anonymity, and is treated as a found object. Or maybe is it a reference to the virtuosic practice on the Indian subcontinent to sing complex and improvised melodies on Swaras? Ghys has after all—and among many others—a degree in ethno-musicology…
Ghys pushes his experimentation on syllables further on Simplement (Simply) where he uses the audio recording of a conversation and turns it into musical material: first, the spoken rhythm is used as the basis for a melody performed on the guitar and laid over the original audio track. The effect is striking and one could almost forget that speech was here first. Later in the piece, Ghys adds another layer and sings the spoken text on the melody that was first given to the guitar, still on top of the speech track. A sense of overload—deliciously antithetical to the title—makes me wonder how a non-French speaking audience could receive the piece… Soli, built on a similar additive process, provides a welcomed relief but is a real tipping point in the album. Indeed, Polenta à Azadi displays some interesting second species counterpoint suggesting astringent harmonies that owe a lot to David Lang, but rely again, and not unlike Simplement, on solfège syllables. The same thing could be said of Clignotants, or Quatrieme.
The second half of the album features a series of more atmospheric pieces like Bechamelle , Division Par Zero, Depassement De Cap, or Lemon Cake 3, but not as convincing as Coma Carus. With its shimmering quality, it is possibly the only uninterrupted musical gesture on the album
Ghys’s output on Cantaloupe was initially thought as a 3-EP series starting with Baroque Tardif: Soli, but Cantaloupe decided to release Ghys’s material on a full-length album. Considering the stylistic redundancy on Baroque Tardif, one could wonder if two (better balanced) EPs might have changed the listening experience. Regardless, Baroque Tardif is a great introduction to Ghys’s unique, experimental, and intimate world where classical flirts with pop in a quirky way.
- Thomas Deneuville
Baroque Tardif: Soli (2009) streaming
It's no coincidence that French composer and upright bass player Florent Ghys should release an EP with Cantaloupe Music. With two degrees in ethno-musicology from schools in Bordeaux, and studying double bass under Thierry Barbe in Paris, Florent participated in the Bang on a Can Summer Festival in 2007 and joined a welcoming community of new music composers and musicians . Upon returning to France, Florent felt musically isolated - of being out of tune with his new environment - and immediately began writing.
Though not intending to compose a solo for himself playing the upright bass, the purpose was to create a "multiple-me" ensemble, as he calls it. "I know multi-track recording will never replace live recording," says Florent, "but multi-tracking was an interesting starting point to see if I was going to change my compositional process while writing strictly for me - after all, the instrumentation for the EP was linked only to the instruments I can actually play. I could have an upright bass, a bass, a guitar, an electric guitar, a voice. I could also use a pianino (a small 6 octaves piano) and hit some dishes in my kitchen."
As a composer, Florent works in a style situated between contemporary and pop music, creating tonal masses with or without pulsation. It has often been said to resemble American minimalist music, which makes him a complementary addition to the Cantaloupe coterie.
He has collaborated with different ensembles and musicians such as Dither quartet, Abigail Fischer, and Eleanor Oppenheim in New York, The F(x) in Miami, and has written music for both video projects and websites.
Notes From the Composer
In 2007, I returned to my hometown of Bordeaux, France, and decided to record a CD.
I soon asked myself: What would I write if I had to write for an ensemble in which I am the only player?
The reasons for this schizophrenic question are multiple. Returning to Bordeaux from Paris, I had the feeling of being musically isolated - of being out of tune with my new environment - and I couldn?t stop writing. I was also interested by the idea of breaking the boundary between the composer and the musician, and the feeling I had of sitting in the audience while my music was being played onstage wasn?t, to be honest, all that satisfying.
I didn't intend to compose a solo for myself playing the upright bass, nor did I intend to compose a piece for me and a fleet of clones, but I did intend to create a "multiple-me" ensemble.
