Publicity photo via Bandcamp

Colleen: A Flame My Love, A Frequency

The results are detailed and even somewhat finicky as if Colleen only wants to use a minimum of sound/language to communicate big contemplative conceptions.

Colleen is an experimental artist whose music defies easy description. On her new release, she offers the blips and beeps of electronica, whispery vocals with enigmatic lyrics, short-repeated rhythms with classical inflections, reverb with repetition, loops, and other such materials to create sonic pieces that are simultaneously cold yet intimate. There are a pulse and a heart inside the controlled environments. The beats, tempos and stray sounds cue the listener to breathe deeply. Colleen’s music implores one to relax and pay attention to one’s thoughts/feelings like a meditative mantra.

Before this album, Colleen (multi-instrumentalist Cécile Schott), played the viola de gamba as her primary instrument. This time she uses Critter and Guitari synthesizers and a Moog filter pedal to make her graceful and sensitive compositions. The songs themselves are relatively short, two to eight minutes in length, and invoke time and seasons with such titles as “November”, “Summer Night”, “Winter Dawn”. Although their names suggest something general such as the weather the songs’ particular concerns indicate she celebrates specific past experiences (i.e., what happened that one early morning in winter). The results are detailed and even somewhat finicky as if Colleen only wants to use a minimum of sound/language to communicate big contemplative conceptions.

This is not the first time Colleen has vocalized on a recording. She sings softly to suggest she’s revealing confidential, secret personal information. The topics here are existential. The inspiration for many of the songs came after a visit to Paris during the same time as the Friday 13 November 2015 attack by gunmen and suicide bombers that hit an Eagles of Death Metal concert, a major sports stadium, restaurants and bars that left 130 people dead and hundreds wounded. She started to compose the songs on this album soon after these events.

Colleen is clearly on the side of life. As she sings on the poetic “The Stars vs. The Creatures”, the heavenly bodies may “have the last word” but just one feather of a Kingfisher is worth more than a thousand stars” — the living world contains much more than inorganic gasses will ever contain. The reality of death only heightens the meaning of life.

On instrumental tracks such as “One Warm Spark”, she dreamily expresses her wonder at what she experiences. Without words, Colleen goes on a voyage to “Another World”, as she says in the title of another song. She treads lightly as she journeys. The music sounds wistful even as its rhythms are attentive.

And on the cuts that combine extended vocal and instrumental sections, such as “Separating” and the one from which the recording gets its name, “A Flame My Love, A Frequency”, Colleen uses silence and sparse arrangements to add a formal touch to the proceedings. There’s more than a touch of the funereal on the latter piece that ends the record as the synths sound like a traditional Church organ before turning into a fading cyclic hum. The sense of an ending that doesn’t entirely end implies the resonance all life has on the world in which we live. Even after we are gone, our imprint remains.