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Art Zoyd


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Cesar Inca
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars The French ensemble Art Zoyd has never been interested in creating uplifting, high- spirited music: their style is traced by an overall tendency to play with gloom and density in a contemporary chamber-meets-RIO context. That being said, I will add that "Berlin" finds the band exploring the darker side of their musical ideology with a vengeance, but never getting rough; on the contrary, they always procure to keep an air of distinction as it is expected from the intellectual demands that the AZ members usually draw up for their musical ideas and performances. The albums kicks off with the 20-minute 'Epithalame', a solid exercise on minimalism and atonal layers in which the synthesizer and the grand piano alternate positions in the protagonist role. The synth- dominated passages are sustained on frantic harmonic sequences effectively punctuated by the cello and violin; as a result, they tend to portray a clear sense of tension, a tension that certainly does not reach an explosive level due to the minimalistic nature of the interplaying. On the other hand, the piano-dominated passages are more explicitly languid. At minute 11 the symphonic trait starts to get more obvious, subtly growing through a crescendo that leads to a Gothic orchestral motif in minute 13: the organ and the percussive storm assume the leading role, taking the track to an amazing climax. Once this climax is over, it is the dissonant touches of piano and the harp-like synth chords that take center stage until the opening synth motif states the coda: all this time, the recurring sound of synthesized bells and the string ensembles colours have been creating a permanent background that provided a cohesive unity for the various successive passages. Lovers of experimental prog (not exclusively RIO-heads) may feel captivated by this robust opener. I personally find the remaining repertoire not as outstanding as 'Epithalame', but it is not to be dismissed at all. 'Baboon's Blood' has a more recognizable motif for which the string ensemble assumes the leading role. The ambience is more somber, something like a soundtrack to a silent horror movie: the Expressionist airs are complemented by a weird chant, that stands somewhere between the ritualistic and the Dadaist. The 2-part 'Petite Messe a l'Usage des Pharmaciens' finds the band focused on the free-from use of massive electronic ambiences for the 'Offertoire' section; on the contrary, the 'Kyrie' section is more articulate, but not necessarily listener-friendlier, since the synth and piano motif is properly adorned by dissonant sonic streams on - violin and sax - and odd percussive punctuations. The other long track is 'A Drum, a Drum', which portrays a very tribal feel, as suggested by its peculiar title. This tribal atmosphere is not only provided by the percussive instruments and the ritualistic chanting, but also by the keyboards, sax, strings, sundry synth effects and lunatic narratives, which mostly give us the impression of a peculiar travel through the darkest corners of a wild jungle full of impending doom - potentially deadly safari! Although it's fair to say that the brief up- tempo motif that surfaces at minute 14 comes to show that AZ can also be fun. occasionally. Oddly enough (but hey, this is an Art Zoyd recording that we're talking about), the following number is the 'Introït' of 'Petite Messe': it is very Gothic in nature, an ambience effectively enhanced by the use of a keyboard-sampled choir. Finally, 'Unsex Me Here', despite the carnally violent implications of its title, stands as an eerie closure, as relaxing as AZ can be. In conclusion, "Berlin" is one of Art Zoyd's most accomplished works, and it's also a masterpiece of post-70s RIO.
Report this review (#27815)
Posted Sunday, May 8, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars Berlin is a departure of sorts for Art Zoyd, as they discovered the world of sampling. Gone is the post-symphonic breathlessness of Les Espace Inquietes, in its place an equally haunting world, but a world driven mechanically, if you will.

This is the music of dark Germanic nightmares- regal, scary and relentless. Percussion, strings, horns, voices and sampling all unwind like an evil clock towards some terrible hour. Very dark, almost as dark as 1313 by contemporaries Univers Zero. Worth the price of admission just for A Drum, A Drum.

It could receive five stars just for being different and daring, but instead I shall compare it to Les Espaces Inquietes and give it a solid four.

Report this review (#81668)
Posted Wednesday, June 21, 2006 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars 4.5 stars. Gerard Hourbette and Thierry Zaboitzeff share in the creation of these songs fairly evenly as usual.Three of the four members play keyboards, we also get lots of percussion, cello, violin and piano.Yes the electronics are starting to become prominant in ART ZOYD's sound at this point in their carreers (1987). Some sampling in this one too. There are two 20 minute tracks as well as five shorter ones. This is quite dark at times although it's nothing compared to "Nosferatu" the next album from them.

