Boomkat Product Review:
French instrument builder Pierre Bastien - who's collaborated with Robert Wyatt and Jaki Liebezeit, and released on Rephlex and Alga Marghen - returns to Discrepant for another breathtakingly singular set of mechanical future folk, mangled exotica and deranged fourth world experimentation. Nowt much else like it.
On 2017's "The Mecanocentric Worlds of Pierre Bastien", the multi-instrumentalist centered his Meccano-powered orchestra, an ensemble of musical automatons he called "Mecanium". On "Sonic Folkways", he takes a different approach, collecting instruments from across the world - from horns and gongs to castanets and maracas - to realize his unique take on exotica, an android assemblage of folk traditions that pierces the past with hard light beamed from the future. It's difficult music to even explain coherently - there are loose sonic connections between Bastien's sounds and Andrew Pekler's ethnographic experiments on "Tristes Tropiques", but aside from that he's out on his own.
Opening track 'Aha!' serves as a short introduction to Bastien's headspace, combining flute and horn sounds with synthesized abstraction and skronked noise to create an evocative fusion of South American folk, free jazz and deranged industrial music. Once that's finished, we're into more established Bastien territory, as mechanical musicians make clockwork clicks while playing mbira loops over disorienting gongs and scene-setting cricket noise; in the wrong hands this approach might sound awkward, but Bastien puts his stamp on it while using the sounds to suggest deeper themes regarding contemporary technology and human behavior.
'Pan's Nap' is the album's other long-form moment, and uses similarly automated lurching loops, this time focusing on oddly tuned wind and brass instruments, and distorted percussion. It's at this point in the album when the comparisons to Congolese band Konono No.1 are most present - not just in Bastien's choice of instruments but in his spiraling repetition and use of distortion. As the track winds down in the final act, the percussion disintegrates into broad string plucks that intentionally echo East African traditional music, it's a smart nod to the sound's roots - Bastien may be reaching into places unknown, but his sounds are far from robotic.