Artist: Cyril M.
Keywords: Experimental, Ambient, Dark Drone, Improvisation, Noise, Psychedelic, Solo Guitar
Reviewer: Alex Spalding
This is my third review of a work by the French artist Cyril M. His previous two albums, released on the fantastic Sirona-Records, Démesure Du Vide and Attraction & Répulsions respectively, both captured my attention and love very quickly when I heard them. Having listened to Vertiges, it is, I believe, his best album yet. More on that in a bit!
In the time between the release of Attraction & Répulsions and Vertiges, Cyril M. had to my knowledge at least two interviews published on the web, the first as part of an ongoing series of interviews at Sirona-Records and the second for Japan-based Deadstock Mag. Both are very interesting and I’d recommend reading them. I will be quoting bits from each in the course of this review.
Speaking of, I wanted to make this a very special review, one not just of the music but also of the ideas, concepts, and, somehow, also the politics that I perceive have gone into creating Vertiges. This will be as comprehensive an endeavor as I can allow, filling several days with work and deep contemplation… or maybe just a few solid hours if at all possible! Then again, I’ll likely publish it the second my brain begins to show signs of giving out. Because of this it may very well become an unreadable book of a review. I will be listening fervently to the sounds presented here so that I can offer as thorough an explanation of the whirlwind of sensations I experienced as possible. What’s more, I would like to discuss the array of cultural implications of the artist Cyril M.’s work even more broadly, but, well, I might eventually need to eat, or sleep, or something of a necessary order, thus may not get around to talking about that.
What I’m finding I love most about Cyril M. are his abject refusal of the politic within art (though I don’t exactly agree with his perspective), his aesthetic sensibility, and his honesty — his music is abstract, with a tendency to the non-representational, but also leverages chord structures in an experimental way that is both emotional and obscure. It is not overly intricate or minimal particularly, but seems to involve a marked, deliberative concern with space, time, movement; the way a sound can effect space, move within a space. His spacial sensibility is radical, the sounds he creates are intense and alive. It is fascinating to me that so much of his work is improvisational!
When listening at first to his music I didn’t immediately make the connection to certain Japanese noise artists, but it fell in place for me when reading his interviews and became further concrete upon listening to Vertiges. Like his previous two albums, Vertiges certainly has something to it that I feel resonates with the sensibility of Wabi-Sabi:
“My biggest influence is clearly the Japanese underground scene, with people like Tatsuya Yoshida, Keiji Haino, Merzbow, Otomo Yoshihide, Kawabata Makoto and so on. I really feel connected with them, because there’s a deep sense of pure aesthetics and sacrifice in all of their performances. I mean, they seem to play every gig like if it was the last, giving all of their energy to the audience. Even if one can find the surface very harsh, the core of it is clearly positive, because it’s not telling any ideology to the listeners. It’s only pure energy and the audience can take it the way they want to. Maybe it’s a very simple way to consider it, but I’ve always thought of engaged art as impolite, and that’s something I see very rarely in Japanese music, because revolution is not a so big part of their culture as in France, for example. That said, I’m also interested in politics, but if you want to learn about it, it could be better to read an essay or newspapers.” — Cyril M., Sirona-Records interview
“American or European noise music is deeply connected with politics and I’m not comfortable with this. I may be wrong, but I don’t feel like it’s the same in Japan. Even if political events can be the starting point to new music, it’s a dimension that’s not present on records or on stage most of the time. In my opinion it’s very impolite towards the listeners to use your music to tell them a message, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to offer something. The best music regardless of the genre is the music which provides a way to self-abandon, where the ego melts in a greater sonic mass embracing all the audience and the musicians, and I think that’s something easier to find in Japanese music.“ — Cyril M., Deadstock Interview
This is where I find my primary disagreement with Cyril M., our underlying music/art obsessions and ideas about how politics and art fit in to each other. It’s very East/West, maybe, or that’s one way of looking at it, but I would even disagree with that as it is my feeling that art and politics are entwined, inseparable, and that this quality transcends geography… this is why I also think power and art are interlocked always in struggle against one another. I’m reminded of a passage from Hakim Bey’s Radio Sermonettes:
