By: Will Pinfold
La Tène | website | facebook | soundcloud |
Released on April 29, 2016 via three: four records
La Tène is a trio of experimental/traditional musicians from France and Switzerland and with Vouerca/Fahy they have produced something extraordinary; but it won’t necessarily appeal to those looking for catchy tunes and melodies or, conversely, ugly and/or aggressive noise. The key ingredient here is folk music, but it is neither the pretty kind vulgarised by the self-consciously rustically-attired community or the hauntingly otherworldly variety. Instead, what La Tène channels, through a seamless mixture of traditional instrumentation (hurdy gurdy, harmonium, percussion) and droning electronics, is the atmosphere of an archaic, remote past, bound by rituals and symbols whose meanings are now beyond recall but whose power remains undiminished.
Paradoxically, Vourca/Fahy gives the impression of being both self-indulgent and almost fanatically ascetic. An album that consists of two 20 minute long tunes (one per side, in the vinyl version) is normally a cue for all manner of instrumental wankery or, at the very least grandiose complexity; but not for La Tène. Once the texture of each track is established (and Vourca/Fahy is far more about texture than it is melody) the trio essentially settles into a trance-like, monotonous (in a good but very literal sense) groove to the point where anything as dramatic as a key change (there are maybe two of those over the whole forty minutes) feels like a revelation.
The texture is much the same for both pieces: a kind of dense groan/drone, where the wheeze of the hurdy gurdy and harmonium mesh with understated and sympathetic electronic elements, set to clunky, organic-sounding percussion. ‘Danse de Vouerca’ has, as the the title suggests, a dance tempo, but rather than joyous or celebratory in the usual sense, it has an ominously trance-like fervour, becoming imperceptibly more insistent and even frenzied as it goes on, never quite reaching the point of catharsis and leaving a heavy silence in its wake. ‘Marche de Fahy’ is taken at a more stately (the right word might be ceremonial) pace and is as bracingly stark as cold rain driven across bleak heathland by an autumnal wind. It’s an atmosphere hinted at in the (far warmer and more melodic) work of the Galician folk group Sangre de Muerdago and some of the Third Ear Band’s work for Polanski’s MacBeth (and, oddly, the early work of Ukrainian black metal band Blood of Kingu) but it’s heard here in a far more intense and concentrated form. Gripping but ultimately unknowable, Vourca/Fahy is a gnomic, visceral work of art, at least when listened to alone and sober; unsettling but extremely bracing and life-affirming.
Not a party album then; but a work of immense, primal power and a unique experience for those willing to go the distance.