[21 August 2006]
Marc Leclair, who also records under the Akufen, has a Matthew Herbert kind of approach to his art, a discipline of creating his brand of microhouse through chopped-up samples of radio static or guitar or classical music. Musique Pour 3 Femmes Enceintes (Music for Three Pregnant Women) is most certainly Marc Leclair over Akufen, since that micro-sampled house aesthetic is pretty far from sight. Inspired by his wife and two of his friends’ concurrent pregnancies, the work is Leclair’s concept-album response to pregnancy, and it is suitably (though not entirely) developmental, proceeding through aquatic, fetal Doppler to a relaxed kind of subtle house—not quite the blossoming revelation of birth, but at least within genre.
The album plays out the progression from one cell to full-term, a 71-minute continuous-playing evolution. The nine tracks are titled with the days of the fetus’ life, from “1er Jour” through birth at “274e Jour”. We know this going in; and I wonder how much this knowing the theme alters the experience of listening to the music. Because separated from the concept, these compositions could represent anything: when the rain and thunder of a summer storm provide the background to “85e Jour”, how are we supposed to understand a growing baby?
So, do we think of this as individual tracks, or a continuous whole? Neither is perfect; individual tracks take a long time to establish individual character, often expanding in warm ambient synths for a few minutes before a distinctive theme establishes itself. And from the perspective of the whole, there’s often a lull between “jours”, as one track’s percussion fades, another’s yet to arrive—there are multiple lulls where the expected development seems to have halted.
“1er Jour” opens proceedings with a skeletal rhythm traded between headphones like a heartbeat; as the beat slowly builds, it gains a kind of complexity, adding more lines in a space-filled wash of sound. A single note is held throughout, the thread of life. Pings of electricity-like signals from a prenatal nervous system create a kind of computer-infused life … and it’s begun.
Tracks go through various phases—tocking, tinkling or wallowing—but a lot of the time there’s no real sense of a “track,” more of a continuum. “85e Jour” opens without beat, a watery synth-pad womb, but just continues in this vein, offering little by way of track development. “114e Jour” is better, slowly building a theme through repetitions of this jangly back-and-forth synth bit between speakers; and the soft heart-beat that intrudes and fades at 3:30 is a nice touch. When it gets going, “150e Jour” is a pretty, warm-synth and triplet-driven track with the soft beginning of more break-beat influenced, harder electro sounds. The complex rhythms and guitar-sampled house sounds don’t really enter the picture until the second-to-last track (but it’s a highlight, all unexpected complexity and groove).
It’s in keeping with the disc’s theme that the final track, “205e Jour”, is the most complete: the only place where any sustained sense of Leclair’s 4/4 techno heritage is really exhibited. Taken as a whole, Musique Pour 3 Femmes Enceintes is an interesting project, though perhaps more so in concept than in execution. It’s primarily one for fans of more experimental ambient/electronic music, because while it has some great moments, it can be tough-going for those used to tracks with a beginning, a middle, and an end.