Saturday, February 18, 2012

Michel Estellet-Brun: Grande Cathedrale de Beauvais, Pop Organ and Percussion

I often wonder about the set of all humans who love progressive rock. How many exactly are there? Is this set larger than the set of those who love modern classical music? In my mind I think the intersection of those who love rock, jazz, and classical music would constitute this set but I get the impression many have no liking for either jazz or classical and have some other reason for enjoying progressive. It's obvious very few can enjoy modern classical music, but they may yet outnumber us, because of its importance in musical education in universities and the musical establishment. So if we could examine all musical tastes all over the world? Well, to begin with we have to exclude anyone without a certain basic musical education, and those without demonstrable access to it, which clearly excludes half of our 7 billion population, including most if not all those who live in south asia and China (apologies to those who disagree). Our set continues to diminish by orders of magnitude because not everyone even has a taste for music, let alone recondite music, and many prefer other things than rock. It is obvious that the average individual has no patience for complicated chords, melodies, or dissonances. Working even more against us is the unfashionable quality of our taste, which removes a couple more orders of magnitude. What are we left with? Probably a nucleus of about a few tens of thousands up to ten to the 5th distributed obviously mostly in N America and Europe, for population reasons alone. Our ten power 9 is reduced to a mere 50,000 folks, who drift in and out of fandom depending on demands of work and family. Because I'm sure there are few hardcord prog fans who are fans for a whole lifetime. (Even I couldn't say as much.) To an anthropologist from another planet with intelligence, it would be the height of shocking surprise to discover then that this small group is splintered with vicious infighting into smaller subgroups that rarely if ever communicate, considering their evident outnumbered status.

When I was a child I puzzled constantly over the paradoxes of set theory, the obvious one we learn: A cretan says, "all cretans are liars"... is he lying? (must be, he's a cretan, but then, if he's lying, they're not all liars--?) What about Bertrand's set of all sets that are not members of themselves? Is it a member of itself? The barber who only shaves those who don't shave themselves: does he shave himself? Only recently did I start to fully understand the mathematical solution to these self-referential paradoxes, which is the nucleus of Godel's incompleteness: any system complicated enough to include this kind of self-reference (eg arithmetic, languages) must of necessity contain paradoxes, which cannot be solved within the system itself: they must be resolved outside of it, either by defining paradoxes away (in set theory, by definition a set cannot be the bertrand set) or creating a meta-language within which a solution is created (eg all cretans except when making this statement, are liars). Does this mean, as some believe, that physics and all natural law cannot be encapsulated in equations because perforce there will arise incompleteness or self-reference? Only some physicists believe yes, many mathematicians believe so, I think the average person would say, definitely it must be so. Any system complicated enough to have self-reference will be paradoxical. Consider the case of humanity-- we have an influence on the entire planet, which is clearly a physical or chemical system. One person (eg Bush) had the power through his belief system to doom the planetary biosphere. On the other hand, it didn't have to be so-- had Al Gore been elected, it might have turned out totally differently. Here is the paradox: humanity destroying itself despite the insights of its own intelligence.

Enough introduction, what I'm getting at are these two albums of highly complicated music from Michel Estellet-Brun. I was often shocked on trips to France to hear organ improvisational music on entering their magnificent cathedrals (this architecture being another art form that is among the greatest-ever human achievements). The sublime sound of an artist creating these waterfalls and tapestries of modernistic music are absolutely unforgettably transcendental. Inevitably you stand transfixed, not able to see the keyboardist, but feeling him with your whole soul... Clearly this is a motivation for the spiritual to feel in contact with the empyrean or to be in touch with god. This tradition of cathedral organ improv is still highly valued in Europe, and both albums today are features of Estellet-Brun's creativity. The first record, 1977's Beauvais cathedral (the tallest nave ever, it collapsed twice and was never finished) on side 1 features compositions by contemporary composers. Side 2 is entirely his improvisations and is the more interesting side. The album pop organ and percussion (oddly enough, it's in English) was recorded in the abbey of Royaumont and has been mentioned in different circles before, note the following positive comment from rym:

" A pretty extraordinary find, this French library duo presents an uncompromising behemoth of a sound, all organs and percussion as advertised on the sleeve, but you'd never crave for more instruments being included. Rather than playing it safe with melodic pop ditties a-la Jean-Jacques Perrey, Michel Estellet and Gerard Berlioz are obviously entering the upper echelons of human creativity with their mutant cobwebs of drones and oscillations - who would have thought a simple organ could sound as otherworldly as that? This truly defies categorization, drawing slight reminiscences only to the Futura label classics (such as Jean Guerin album) and maybe to a couple of notorious 1970s outsiders such as Don Bradshaw Leather or Sohrab Keyaniyan."

Right on the money there with the only caveat that one must mention this is in the tradition of cath. improv. I don't think the title was meant to be ironic, as mentioned by others, because the liner notes on the back are so serious, on the contrary I think the record company was seriously deluded and thought they could trick more people into buying this record with the title as given, referring to both artists as very young kids. Possibly they were horrified when they heard the result-- realizing it was unsaleable. Then again, this was early seventies France, and there was a lot of open-mindedness musically (and sexually). When I have some more time I will translate the liner notes in this post. They run along the lines of, "these brilliant young kids have produced a record of improvisations for you in the abbey of Royaumont. Note that the tracks as listed on the back are mixed up as per the record, and in total there are 10 tracks not 9. To me this means the record was released quite hastily. Additionally note that the first track cauchemard [sic] was misspelled on the back of the record, a horrific mistake for the french. The soprano singer is named Jeanne Mere, a perfect name for this religious record.

I hope there are others in the same set as me who will enjoy this somewhat difficult but beautiful music, and I hope this remarkably creative and talented artist achieves some belated fame for his work.


Tristan Stefan said...

Grande Cathedrale de Beauvais:
Pop Organ and Percussion:

Anonymous said...

isabel etc, do you have this rare ost:


isabelbc said...

hi Anonymous,
i haven't this album, some tracks on Youtube

Anonymous said...

Only just discovered your P.N.P site.
Great to hear the intellectual(!)woffle.
Great site - worth living for..


Anonymous said...

Could someone repost thanks in advance

Post a Comment