Melodium: La Tête Qui Flotte

[20 September 2005]

By Tim O'Neil

Most electronic music is preoccupied with the beat. There are a number of reasons for this, both historical and technological, but it has only been in recent years that musicians have begun to truly explore the possibilities of melody in an electronic context. In the past few years artists such as Four Tet and M83 (to name just a couple) have successfully placed the concept of melody-driven electronic music at the forefront of the scene. This is not to say that they were the first artists to do so—but the creation of an entire subgenre of electronic music dedicated to the manipulation of acoustic—or pseudo-acoustic—melodies is definitely a recent development.

Electronic music hinges on the malleability of sound, the ability of musicians to take simple and familiar sounds and transform them into something unfamiliar, exotic and provocative. There’s no reason why the acoustic guitar and piano shouldn’t be as ripe with potential as the drum kit and synthesizer. The creation of an entire new sub-genre—the deceptively named “folktronica”—to describe this phenomenon was inevitable, given the rapid, maniacal drive towards speciation in the electronic music community. It’s not a particularly accurate or descriptive label, but hey, neither are IDM or UK garage / two-step (whu-huh?).

In any event, Melodium’s La T&#234te Qui Flotte is a veritable feast of fragile, intricate melodic composition. Melodium (a contraction of “melody” and “medium”), is Laurent Giraud, and with the exception of a handful of vocal bits and string samples, every noise on La T&#234te Qui Flotte has been created, processed and edited by him. The effect is startling, sparse and ethereal.

Many tracks, such as “Les psychotropes sont mes ami, puis mes ennemis…” and “Le creux est ma mati&#232re premi&#232re”, begin with a familiar acoustic noise, such as a gentle piano melody or acoustic guitar chord being fingered, and then elaborate on said melody, introducing layers of altered sound until the entire song is filled. Percussion is created from what sounds like a wide variety of found noises—hand claps, snapping fingers, knocking on wood—morphed and transformed into something unmistakably organic. The patterns are intricate but by no means distracting. The overall effect is pleasingly pastoral.

In other instances, the tracks begin strangely and expands outward. For instance, “Se rayer provisoirement de la liste des vivants” begins with a droning wheeze, like a bit of phantom guitar feedback, until suddenly transforming into a pendulous guitar chord strumming against the backdrop of haunting, discordant string samples. Even when more conventional percussion is utilized, as on “Kill me with a smile”, which features something resembling a conventional electronic breakbeat, the effect is alien. Juxtaposed against the universe of warped acoustics on display, the comparatively normal elements are transformed.

Certainly, La T&#234te Qui Flotte is nowhere near as ambitious as it could have been. Girard seems happy, in most cases, to craft comparatively minor arrangements, at least in comparison to some of his more cosmic-minded peers in the world of electronic music. But still, on tracks like “Emptykuerten” and “La vie est plus belle depuis…”, Melodium succeeds in opening up entirely new vistas through surprisingly humble means. The overall effect is invigorating.

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