Colleen: Les Ondes Silencieuses

Colleen strips away the electronics and loops of her previous efforts for a glacial, elegant album that never takes an obvious compositional path nor relies on an easy appeal to the emotions.


Les Ondes Silencieuses

Label: Leaf
US Release Date: 2007-06-26
UK Release Date: 2007-05-21

On her latest release, Colleen strips away the electronics and loops of her previous efforts and invests more heavily in the sound of "real" instruments. The result is an album that is restrained and filled with silence. Repeated listens reveal delicate patterns and instrumental variety; though anyone seeking an easy ambient soundscape in which to lounge should look elsewhere. Simple and deliberate, Les Ondes Silencieuses (“The Quiet Waves”) is nevertheless puzzling. The music neither takes an obvious compositional path nor relies on an easy appeal to the emotions.

Celine Schott grew up in the suburbs just south of Paris. Her first release as Colleen was made on her home computer. That album,Everyone Alive Wants Answers(derived from CDs borrowed from her public library), was an engaging collage of electronics and real instruments with a focus on looped sound. Not a radical thing in 2003, but The Wire took notice -- rightly so, as the record was equal parts lovely and raw. Gigs followed, with Schott emulating the album by manipulating pedals with her toes while playing "real" instruments.

Her follow-up, The Golden Morning Breaks,wherein Colleen kept the loops but ditched the samples in favor of natural sound, was one of the most sublime releases of 2005. Further gigs saw her on bills with the likes of Keith Fullerton Whitman, Murcof, A Hawk and a Hacksaw, David Grubbs, and Dirty Projectors. In 2006, she released the live album Mort Aux Vaches (limited to 500 copies) and a 14 track EP, Colleen et les Boites a Musique, constructed entirely with sounds from music boxes. The EP was quite flashy and immediately enjoyable, but Les Ondes Silencieuses will prove to be the more substantial and enduring collection.

"This Place in Time" is as unfussy as the rest of the album. Without stretching for any particular feeling or mood, Colleen takes us to a place of deep contemplation with her viola da gamba (a relative of the Spanish vihuela --a plucked guitar-like instrument-- and similar in playing posture to the viola and the Moorish rabab). Her previous use of loops gave her music a well-defined structure. In deliberately losing that device, she gambled with intensity. The risk has paid off. Much of Les Ondes Silencieuses is unpredictable, and the compositions are more open and travel further from their points of origin than do the compositions on her previous albums. "Le Labyrinthe" exudes the air of a piece transcribed from medieval times, probably because the spinet sounds like a lute. The sense of getting hopelessly lost is conveyed, along with a sudden mid-level panic. I was rather glad when it ended.

There is excellent contrast here, as the next track, "Sun Against My Eyes", combines clarinet and classical guitar, conjuring outdoor images of peaceful landscapes uninhabited by anyone except the listener and perhaps a few animals. (The phrase "Les Ondes Silencieuses" can also refer to the behavior of certain animals prior to an earthquake). Colleen's clarinet work is strong and direct, and in one passage just past the two minute mark, there is a dub-like echo on a note which I enjoyed immensely. The seventh track, "Sea of Tranquility", seems to be a companion piece to "Sun Against My Eyes", and the instrumentation is wonderful on both. The simplicity is mesmerizing. Notions of reflection and balance come to mind -- the ebb and flow of water, or planetary effects on the Earth, along with an odd illusion of time passing and yet standing still.

"Le Bateau" features viola de gamba, plucked and bowed, the same theme rocking back and forth as if bobbing on the waves. "Blue Sands" has fretwork which reminds me, pleasantly, of the fluttering guitar on the first two Leonard Cohen records. "Echoes and Coral" repeats the theme from "This Place in Time" using crystal glass (is it crystal or glass? crystal glasses? lead crystal?) as a solo instrument. These simple compositions are uncluttered and solemn. Colleen's work is naked here, with nothing to obscure the essence of her music. Her use of silence creates both calmness and tension.

A visit to the official Colleen website lists all the concerts she has performed and, among other things, some of her favorite books, films, and music. They include the magnificent Russian film Andrei Rublev (with its vast time span, crawling pace, and the most horrific –- but blink and you could miss it -- scene ever created), Jonathon Coe's novel The Rotter's Club, the early 1970s group Medicine Head, the electronic experimentation of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, as well as Joe Meek, Delia Derbyshire, and Joy Division.

Les Ondes Silencieuses is clear, gentle, and lovely. It has a glacial and elegant quality, yet grabs and keeps our attention as easily as a seasoned orator using a soft, confident tone to quiet a room full of people. Colleen retains her adherence to acoustic and non-rhythmic composition, and this appears not to be hampering her musical progression. Back on her website, Harry Partch also gets a mention, and the idea that Colleen may have to design and build the instruments she requires for her journey into sound (as Partch did) is not beyond the realms of possibility.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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