The 20 minute "Epithalame" opens the proceedings.This is fast paced with piano, sax and percussion standing out. It settles before 3 minutes but kicks back in quickly. It starts to unwind until all you hear is piano before 6 minutes. Another piano comes in as they play together fairly slowly. It eventually it starts to build again before 9 minutes. So cool ! Sax 11 minutes in. It settles down 13 minutes in as organ and heavy drums come in. Piano and sax 16 minutes in. Great sound a minute later. Drums are back. "Baboon's Blood" has this catchy almost industrial beat. Drums and strings join in followed by rough theatrical vocals. He's laughing at times. "Petite Messe A L'usage Des Pharmaciens(Offertoire)" opens with electronics and other sounds that come and go. Bells and sax included. "Petite Messe A L'usage Des Pharmaciens (Kyrie)" opens with keyboard sounds as piano joins in. A haunting atmosphere comes and goes. Amazing soundscape here. Vocal sounds 2 1/2 minutes in.

"A Drum, A Drum" is the other 20 minute track. This one is an unreal ride into the unknown. A dark atmosphere as a beat and vocals pulse until it stops before 3 minutes. An eerie mood takes over. It sounds like a plague if that makes any sense. A new beat then comes and goes. Vocals 4 1/2 minutes in. Weird samples come and go too. A change 8 minutes in and drums follow. Keys followed by vocals and cello / violin. Another change after 13 minutes as spoken vocals come in. Check out the heavy beat with bass 14 1/2 minutes in. A heavier beat is back 16 minutes in. Violin and cello are joined by vocals. It's haunting late followed by keyboards. "Petite Messe A L'usage Des Pharmaciens (Introit)" features these water sounds throughout. Synths, percussion, vocal melodies and samples come in. "Unisex Me Here" is led by cello and violin. The vocals before 2 minutes are well done. Organ and sax help out. I like it !

No question about the 4.5 star rating on this one, in fact this is right near the top of my favourite ART ZOYD albums.

Report this review (#213012)
Posted Wednesday, April 29, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Dark, beautiful and stunning. That's all I can say about this LP by the French avant-prog band Art Zoyd.

This album consists of two great epic tracks (both are really epic) and a bunch of shorter things. The highlights here are 'A Drum, A Drum', one of those long epics, and 'Baboon's Blood', a shorter track. 'A Drum, A Drum' is an everchanging, very theatric and extraordinary odd piece of art. Some flavor of Ancient Greek comedy comes in here, ain't it? 'Baboon's Blood' is an eerie goth-like song with ominous beat and even creepier vocals.

In general, atmosphere here is perfectly gloomy and sometimes plainly grim. 'Berlin' is one of those rare albums that would leave you totally astonished and begging for more. Unfortunately, Art Zoyd remains a very less-known band, but if some day you'll have a chance to listen to this masterwork, don't skip it!

Report this review (#954104)
Posted Saturday, May 4, 2013 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
5 stars By the time "Berlin" came out, the transition of Art Zoyd from traditional instruments to a more electronic was underway. Though there are still physical instruments involved on this album, the electronic sound is more prevalent on this one as it continues to take over for the next decade. This is still a great album and worth checking out, at least for those into avant prog bands, especially the chamber-style and electronic bands as it is brilliant experimentation of the two styles and the textures and sounds that can be created. There are still plenty of interesting sounds and passages, lots of experimentation and dissonance, and lots of atmospheric darkness.

The songwriting duties stay with Gerard Hourbette and Thierry Zaboitzeff who wrote the tracks which alternate from one to the other starting with Hourbette's 20 minute contribution.

The original vinyl version of the album only included the 2 long tracks which are over 20 minutes long each. The CD reissue added several short tracks to this making things more interesting. This review is for the expanded CD.

The album starts off with one of the 20 minute pieces "Epithalme". This is Hourbette's 20 minute contribution. It starts with a rapid repeating electronic pattern and slowly builds and adds other churning instruments which turns into a spooky combination of organ and sax taking turns at the lead. It has a dramatic and cinematic sound. At around 5 minutes, this fades to the background as a solo piano takes over playing dissonant chords. Finally at 9 minutes, a subdued string instrument comes in as a sort-of bass, and a repeating keyboard chord pushes things forward along with that rapid pattern which has reappeared. Things start to build again, with all of the instruments almost seeming to be in worlds of their own. At 13 minutes all of this stops and is replaced by an organ, a pounding, mostly non-rhythmic drum and a repeating synth chord. A piano soon joins in. At this point, things have become rather stately, but still mysterious. At around 16 minutes, there is another change as new unsettling tones, melodies and sounds come in and things become more discordant. The pounding drum comes back in along with other familiar patterns from before. Things seem to be building to a finish at this point as everything comes together.

Next is a short 5 minute piece called "Baboon's Blood". This is Zaboizeff's first contribution to the album. This one is more melodic and rhythmic, yet it is still unsettling expecially when strange vocals come in, some sung, some spoken, some almost grunted. It becomes almost operatic, but in a creepy manner. A violin comes in and tries to pull a melody out of the strange vocal patterns.