“[…] if the ‘personal is political’ then certainly the aesthetic must be considered even more so. ‘Art for art’s sake’ cannot really be said to exist at all, unless it be taken to imply that art per se functions as political power, i.e. power capable of expressing or even changing the world rather than merely describing it. In fact art always seeks such power, whether the artist remains unconscious of the fact and believes in ‘pure’ aesthetics, or becomes so hyper-conscious of the fact as to produce nothing but agit-prop. Consciousness in itself, as Nietzsche pointed out, plays a less significant role in life than power. No snappier proof of this could be imagined than the continued existence of an ‘Art World’ (SoHo, 57th St., etc.) which still believes in the separate realms of political art and aesthetic art. Such failure of consciousness allows this ‘world’ the luxury of producing art with overt political content (to satisfy their liberal customers) as well as art without such content, which merely expresses the power of the bourgeois scum and bankers who buy it for their investment portfolios. If art did not possess and wield this power it would not be worth doing and nobody would do it. Literal art for art’s sake would produce nothing but impotence and nullity. Even the fin-de-siècle decadents who invented l ‘art pour l’art used it politically: — as a weapon against bourgeois values of ‘utility’, ‘morality’ and so on. The idea that art can be voided of political meaning appeals now only to those liberal cretins who wish to excuse ‘pornography’ or other forbidden aesthetic games on the grounds that ‘it’s only art’ and hence can change nothing.”
The energy Cyril speaks of in works by Merzbow, Otomo Yoshihide (two artists I also love, alongside Masonna), namely the self-abandon, the melding of artist and audience within a highly effusive sonic space are things that to me are highly political and subversive. On an individual, psychological basis this is so much a different experience, a radical soul-shaking experience, on a quite different order than, say, shopping in a mall or sitting in front of a television, that it can and has deeply effected many people, changed lives, broadened people to a physical sense of art and our living culture as well as what’s possible within the sphere of the social for the individual to accomplish or connect themselves into. I had a conversation years ago about electronic dance music and rock music for instance, on Discogs of all places, in which I’d mentioned, without much thought at the time, that the dance has it’s root in the social whereas rock music has largely become spectacle. But we can see how the social culture is changing, has changed, metamorphosed incrementally over a span of years, and can also look at the ways in which the places people congregate have changed too, how people choose to enjoy themselves or what they do within any given space together, public or private. Of course the music has also changed quite a lot! They’ve all mutated alongside one another. But are these former categories of social/cultural change the result of the art and attempts at cultural engineering? There certainly seems to be a feedback loop between one and the other, art and society… there is so much of politics in art really that goes very far beyond agit prop, is effectively often just barely above the liminal, that for any art that is capable of inspiring thought or emotion there are these implications that arise. Consciousness of not just the nature of the relationship of personal politics to art but in how as an artist you can effectively fuse the two without necessarily committing the offense of heavy-handed proselytizing and hopefully thereby effect change has been something of importance to me in forming a foundational basis for my work and criticism.
It can be hard to think in these terms about one’s art, which is why… maybe many people do not even bother! Mostly I assume this is because it can seem silly, like making a mountain out of a molehill to borrow a kind of dumb expression, but principally it is perhaps like looking for the reflection of the macrocosm in the microcosm, or vice-versa; the greater ideas (Art, Change, Universalism) latent in the smallest of media (my little album). And yet, symbolism too is very potent and very small. You can never underestimate the power of an elegant symbol.
Aesthetically, as with his influences… Cyril M.’s music can be harsh, and beautiful. A lot of the beauty is in the improvisation, his intuition for spontaneity. Vertiges begins with an ‘Introduction’, which really feels like a self-contained and topsy-turvy universe unto itself more than an attempt at welcome by anything other than an alien! This is even despite its having by far the shortest length of any track on the album at 1:36. Immediately, we hear what sounds like a very low guitar string speaking a subtle mantra. It creates an hypnotic groove over which a sound that could be a bent synth or experimentally treated electronic noise tone penetrates the mix in higher frequencies. It sounds jittery but clean, in juxtaposition to the mild grit of the guitar.
