Colleen et Les Boites a Musique: Colleen et Les Boites a Musique
A concept EP based solely around music boxes. Sounds gimmicky? Well, maybe it is a little…
Before she unveils her new album in early 2007, French composer Colleen (aka Céclie Schott) has chosen to release this stopgap recording with an elongated name, and a shortened creative leash. Originally a commissioned work for France Culture's Atelier De Création Radiophonique, Colleen et les Boites a Musique is a 38-minute exploration into the sounds of the music box. In some respects, this is familiar territory for Schott, having used such devices in her previous post-ambient recordings; it is however the first time we have heard her composing with such a limited palette of sound. On her second album, The Golden Morning Breaks, she made use of an array of acoustic instruments and timbres to create her dusty ambient soundscapes. For this release, she relies almost exclusively on the mechanical melodies of these music boxes (the EPs closing track excluded), using her computer to re-sample, affect pitch and alter the delay of their notes.
On first listen, this EP doesn't seem a million miles away from her previous recordings. It is in the same minimal vein as her earlier outings: a collection of eerie and hypnotic ambient soundscapes full of mesmerizing wonder. But Colleen has released this collection under a different name for a reason, and below the surface this is a different offering from the French composer. It's not the atmospherics that Schott has been experimenting with; it is just a different approach to her style of writing in general. It soon becomes apparent that deconstruction is an important aspect of these compositions, as she chooses to tear apart traditional, pre-programmed melodies, fragmenting the mechanized tunes before rebuilding them as her own.
Occasionally, Schott does provide the listener with a skewed insight into the track's origin. "Charlie's Birthday Card" reveals itself to be a stop-start rendition of the nursery-rhyme "Rock a Bye Baby". Likewise, "A Bear is Trapped" is an off-key, and somewhat melancholy performance of "Pop Goes the Weasel". But for the most part, Colleen et les Boites a Musiques sees Schott mangling and stretching the melodic lines of the music boxes in order to produce her own fragile creations, through twanging individual tongs of their combs, then digitally fiddling with the resulting sound. This approach creates a relatively subtle, yet significant difference to her previous sound, the most apparent change being the actual melodic content of the tracks. There is a clearer melodic structure to these new compositions, with less emphasis placed on the layering of contrasting textures.
This all sounds terribly post-modern and gimmicky, doesn't it? Well, maybe it is a little. But the overall result is a fairly pleasing one. As in her previous releases, Colleen shows off her ability to entrance her listeners through a variety of different ambient means. The twinkling ethereal chimings of "What Is a Componium? – Part 1" are delicate and mesmerising enough to calm a Red Bull rehab clinic, whereas the contrasting textures of "The Sad Panther", with its sleepy, drawn-out notes, should have listeners vacantly staring into space for the duration of the track.
This release also shows off Schott's impressive skill of using her computer wizardry to produce sounds one wouldn't immediately associate with the music box. Refusing to be constricted by a project devoid of instrumentation, she uses her electronic sorcery to simulate different instruments, and to create a selection of contrasting textures. The shimmering washes of sound in "What Is a Componium? Part 2" evoke the sounds of a harp, and in contrast, the quirky, plinky-plonk melody of "Calypso in a Box" sounds bizarrely like a tune taken straight out of a Game-Boy. Disappointingly though, it is a previously released track that provides the EP's most memorable moment. Originally taken from The Golden Morning Breaks, "I'll Read You a Story" is an example of what Schott is capable of when she allows herself access to a wider range of instruments. Lush, heavily effected swooshes of music box combine with gentle acoustic guitar plucking to create a sinister and truly spellbinding work, producing a sound worthy of a place on a Tim Burton movie soundtrack.
Although atmospheric and pretty, by working within strict limitations, Schott has produced an EP that inevitably lacks the diversity of her back catalogue, and may not add to her widespread appeal. What's more, 38 minutes is a hell of a long time to indulge in such a constricted medium. However, Colleen et les Boites a Musique is an attractive collection of ethereal tracks that should appeal to fans of Susumu Yokota's ambient work, and Colleen's previous material. This EP is well-constructed and nice enough, but not essential; one for the hardcore fans and raging insomniacs only.