There are also 3 tracks that are part of a suite written by Hourbette on this expanded album. The next 2 tracks make up the first 2 movements of the suite (each around 3 minutes a piece) called "Petite messe à l'usage des pharmaciens" which means "Small Mass for Use by Pharmacists". The 1st movement is "Offertoire". It starts as a more ambient track with a beeping sound, chimes, a reed instrument that seems hesitant to be there, and other sounds, all of these kept at a soft level. The 2nd movement is "Kyrie" and is introduced by a repeating piano pattern with a piano melody played on the top and a clacking percussive, rhythmic noise. This is soon joined by a screeching violin. Later, a male choir joins in it's own little melody that seemingly has nothing to do with any of the other sounds.

Next is Zaboizeff's 20 minute piece called "A Drum a Drum". It starts with a spooky sounding cello and an weird huffing- puffing sound. This is all joined by electronic pings and percussive noises. It becomes quite dirge like with it's slow-plodding rhythm. At 2:30, this all disappears and is replaced by some high-pitched electronic sounds and then a sudden series of discordant interruptions that involve a horn and some electronic treatments. Strange vocals come in. A sax also comes in after a while, trying to pick out something that resembles a melody. Around 8 minutes there is an abrupt change and things get really creepy, then suddenly and tense and jittery rhythm starts with some quickly plucked string patterns. At this point, there is a very playful section with acoustic and electronic sounds, then weird vocals start again. The playfulness continues, but the vocals add an unsettling element to it all. The violin has its turn at lead instrument for a short time as the playful section continues. Sometimes, the instruments sound like they are trying to speak. Then suddenly a chanting group takes over, then fades and we are left with high chirping noises. Then out of nowhere, another almost tropical-sounding section commences with some percussive style instruments and electronic music. But this all changes to drama as the vocals and intensity grows. This section fades at 16:30, and is replaced by oboe tiptoeing around whispering vocals. A violin and piano soon join. Things turn mysterious again and more vocals. Instruments drop off one by one until we are left with a solo piano to end it all.

The next track is the 3rd part of the previously mention suite. This part is called "Introit" and is another short 3 minute section. Percussive splashing noises, strange vocal/musical textures and an organ drive this one forward. The album closes on another short 3 minute track called "Unsex Me Here". This one starts with a cello churning out a repeating pattern which gets joined by plucked strings and textured percussion. The cello uses it's repeating pattern to create an ascending melody of sorts. Vocals eventually start creating a new melody with a synthesizer shadowing.

Many people don't consider this album as strong as previous albums, but I still find it as great as any of their best work. Even the shorter tracks are extremely interesting and intriguing. This is still top quality avant-prog/RIO music and I love it all. Yes there is the impending takeover of the electronics in this, but the balance between electronics and acoustics here is inspired brilliance as the sounds are used to create textures, atmospheres and sounds that are unique and inspiring. I love this album just as much as their completely acoustic albums for their exploration into the combination of these instruments and the brilliance of the songwriting. This is definitely an album that needs to be explored by all and should be considered a modern- classical recording.

Report this review (#2047676)
Posted Thursday, October 25, 2018 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars The Belgian avant gardistes experimenting with 1980s technologies. I hear a lot of the influence of Phillip Glass and Christian Vander here.

1. Epithalame (20:12) weird weave of tribal sounds pulsing like a Phillip Glass soundtrack with C. Vander-like castrati singing in the background. Hypnotic in an African drum-circle, Joni Mitchell "Dreamland" kind of way. (34/40) 2. "Baboon's Blood" (5:35) obviously the band was experimenting with a lot of the new sounds and technologies that the digital, MIDI, and computer world were making available to the art world. The vocals are laughable, the Art of Noise samples and sounds embarrassing, but the strings contributions are okay. (8/10)

3. "A Drum, a Drum" (20:20) what opens as a creepy soundtrack to a horror film turns more musical in the fifth minute--though still scary/creepy (The vocals are just weird. I like the band much more as an instrumental band.) The Middle Eastern-sounding saxophone can get a little grating. Then a drawn out washy coda turns into an almost-Berlin School section reminding me of some of Mike Oldfield's poorer passages. The use of some of the 1980s technologically available innovations only serves to date and mire this music in anachronistic time capsule. I'd love to hear the 21st Century, all-acoustic version the band would do of this today. Overall, I'd say this song is quite a failure. There is nothing exceptional, virtuosic, engaging, or even particularly fresh much less entertaining. (30/40)

Total Time: 46:14

Overall I think this album is a sad testament to the limited and limiting technologies coming available in the 1980s--sounds that have either been vastly improved upon or simply (and with embarrassment) discarded. I'm glad they went back to their unplugged acoustic sound palette.

C-/2.5 stars; a brick of an album that is more historically valuable for the example of how wrong a band's experimentation with latest technologies can go.

Report this review (#2456818)
Posted Saturday, October 17, 2020 | Review Permalink

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