After a very short moment of tube amp static, barely audible, we then hear guitar chords flutter into the electric air on ‘Réminiscence Anthracite’, falling away beautifully into nothingness. Scattered showers. Tiny stings of higher octave guitar notes bring about the sensation of falling backward in zero gravity. I recall the smell of dead leaves in Autumn, but with mental visions of a Martian landscape. The harmonies become more rhythmic… I hear trails of feedback, arranged melodically like simple pads or a whistle in the wind. The space opens up by the halfway mark and ‘Réminiscence…’ begins to feel more alien and sinister, maybe slightly paranoid, but still very pleasant overall, strangely like shadows playing under moonlight. The tube amp gives the sound of the guitar the vibe of classic surf rock, but the structures and movement are far more avantgarde.
The next track, ‘Sur Un Fil’, fills everything out with its rhythmic dirge of guitar chords. My first impression is of shoegaze deconstructed. The harmonics shift like a paradigm, smoothly but suddenly, and then revert back sending melodic ripples through time. A drop of water falling into a stasis pool, a mirror bending. Mono no aware. A sharp, abrupt feedback frequency enters and then reflects, casting shades of itself into the space of the mix.
Guitar distortion is the first thing thrust forward on ‘Danse Magnétique’, escalating into a rough, grungy noise made up of several tones vying for primacy in the chaos. Soon, everything begins to melt as we become lost in the wall of noise, but gripped by it’s subtleties and frequency mutations. Highly entrancing. There is much to explore in the sound. It keeps you on your toes like the hypnotists’ snap of the fingers just after you’ve gone under. Halfway into the music the strumming becomes less fierce, begins to peel back. We are not safe from disturbances in the field of silence, and after awhile the style of instrumentation and harmonies shift again. The trailing distortion and occasional feedback becomes an anticipatory element in the mix between sustained notes. A new guitar rhythm emerges. I hear screaming, and then what sounds at first like erratic electronic noises drop in, throttled and absolutely manic, but these then become clearer to me as a series of distorted wah guitar leads, and there is a serious level of ferocity in the way these sounds are handled. Very nice!
On ‘Dérive Éthérée’, somber guitar chords play in a dark space. I appreciate early on how at times notes are sustained and at others they more quickly decay, but the sense of timing between them remains. It’s more directly emotive and concise than other pieces on Vertiges. Notes that create dischord are inimically introduced in a certain chord and then intuitively explored shortly after in a context of playing that feels more comfortable and natural in that same chord structure; in this way the music seems to move and keep you intrigued. The chords are intensely mutable, however, very fluid and ever-changing. The end is very nice, almost like a return to the beginning, with sparse playing; darkness.
The end is ‘Dissolution’. It is simple, with bright, sparse guitar with a light, repeating melody ringing in dead air. Crackles, static, resonant feedback in harmonic ranges that at first seem almost ultrasonic.
Cyril M.’s Vertiges, much like the Japanese artists who influenced it, is something I believe conditions our cultural aesthetics. Unlike many other artists in this realm, this is not an extreme album in many ways (i.e. harshness or volume) but in a subtle way tends to the extreme. The guitar is a medium we are familiar with, but here is used in a way most would find very unfamiliar, alien. Similarly, tube amplification is often described as warm, but in these compositions is a spareness that feels more isolating, cold; and yet many of the chords used inspire emotion… though these shift frequently so that we never know exactly how to feel! These subversions lend certainly to a dizzying feeling, perhaps like vertigo.
“I try not to draw a frontier between ‘what is art’ and ‘what is not art’. For example, not so long ago I was with a friend late at night, and we were completely mesmerized by a candle consuming little by little, seeing the little drops of colored wax falling down. I assure you drugs aren’t necessary to that! If you can feel how tragic it is to see that, I think you can properly experience any form of art without being given any explanations, like they do in museums.” — Cyril M., Sirona-Records interview
I’ve explained! — but my exploration of sensations received from this album I should hope will not detract from it’s emotion and potency. 😉 I hope you will enjoy it too at the following link: