The Dwarfs of East Agouza Bes, Gaël Segalen L’ange le sage
The Dwarfs of East Agouza
The Carl W. Buechner quote “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel” was made about how people are disturbed, not by things, but by the feelings triggered by those things.
This summarizes the key divide between a person’s rational response and emotional response, and in a way, this can apply to the realm of music—while a person can break down a memorable song into technical details, a listener is most likely going to remember the emotion it inspires.
In today’s world of short attention spans, music that gradually unfurls with controlled repetition in order to work its magic to generate a feeling is automatically penalized, unfortunately—hitting the fast forward button on pieces like Ravel’s “Boléro” or Can’s “Yoo Doo Right” is pointless, as those pieces require a time commitment and patience.
This brings us to the new album Bes from the Cairo-centered trio The Dwarfs of East Agouza, featuring Egyptian musician Maurice Louca (Alif, Bikya), the Montreal-based Sam Shalabi (Shalabi Effect, Land of Kush) and Alan Bishop (Sun City Girls, The Invisible Hands).
The ten-minute opener “Baka of the Future” builds a gentle yet firm momentum based on Bishop’s octave-interval-spanning, seemingly Krautrock-inspired bass line and hand-drum beats, with Shalabi meditative, pattern-based wandering on electric guitar and Louca’s keyboard minimalism; time melts away, leaving the listener feeling refreshed, yet slightly lulled and prodded simultaneously.
“Clean Shahin” bears more evident North African qualities in its percussion, as does the 16-minute “Where’s Turbo?” while the latter’s effervescent upward synth pattern gives it a space-age flair, spurred by Shalabi’s restless scurrying; past the halfway mark, sounds begin to swirl together into a quasi-psychedelic effect-treated vortex before crawling back to dry land.
The 35-minute “Museum of Stranglers,” divided into three parts, finds Bishop noodling frantically on the saxophone on its first part; it becomes shapeless in its second part with odd vocalizations plus squirrelly and bendy guitar and synth parts, and rooted with beats, the third part drives it all home, revealing sonic mysteries and arcane delights to the patient listener that must be experienced in generous stretches of time.
L’ange le sage
The absorbing and intricate debut album L’ange le sage (“The Wise Angel”) from Parisian Gaël Segalen at times is like a crowded, costumed ball with unusual sound figures rubbing up against each other in both welcome and unwelcome ways.
Sound, as an art form, can be understood as a form of wordless communication, transcending language, and well-crafted sound combinations and minglings can inspire complex responses, beyond simple, basic emotions.
The most enlightening writing about Segalen’s work and sources that this reviewer has encountered is her commentary that accompanies a playlist she assembled five years ago, where she discusses her attraction to foreign languages that she could not understand and her passion for listening to dialogue, especially arguments.
This makes perfect sense, listening to L’ange le sage, with atypical polyrhythms formed by loops reacting with each other; familiar sounds, like the chimes and tinkling bells on “Ascension” are forced to interact with noises that are not easily placed. It can be hypnotic and disquieting in its otherworldly way, with the most tenuous tie to dance music with lightly pulsing subterranean bass drum beats, in non-obvious patterns, heard occasionally on “Ascension.”
Industrial repetition is evoked, with relates to Segalen’s affinity for the rhythm of engines (mentioned in the aforementioned commentary), with an oppressive roar of simulated machinery in the background messiness.
“Taïra” builds tension in the odd grey area between terror and horror, and for this writer, the album’s most interesting and compelling track is “Symétrique à la lune” (“Symmetrical to the Moon”) which assembles neutral sounds and human breaths to create a powerful piece provoking a tangled, gut-wrenching sadness—like the rumblings of a building about to crumble and collapse, or the sustained crunch of a tall, healthy tree that is being chopped down and falling.