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Art Zoyd - Phase V CD (album) cover

PHASE V

Art Zoyd

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.26 | 10 ratings

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Lewian
5 stars You may have travelled Thailand, Madeira, Rio de Janeiro, New York, New Zealand, Venice, Costa Rica, Kenya, and the Chinese Wall. You may think you have seen it all. Well, almost all. You have never been to Antarctica. What would you want there? It's remote and cold, no trees, few animals, no human beings apart from a few researchers. Still deep in your heart you know that Antarctica holds something for you that you cannot find anywhere else. Well I cannot be sure that it's something for you, you may be more of a nervous type, you may need something to keep you busy all the time and hot, you may not belong down there. Still you know for some of us it's a dream, and for some it may be ultimately more the place to be than all the other fancy destinations.

Another thing to realise: Antarctica is vast. You may think you have seen photos, so you know how it is, but don't forget, it's bigger than the whole of Europe and almost equal to the whole of South America.

Next thing to realise: This is a most inappropriate introduction to a review of Art Zoyd's Phase V. Neither is this an album about Antarctica (it has track titles that are totally incompatible with that idea such as "Out of the window of a train"; the photographs indicate that it's rather about derelict city and industrial landscapes), nor have I actually ever been there. So you may dismiss the whole thing but wait! Still there are connections.

Phase V is a 5 CD-set, and Art Zoyd have made it ridiculously inaccessible (and at the moment I'm not even talking about the music). No free samples are flying around at the time of my writing as far as I know, I don't think it's available anywhere for less than 30 Euros (which is not that much money for 5 CDs but a fortune at this day and age for buying music without having had a taster first), information given by the band is pretty scarce (chances are that the majority of the material was recorded between 2010 and 2017 but I actually don't know; who exactly did what where? No idea) and then they split it up into loads, actually 90, tracks, that first, before reviewing, want to be put into progarchives in the right format. Thank you very much. It took about one year from the release to anybody (me actually) bothering to put the album on PA, and this is one of the longest serving most innovative and influential RIO/prog bands there is! On top of that, Gerard Hourbette, mastermind of Art Zoyd, died on 8 May 2018, so this is the last album released during his lifetime on which he performs (not sure whether there is more material somewhere in the vaults to be released at some point). I couldn't find any English language review of it either (German language "Babyblaue Prog Reviews" have a review and the author has dug out slightly more info, it's 2009-2017 actually).

Surely Hourbette didn't die in an ebb of productivity; the 44 1/2 boxset including, the Zoyds put out 17 CDs of unreleased material in 2017/18 alone, I think this is more than any other RIO band released over their entire career! It's too much actually, it seems, for most people to listen to, so this vast continent of music seems to fly under everyone's radar.

Now to the music on Phase V. It surely has some Antarctica feeling about it. Art Zoyd continues to do avantgardistic, freezing, mostly electronic landscapes. Part of the music is really remote from even progressive rock territory, there are slow meditative minimalistic pieces, some rather industrial sound alchemy, some machine rhythms, some parts rather populated with movement somehow contrasting the Antarctica impression, although many of these also have some rather cold uninviting character (also don't forget Antarctica has penguins, Aurora, volcanic activity, mountains up to 5000m and spectacular but unsettling phenomena as a consequence of global warming on top of the vast snow plains). There is no proper singing, although voice samples and some electronically manipulated speaking are used. One could say that already for quite some time, in the 21st century, Art Zoyd is more of a project of serious contemporary experimental music rather than belonging to any category with a rock or popular music connection - what an admirable development for a progressive band though! I also want to emphasize that they didn't fill their more than five hours of music on the cheap. Quite a bit of composition and construction must have gone into some of the less minimalist parts, they haven't split this up into 90 tracks for nothing. In terms of speed and intensity the listener gets quite some variety and there are many, many things to discover.

The CDs are split up into different projects, some if not most or all of them were probably made as soundtrack or theatre music (the German reviewer cited above claims that some of these are only parts of what was actually done, including film concerts and sound installations). It starts with Kairo and Les particules noires, which share the first CD. Kairo has a number of rather minimalist parts and is surprisingly icy, given the name, although it also features some rhythm. Later on CD 1 we get some more actual notes and chords (this is only a transient side phenomenon of this work). There are some references to earlier Art Zoyd work, e.g., Transmutations would have been something pretty typical for the band since the 1980s. CD2 has the nice title "Trois reves non valides". It starts with a slowly moving but actually delightful more liquid 10 minutes number, "Je suis compose d'eau", certainly a favourite track, before going into smaller tracks. It has some more civilised sounds such as churches, opera singing, a lot of other voices and some allusion to classical music, so it comes over as somewhat warmer overall despite the odd icy part. It is very inventive and hosts some striking contrasts between parts, both worth marvelling at and in places a bit annoying, but it is overall exciting and may be the most entertaining CD, and it is braced by a somewhat more intense reprise of "Je suis compose d'eau".

CD3 hosts four different works and is as such even more heterogeneous. Les rives du futur has a lot of rhythm and is more transparent and composed than other parts with a number of returning motifs, still in itself almost as heterogeneous as the whole album taken together. Here, as well as elsewhere, intense rhythmic parts are often interrupted by less structured sound valleys. Histoire naturelle is rather minimalist, meaning that rarely more than one thing is going on at a time. Also there are not so many long sounds that fill the space. It is, if you want, the most decluttered part of the album. Note though that the different projects are never consistently different, they all share many characteristics and differ gradually rather than radically from each other - this one is actually decluttered over the first half but becomes more packed with stuff later. Occasionally a piano or strings are met. Vampyr has some really scary Vampyre voices, this is really pretty dark and threatening stuff. There is only 1 1/2 minutes Musique pour Julia, but this is quite worthwhile and special as the most pastoral contemplative part of all the 5 CDs. I would've assumed that this is only a snippet of a bigger work and I am somewhat gutted that we don't get this one in full even though there's so much music already - but there may have been good reasons, who knows?

CDs 4 and 5 are both then devoted to "Paysages des enfers" (landscapes of hell), and although they are not quite as frightening as Vampyr, they are the proper Antarctic heartland (with some hot springs in unexpected places, and even some spots populated by penguins, researchers, funghi and whatnot), dominated by longer cool and windy sounds, and the tracks get some longer time to develop. Well probably things still change quickly enough that you may not agree with the Antarctica analogy, but it is a strange, remote and inaccessible landscape indeed that we have here. At some points it becomes quite loud and intense like a snow storm. The band has thought of other impressions, the first track on CD5 is called "the dead child" and is rather gothic, certainly with zero percent sentimentality. Then later a "space lab", some more vampyre voices and a long varied finale titled "at the age of 25 I was captain of the guard of the king of Naples" if I'm not mistaken. How on earth these titles fit together I don't know, but it doesn't matter really. In any case the finale is something of an open end, and we can be sure that Hourbette wasn't ready to die yet, and would have had even more to give.

When I think of it from the outside, it might feel Antarctic, but every time I listen to it I'm actually shocked how much they managed to put into this, even, in some places in quite short time. Rest In Peace Gerard Hourbette, nobody can say that you didn't deliver until the very end. Here potentially ends the story of the mighty Art Zoyd who have created their own continent, bah, universe of music, and let their guiding light go with a work that even at pretty old age has more creativity in it than many musicians put out over their lifetime. Well I could come up with some things to criticise and there is the genre issue that would make people think that maybe this shouldn't have 5 stars on a prog rock site, but honestly, who'd give 4 stars to Antarctica and say that it was nice and impressive but they feel a bit lukewarm about it because the breakfast was poor?? This work needs to be chased, worked on, and relistened many times, and it will be ignored by the vast vast majority... how much they miss!

Lewian | 5/5 |

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