Boomkat Product Review:
Deliriously innovative collection of previously unreleased 1960s-70s recordings by French writer and composer Nicole Lachartre, plugging a vast hole in the avant-garde timeline and showcasing a radical obsession with electro-acoustic texture and esoteric themes we can’t quite believe we hadn’t encountered before.
Born in Paris in 1934, Nicole Lachartre took an internship with Pierre Schaeffer at the GRM in 1967 and is rumoured to have assisted Pierre Henry on his 1968 piece 'L'Apocalypse de Jean', recording her first electroacoustic piece, 'Onirique' (included on 'Mundus' in full), at Henry's Apsome studio. Lachartre wasn't only a virtuosic player and vanguard composer; her interest in computer music and cybernetics prompted her to pen the 1969’s ‘Musiques Artificielles', one of the earliest texts to examine these burgeoning concepts in experimental music. She worked as a research fellow with the GRM from 1969-72, and in 1974 founded the Association pour la Collaboration des Interprètes et des Compositeurs (ACIC), where she worked as artistic director until 1990. She was even mentioned in Michel Chion and Guy Reibel's 1976 tome 'Les musiques électroacoustiques' - one of only 40 women in a list of over 600 artists.
Lachartre died in 1992, and until now only one of her compositions had been released, a non-electroacoustic work that appeared on an obscure 1987 compilation. It’s genuinely hard to fathom why it’s taken this long for her work to surface into wider public view, but as Mark Harwood and Vincent de Roguin suggest in their excellent liner notes, it’s quite possible that Lachartre just wasn't particularly interested in releasing her music. Thankfully, the hard work that went into this exhaustive package - a lavish three-LP set that presents the majority of her electronic and concréte experiments - does plenty to carve out a posthumous place for her in a canon that's still in flux, bending into new shapes as we're allowed to perceive a more equitable snapshot of electronic music history. Most importantly, the material here is just stunning, dropping us directly into Lachartre's swirling vortex of interests with the heady LP-length piece 'The Mundus Triptych', written between 1970 and 1973.
The two pieces Lachartre composed at Henry's Apsome studio in 1968 - 'Transmutation' and the previously mentioned 'Onirique' - display the composer's keen ear as she experimented with electroacoustic sounds for the first time. The latter's brief, wide-eyed ghosting of the piano reminds us of Delia Derbyshire's contemporaneous work (her Doctor Who theme was assembled from tape-contorted string plucks), and the former's use of rattling woodblock percussion initially sounds more like Tōru Takemitsu, before Lachartre introduces drones squeezed from a khene - a pentatonic reeded bamboo harmonica from Laos that was famously used by Annea Lockwood. On the brilliant 1970 composition 'Temps Intemporel' she uses environmental recordings of birds and machinery, playing their rhythms against household sounds like clocks and footsteps before introducing wheezing, carnivalesque organ gasps and a doom-laden monologue from French actor (and Fellini collaborator) Alain Cuny. Cinematic but not leaden with tiresome signals, it paints a caliginous, modernist picture of a Paris in motion, emotionally distinct from much of the era's better-known electroacoustic material and struck through with Lachartre's belief that music should be texturally distinct and "new". Her resistance to obsessive editing and overcomplicating layering is still pertinent, something many present-day Ableton tinkerers could surely learn from.
On 'Ultimes', a lengthy composition from 1978, Lachartre focuses her attention on the Ondes Martenot, the early keyboard-controlled electronic instrument famously harnessed by Olivier Messiaen, Barry Grey and many others (Jonny Greenwood even used it on 'Kid A'), juxtaposing its sci-fi wail with snatched, wordless voices that mimic the instrument's uncanny pitch. Like so many other compositions on the anthology, it marinates in ideas and moods rather than attempt to position itself as an expression of technical expertise.
Driven by spirituality, humanity and a deep understanding of musicology, Lachartre's music is a refreshing counterpoint to so much electroacoustic music of the era, and this important set of recordings is one of the most bewildering we've had pass over our desks in recent years. Not just a history lesson, it's a missing link that puts many avant garde and electroacoustic themes and developments into perspective - whether you're into the early work of Varese and Xenakis, Popol Vuh's spiritual experiments, or more recent explorations from Kassel Jaeger or even Nkisi, it’s as essential as they come.