Cécile Schott, aka Colleen, has strolled a fascinating musical path for 20 years’ worth of releases. Her debut, 2003’s Everyone Alive Wants Answers, found her stealthily looping records scored in Paris libraries for tracks that sounded at once ancient and futuristic, perhaps from a hidden Indonesian island or a dream. From there, and before her seven-year recording hiatus in 2007, she created mini-symphonies for classical guitars and zithers, all manner of music boxes, and finally, the viola da gamba, after a trip to Japan had her considering the concept of stillness. Her seemingly boundless incorruptibility made for music that was always in the process of discovery, sometimes strange, other times disturbingly fragile.
But in 2017, a few years after re-emerging as a recording artist, she turned her attention to synthesizers. That year’s A Flame My Love, a Frequency, an album inspired partly by the horrors of 2015’s Paris terror attack, uses Critter and Guitari synths for tracks containing almost unbearable breath, light, and space. By 2021’s The Tunnel and the Clearing, she’d added a drum machine and an emphasis on melody for music that occasionally connected to artists who flirt between pop and experimentation, such as Molly Nilsson or Reymour.
None of this information is any real preparation for Le Jour et la Nuit du Réel, a double LP of solo instrumental suites composed on a Moog synth and all manner of analog delay. At times relentlessly dense and at others wistful, her back catalog at least hints at what’s on display here. All three movements of opener “Subterranean” feature sometimes frantic flicks of the keys, a soundtrack to a panicked escape on foot, becoming lighter with each pass. The two movements of “The Long Wait” seem to shed colors as the tracks pass.
Schlott’s winks in pop’s general direction find a place here as well. “To Hold and be Held’s” second movement sounds almost like an Auto-Tuned voice, while “Mon Coeur” repeats an ascending, then descending melody that, with some tweaks, might underpin some synthetic Kylie Minogue track fit for a boutique clothing store PA. Not only does Schlott re-imagine each track movement by movement, but over the course of the album, the day becomes night; tracks become lullabies for drifting away. The five movements of “Les Parenthèses Enchantées” feel like gentle nudges or whispers.
Le Jour et la Nuit du Réel is a departure for Colleen and a natural progression. Perhaps it’s simply a micro-focused version of the delightful sound sculptures on the far edges of pop music she’s been making for decades. Listen closely, and you’ll hear traces of everything she’s already left behind on record, more fully synthesized but by no means less playful or visionary.