I know multi-track recording will never replace live recording, but multi-tracking was an interesting starting point to see if I was going to change my compositional process while writing strictly for me - after all, the instrumentation for the EP was linked only to the instruments I can actually play. I could have an upright bass, a bass, a guitar, an electric guitar, a voice. I could also use a pianino (a small 6 octaves piano) and hit some dishes in my kitchen.
Doing everything by myself - from composition to cover design - was also a way to take time and to control everything, as opposed to the experiences I had in the past with rushed rehearsals, bad recordings, etc.
In retrospect I can say it's also revealing of the recent social changes we've had in France shifting from a collective atmosphere to an increasingly individualistic society.
By all counts, Florent Ghys seems like a pretty intelligent guy. He’s certainly done his homework, having studied ethnomusicology in his native France at Bordeaux University and Conservatoire and the double bass with Thierry Barbé, the principal bass of the Paris National Opera. He’s also done work in composition masters classes elsewhere in the world, with New York City’s Bang on a Can All-Stars and Milan’s Sentieri Selvaggi. His online bio mentions that he has used samples of weather reports and various TV/radio sources to devise a new tuning of the bass in fifths, and has co-invented a Z-form endpin that changes the balance of the instrument. Which, I imagine, is the kind of fancy talk that would leave most readers of this website as mystified as it has left me.
But his hard work has paid off in respect and admiration from at least a few of the important neo-classical/minimalist circles, as evidenced by his fresh partnership with Bang on a Can’s prestigious Cantaloupe Music label. They’ve got plans to release three of Ghys’ EPs collectively known as Baroque Tardif, and this here Soli is the first in the series.
Ghys’ experience is palpable across these five pieces and 24 minutes. The title track is an impressive arrangement of mathy handclaps and gingerly stabbed bass overdubs, while “Simplement” grafts together guitar and double-bass voices with those of a French man and woman in conversation, sometimes dancing around each other and otherwise locked in a strangely rhythmic kind of argument. “Clignotants” revisits the form of “Soli” with Ghys’ own layered vocal adornments, eroding and accumulating through an extended dialectic of multitracked disintegration and rematerialization. And the closer “Béchamel” is a three-minute exploration of strange, intriguing bass-on-bass dissonance.
But for all of the EP’s theoretical pyrotechnics and classical-meets-found-sound experimentation, the only track I’d ever want to revisit with any regularity is the centerpiece, “Coma Carus.” Here Ghys densely layers a few pianos to induce a hypnotic and richly textured state of ambient unconsciousness, and it makes for a nice midpoint respite from all the mental exercises and challenges of patience that surround it. Ghys’ talents are obvious throughout, and the composer has clearly done a lot of hard work to make this record — but listening to it gets pretty difficult, too. “Carus,” as the real highlight from the proceedings, is a fine reminder that this stuff works best when the pleasure principle and intellectual curiosity are satisfied in equal measure. - Jakob Dorof
Florent Ghys is a french composer born in Lyon, France in 1979.
His interests are: hair dryers, weather reports, numbers, girls and blinkers.
He grew up in Bordeaux where he studied in the Music University and in the Conservatoire and wrote his first pieces in a rock band in 1993.
After earning a masters degree in Ethnomusicology on Arabic music, he went to study double bass in Paris with the great classical player Thierry Barb?, where he got the traditional French diplomas for music.
Very interested by experimental and minimalist music and by what was going on in New York City, he discovered Bang on a Can on the internet in 2004.
After releasing two compact discs - Musiques D'ameublement (2004) and Zapostoc (2006) - he went to the Bang on a Can summer camp in 2006, where he met a lot of people who shared his feelings about music.
He has been working with several musicians and ensembles in New York, Paris, Miami, and Bordeaux, including Dither Quartet, Eleonore Oppenheim, Eileen Mack and Abbigail Fischer. As a bass player he was a part of the Paris Opera Orchestra in February 2007.
Missing playing on stage, in 2006 he began to develop an upright bass/laptop solo called "antisolo," where he plays pop-rock-electro hybrid music.
He's currently working on creating his own ensemble, playing with Florent Colautti in a bass/electronics duo called Glo and trying to set up a Hair Dryers orchestra.