Saturday 5 October 2019

Philippe Simon - RIL

Album: RIL
Artist: Philippe Simon
Catalogue no: N/A

     1.      RIL 1
     2.      RIL 2
     3.      RIL 3
     4.      RIL 4
     5.      RIL 5
     6.      RIL 6
     7.      RIL 7
     8.      RIL 8
     9.      RIL 9

Here’s the question of the day: what happens when an 83 year-old painter, musician, and photographer gets hold of a Korg M50 and a Nord Lead? The answer is that you get Philippe Simon, and on this showing he very much comes from the Berlin School of electronic music (which is no bad thing – if it hadn’t been for the likes of Tangerine Dream, Ashra, Edgar Froese, and Klaus Schulze then in all likelihood the kind of genres we listen to probably wouldn’t exist or would exist in a diminished form), with plenty of rhythm sequencing and meandering lead lines superimposed. In fact, Simon loves his music so much that he has apparently recorded 200 albums so far!

I make no bones about the fact that the Berlin School is where my musical journey began in the mid-seventies, with Tangerine Dream’s Rubycon (which is still my favourite TD album to this day, which still receives a regular listen). Without wishing to make lazy comparisons or to labour the point too much Simon’s music is very much in the mould of what I would consider as mid-period TD, where the side-long compositions had almost been replaced by shorter pieces, the rhythmic sequencing was also still a strong component, and the lead lines on top still exhibited some of the exploratory flowing improvisatory tunefulness the Berlin trio were known for. RIL is very much an album of ambient mood pieces, each of which is highly reminiscent of a time when the term ‘New Age’ appeared to mean something genuinely metaphysical and not a crass commercial opportunity to sell bland meaningless music. Pleasingly, there’s an unpretentiousness about this whole enterprise which is refreshing; this is just a man enjoying himself making the kind of music he likes, without any reference to pleasing anyone other than himself. Having said that, even though there’s nothing especially complex about the music on here, neither is there anything naïve or crude about its execution.

‘RIL 1’ starts off with a medium tempo bass sequence that sounds vaguely Eastern in flavour, which provides the framework for some ringing tones to hang on to. It evokes imagery of magnificent temples draped with dark velvet wall hangings, exotic sigils of entities whose names have been forgotten adorning them, fires burning in braziers, and plumes of musky incense floating ceilingwards. ‘RIL 2’ has a diametrically-opposed atmosphere to it, one of tinkling iciness, like dripping icicles thawing after a deep snowbound winter. It’s still bitingly cold, but the sky is crystal clear with a shining sun, tiny rivulets of freezing water are beginning to push their way over rock to form ever-strengthening waterfalls, and small patches of green are starting to appear from beneath the blanket of snow. Number 3 in the series carries forward the feeling of new life stirring after a cold, hard winter shutting out any signs of life. Everything is resurgent, new energy is flowing, and soon it will erupt.

‘RIL 4’ takes us in a new direction and slows the pace down, a ponderous beat upholding wisps of ethereal tonalities and echoes. This is the blooming of renascent life, slow but colourful, that is now taking over the monochromatic canvas that was winter. Petals unfurl, leaves sprout from branches, long-dormant animals awaken after their hibernations and take their first breaths of crisp new air. ‘RIL 5’ sweeps in on a long drone oscillation, upon which a horn-like figure sounds out, an announcement that nature is once again in the ascendant and will rule for another season.

‘RIL 6’ introduces a completely different mood entirely now; ghostly winds and a regular beat that could be mistaken for footsteps. Imagine an abandoned building, empty and forlorn, a brick and plaster shell where every tiny nuance of sound, no matter how small, takes on a significance that is out of proportion to its size. Are these natural sounds, animals or insects, perhaps? Or are they something more sinister and deliberate? It’s best to keep yourself alert, and be aware of your surroundings.

The next track, ‘RIL 7’, takes off in yet another direction, an almost cartoonish horror soundtrack, perhaps the opening to some kind of Addams Family-esque programme. This is not meant to be derogatory in any sense, as I found this to be extremely fun and jolly in its own dark way. It also breaks up the atmosphere of the rest of the album, injecting a little humour into it, before grandiose drone chords sweep in at the beginning of ‘RIL 8’, the penultimate track. This paints pictures of sweeping landscapes, wind-worn outcrops of rock, and scudding clouds, and our eye is eventually drawn to an impressive and monolithic edifice reaching up towards the blackening sky. ‘RIL 9’ is a fine track to end with, almost Vangelis-like in scope and sweep, utilising almost the same type of metrics as the Greek composer. It’s magisterial, immense, and imperious, a beautiful sunset on an equally beautiful world. As the sky turns purple and the ground darkens to silhouettes, the last vestiges of colour seep away to allow the glorious majesty of the celestial spectacle of the stars and galaxies to take their place in the limelight. .

This is pure delight from beginning to end, a series of tableaux hermetically complete, and telling stories bigger than the space they take up. This is from a man who is an artist in the true sense of the epithet, highly receptive to the world around him, sensing its moods and caprices, and translating those reactions into music, paintings, and photographs. Each piece is a precise summary of what he’s attempting to say, and in the process broadcasting those sensations to the listener. This runs the gamut from the deepest depths and right up to the highest heavens. If you possess a fondness or even just a passing acknowledgement of the debt that the present underground music scene has to the early electronic music oeuvre, then give this a go.

Available as a download from the Kalamine Records Bandcamp page:

Psymon Marshall 2019. 

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