If music is sound, organised in time, and song is a musical composition with vocals, then it’s fact that this work exists at the very edges of those parameters. There is a grey zone where music transforms itself into countless variations of noise, pattern, texture and drone. Song shapeshifts into poetry, speech or simply another form of sound.
In many ways, Two Words by crys cole and Francis Plagne, is a beautifully peculiar exploration of these genetic building blocks of music. Spread over two sides of vinyl, this 33-minute-long experience pulls the listener into a frankly stunning sound world.
The disc begins with what sounds like an extended field recording. The wind, rain and a suggestion of the sea entwined with subtle electronic layers. There is a sense of space and drama as the strange weather mutates. But the first of many twists is that the sound is in fact made from various rubbed surfaces, subtle stereo movement and mic placement. Speaking to crys cole via email, she explained:
“we love the ambiguity of side A… how the ear & mind can shape the sounds into very different realities…”
The world created here is a reality, it’s just not the reality it initially seemed to be.
At around 11 minutes, this illusionary world gradually allows a beautiful, near static keyboard drone to emerge which slowly embellishes itself as the tide recedes. This transition is glacially paced and settles into two notes back and forth. Two parts have reflected each other to take the listener into the very flesh of the music.
Quite unexpectedly, Francis Plagnes starts to gently intone parts of Two Words – a poem by Marty Hiatt. The piece starts –
lens flare / signal flare / raw nerve / anxiety suit / beacon cone / stepping away / light travelling / hidden journey / train journey / night train / doppler effect / christopher columbus
And continues as each pairing breathes in and out over the keyboard. Each phrase oddly overlaps somehow with it’s predecessor, like an animated string of venn diagrams. A playful linking of ideas, and despite a conceptual air, it’s a million miles from a stuffy academic exercise. Two Words is a joyous exploration of two musicians, two approaches, two sides of vinyl, two notes and countless other binary structural devices.
“As for the words on the second side – we liked the repetitive nature of the poem as well as the randomness of the juxtaposed words. In a sense the words have no meaning to us, but similarly to the first side, the words (in this case) can take on meaning. As you listen (and as we made the work) certain phrases suddenly become loaded or meaningful, while others remain absurd or banal.“
As the vocal element develops, it’s clear that Plagnes vocals are sources from two different performances as the variations start to minutely deviate like an oddly dramatic holographic twist: cole expanded –
“these are two different takes that we did in the studio that are juxtaposed. It was important to us that this be two distinct takes and not just a double track, in order to have the voices not match perfectly – to be slightly off kilter.“
Towards the end of the piece, the vocal element stops but there a clear sense of the void they leave in the music. Electronic elements that build up in the final moments create a stunning ambience that signals the inevitable end to the piece. It’s a beautifully evocative way for silence to return.
The album features a painting by Anne Wallace, of a car travelling down a rural road. The branches reflected in the car windows and the road winding through the greenery. Before hearing the album, the sleeve made no sense. Afterwards though, it’s another surprisingly perfect layered representation of this strange and deeply beautiful album. The disc presents quite possibly the strangest ‘song’ you’ll hear this year, but the weirdness is totally magnetic.
Two Words – highly recommended
Two Worlds is out on 27 June 2018 on Black Truffle on vinyl.