Fabrique Records – FAB058- 21st October 2016
On looking at Christopher Chaplin’s latest album cover, I’m reminded of Peter Hammill’s The Future Now. He may have a full beard, but Chaplin looks every bit as odd and wild as Hammill on his first post-Van der Graaf solo record. The strangely suggestive joints of meat which adorn the back cover only heighten the sense of the bizarre.
The comparisons to Hammill’s album end on the exterior, though: Je Suis Le Ténébreux (while ‘ténébreux’ has numerous translations, including ‘dark’, it’s I am the Enigma, in this context) contains four extended tracks, on which Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Christine Roedelius recite segments of text inspired by ‘The Enigma of Bologna’, a text in Latin from the XVI Century inscribed on a tombstone near Bologna. Poet Claudia Schumann also provides and performs poetry texts, and they’re accompanied by French actress and soprano Judith Chemla and Italian tenor Pino Costalunga.
The music is experimental, and frequently more incidental, than the focal element of the album. The compositions feel free, fluid, and serve to primarily create atmosphere, in a dark and appropriately mysterious-sounding manner. Low, grating rumbles groan beneath scraping strings, swells of scratching discord ebb and flow, slowly, deliberately. Sudden jarring bursts of noise blast from the long, ominous string drones. There are moments of musicality, delicacy and grace, subtle chamber orchestral passages which drift through the mist, to slowly dissolve.
The fragmentary pieces of oration, sometimes half-sung, sometimes whispered, often echoed and distorted, weave in and out. Often indecipherable without recourse to the accompanying booklet (especially for speakers of neither French nor Latin), the vocal incursions are as much another layer of atmosphere as narrative. Aggressive bells and lumbering piano combine with low percussion and sinister, whispered vocals on the title track.
The enigmatic text, which is essentially a long riddle based around a man named Lucius Agatho Priscius and a woman named Aelia Laeilia Crispis, includes the classically paradoxical lines, ‘’Tis neither ‘tis neither -But ‘tis all and each / Together without a body I aver / This is in truth a sepulchre / But notwithstanding, I proclaim / Both corpse and sepulchre are the same’.
The aura of death and otherness radiates from every corner of an album which twists and turns and offers no satisfactory resolution to its own internal complexities. It’s a restless work, and one which isn’t entirely satisfying because it doesn’t seem to ever settle in any sense. Given its inspiration, it’s perhaps just the way it ought to be.