by Ben Hogwood
What’s the story?
It is helpful to reproduce in full the accompanying notes Gaspar Claus has written for this release on Bandcamp:
“Scaphandre is the story of an image found in a lost time on the internet a few years ago. It inspired two sound pieces conceived so that one can dive into it as into the sea.
Once their composition was finished, I looked for the origin of this image. It is one of the very first submarine pictures in history, taken by Louis Boutan in 1893 in the bay of Banyuls-sur-Mer… my home town. The original photo as well as a fantastic series of archives documenting this event can be found at the Arago Laboratory, where I often went as a child, after school, amazed by what the researchers were showing me. They just had never told me this story. This is how this record found its scenery.”
The two pieces Claus brought together on Scaphandre (which translates as ‘diving suit’ or ‘space suit’ in English) are described as ‘an abstract and mysterious B-side of Tancade’, the album released by the French cellist and composer towards the end of 2021.
Both pieces were written alongside the composition of the album, and are broader in scope, each lasting more than 10 minutes.
What’s the music like?
Compelling, and often deeply mysterious.
Inside starts right from the depths, the instrument detuned by a distance of more than two tones. The scratchy, almost pitchless sounds gradually form a rich chord as layers of sound build up, until a rich, wooden wall of sound is secured, constantly evolving and yet acting as an immovable block. As this progresses the treble pitches start to gather and swirl, slowly orbiting the centre. There is a forbidding intensity about the progression of this piece.
Beyond has more consonant harmonies in its beginnings and occupies a safer space, suspended in a rich drone of mostly G major – but with another massive wall of sound to back it up. Gradually the music lifts, and the foundation drops away to leave mere threads, the elements of pitch dissolving into white noise.
Does it all work?
It does – but it is important to listen to these tracks in the right environment, as they are only fully impactful when a static half hour is set aside.
Is it recommended?
Yes, as a complement to the Tancade album – but if you haven’t heard that yet then it is the best place to start. Either way, Scaphandre is further proof of Gaspar Claus’s powers of invention, knowledge and deep love of the cello. He pushes its sonic boundaries further here, for sure!