Review: Sebastian Gandera - La Raccourci

A selective history of the elusive French composer's work that reveals a fabric of weathered, home-taped clarities and a tone of beguiling delicacy.

Review: Sebastian Gandera - La Raccourci

A selective history of the elusive French composer's work that reveals a fabric of weathered, home-taped clarities and a tone of beguiling delicacy.

Details are few and far between where Eric Morin aka Sebastian Gandera is concerned, a composer from the North East of France whose work has lived as an elusive and scattered quantity on several small run cassettes released between the late 1980s and mid-1990s. Despite the air of seclusion that has surrounded his productions, the legacy of their release and no doubt their subsequent existence online has led to this impeccably compiled retrospective on Efficient Space, put together by Julien Dechery (he who also co-collated Sky Girl).

La Raccourci, a collection of 15 tracks that acts as a selective history, reveals a fabric of weathered, home-taped clarities and a tone of beguiling delicacy. Specks of four-track static add an intimacy and immediacy to these recordings, which although pervaded by the grace of a lighter touch, all show varying degrees of complexion. Given they’re sourced from across Gandera’s discography the level of variation make sense. However, it’s a measure of Gandera’s vision and Dechery’s curation that here all of them feel bound together, a body of work that feels coherently anthologized, now destined to be appreciated together.

It’s not as if there’s a particularly ambitious route laid out on La Raccourci. It’s more that a snapshot of Gandera’s world is so proficiently captured. Solo piano interludes like ‘N’Écrire Que Du Vent’ and ‘Thème Entre Deux Chants’ thread together a collection that keeps a still tongue, retaining a mode of minor key introspection throughout. On memorable pieces like ‘Quand Natalia Peint’ and ‘Le Dialogue Des Joueurs De Cartes’ Gandera’s work resembles an informal rendition of ‘Gymnopédies’ if Erik Satie had lived to see an era of sample culture, at least as it was practiced in the somewhat cloistered underground that Gandera operated in.

In this respect, several of these poignant piano sonatas coalesce with erratic fragments which swim in and out of earshot, in a way recalling Gavin Bryars’ combination of street sounds and symphonious composition on ‘Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet’ and in others evoking the vivid audio collages of Simon Fisher Turner in his soundtrack work for Derek Jarman and as part of the disguised duo Deux Filles. A few instances loom large in this regard. On ‘Chienne Da Vie’ a regal piano work is cut with outdoor clamour and dogs barking before a luminous passage of synth joins the fray, whereas on ‘John Doe’ keys that resemble Maurice Ravel gone portable mingle with the filtration of industrial found sound.

In these moments and elsewhere Gandera conveys stillness and equanimity with an unobtrusive predilection for modernity. The imprints of home recording and the spill of field recordings and samples are prominent enough, yet they still frame the musicianship leniently. In this sense Gandera’s world is one where disruptive, everyday verisimilitude is appreciated, incorporated, allowed to leak in, giving La Raccourci an appeal which feels (extra-)ordinary and effortless, rooted in a sense of beauty that feels like it’s been documented between takes, in the moment, caught on the off chance. A quotidian, naturalistic flow above high-minded premeditation and revision. As a result, the listening experience has the feeling of an intrusion upon some unfiltered, late-night, privately conducted recital.

Though there’s tranquillity and realism here, there’s desolation too. There’s a crestfallen and solemn gait to ‘And Then The Wind’ and a saturnine drama to ‘Et L'Obscurité Toute Entière Pour Me Rappeler Cela’ that trades Gandera’s gentler illuminations with disquieting silhouettes, drawing his work closer, in both form and effect, to the sullen inclinations of certain DIY synth forebears and contemporaries. Although these attempts are less encouraging and compelling, they still show some promising discrepancy with the prescribed formula, as Casio keys and a melee of tribal voices recall some imagined hinterland between Martin Dupont, Jan Van Der Broeke and Roberto Musci.

In the final quarter Gandera’s recordings move ever onward, towards stuttering synthesized jazz (‘Le Train Ne S’Arretera Plus’) and crepuscular Debussy-esque blues. More in manner than in anything specific these instances feel more akin to that immortal Mark Hollis solo record, the similarly minded tape output of Enno Velthuys, or even Peter Jefferies’ more disconsolate moments (‘On An Unknown Beach’ for one, This Kind of Punishment’s ‘Reaching An End’ for two) than the prototypical aural wallpaper and slightly rigid notions of piano music seen in the work of artists like Ludovico Einaudi and Nils Frahm. Like the rest of the record and as with figures like Hollis, Velthuys and Jefferies, there’s a thread of isolationist quietude running through these tracks that’s rarely documented so well on record.

Whether as a moderate practitioner of DIY synth or as an accomplished and expressive pianist, La Raccourci reveals Gandera to be an individualist, out on his own, with an ear for melody that was second to none. Frankly there’s such an unassuming depth and honesty to these recordings that there’s very little to fault. They seem to exist in a space between the old world and the new, between synthetic methods and organic application, as intimate and immediate as diaristic despatches from some priceless sphere of sequestered reflection. A miraculous, transportive and finely tuned personal catalogue from an unassuming outsider.

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