« Then the child breathed and cried, and the woman seemed to answer it, also in no known tongue, savage and triumphant. »
William Faulkner, Light in August.
How do we make music together? Or rather: how do we make together what we have been making all alone for a long time? Or: what difference does it make to do, with several other people, what we used to do very well by ourselves? I guess you’ll answer: we make with others what we could not make alone. But this is precisely where the nagging substance of the problem can be felt: on this album, Mathias Delplanque (under the pseudonym of Lena [Grove], the pregnant heroin from Light in August,by William Faulkner) creates with others what he used to create alone in his bedroom, barely alight with the glow from his laptop screen.
This is where you cut in, puzzled: do you mean that, for this album, he did what he has already done before, only this time, as surprising as it may seem, he did it with several other people?
Yes, this is exactly what I mean. And, of course, just like you, I’ve been wondering: Why? Why recreate with others (The Floating Roots, a strange designation I shall deal with later) what has already been done perfectly without them? The readiest answer is that working with several other people makes it precisely difficult, if not impossible, to do anything perfectly. I won’t dwell on the alledged advantages of imperfection, because I cannot but agree that this album is no less perfect than the previous opuses of our polynym (it is actually more perfect).
The answer lies elsewhere. It could be formulated as follows, so as to keep the paradoxical nature of the question in the answer: through the grace of exact repetition, Mathias Delplanque (Lena) creates, both with the people he has gathered around him and who have become, in the meanwhile (we shall see how later) floating roots, and with himself (as Lena) a collective orthonym – orthonym, this is the word Fernando Pessoa used to qualify the poet bearing the same name as himself: him, the other self, who signed his poems with the name Fernando Pessoa; the other self, repeating endlessly the same gestures – the orthonym – is, in the present matter, Lena & The Floating Roots = Mathias Delplanque.
This brings me to my first conclusion, which has a particular axiomatic value: orthonymy is the result of repeated pseudonymy. In other words, Mathias Delplanque establishes his own name as the name of the other self, by repeating with several other people the pseudonymic experience (Lena becomes Lena &). I.e, following our first conclusion: through the grace of exact repetition (also known as « dubbing » or simply « dub »), Lena becomes the orthonym Mathias Delplanque. Which allows me to state, without waiting any further, that Mathias Delplanque is, as you have certainly noticed,multiple: himself being Others. He is as such, while (and because) Lena (the lonely radical woman from whom all take off again, even the man helping her deliver) could not. Therefore, « Lena & The Floating Roots Orchestra » is not the name of the (collective) author of this album, but the name of the process through which Lena became (was reborn as) Mathias Delplanque. A long and complex process, as we shall see, but not impossible.
Let me add this, if you’ll allow me to pull two or three more inches of this yarn thin as nylon but hardly stronger than a cotton string: without the slightest doubt, the one Lena is pregnant with (which she will always be in one of the versions of the story) is called Mathias Delplanque. What can be more just and deeper than being born from one’s pseudonym?
However, a question still remains, a question that objects to and jeopardizes this whole argument: Why would Mathias Delplanque be the name of this floating collective? Lena could easily have delivered an entirely different name: Sextius Miollis, Barnabé Physicator or even « The King of France is Bald (TKOFIB) ». I admit I lack evidence, but I have hints, some of which (one or several) I shall share with you later, under the threat (of objection). But first, let me tell you through which sinuous series of operations (and inventions) Lena becomes Mathias Delplanque.
I see at least three of them: 1) wax; 2) floating; 3) repetition. Wax is lost (the title of this album is Lost-Wax); floating occurs at the roots (when they’re cut from what they nurture and support); repetition buries voices (this is where the essence of dub lies).
1) Lost wax (1) is the primary material of the disc: the « minimal and repetitive electronic framework (chords, textures, bass lines, tempo elements, and so on) » which Lena brought to the Others [Steve Arguelles, Rasim Biyikli, Rob Mazurek, Charlie O and Charles-Éric Charrier, I’ll leave the vocals aside for now] so that they could improvise. Lena then gathered these improvisations, which became the secondary, but unique, material of the disc, or its roots. From the initial wax, he kept nothing but what was passed from it (by contamination) to the second material: the slight amount of soil stuck to the roots.
2) Floating is what happens to the improvisations of the Others in Lena’s room. Cut off from the primary material and from those who gave birth to them, with some melancholy, they float: they become floating roots [the Others lose their names].
3) Repetition (or dubbing) is the process through which the floating roots become Mathias Delplanque, the orthonymic name,and is orchestrated by Lena. This verb has to be taken literally: in the solitude of her room, Lena orchestrates the floating roots or, more exactly, she creates with them an orchestra, which she directs. Therefore, she takes on a new name: « Lena & The Floating Roots Orchestra ». Dubbing properly speaking can begin at last.
Allow me to make a brief digression. Lena now rehearses alone, with her orchestra of ghost music stands, what she used to rehearse all alone. Her solitude is therefore generously populated. What she rehearses is dubbing, the act of copying, of repeating again and again. Before becoming a musical style that can be recognized by its bouncing bass line, “dub” designated the result of the transformation of a track (cut on a A Side) into a version (cut on a B Side), in other words, the result of an inexact, incorrect or, more precisely, monstrous copying process (which, indeed, gave birth to numerous monsters). I will not dwell on the protocols of this variable transformation, as they are mentioned everywhere (echo, delay, reverberation, phasing…), but rather on the strange (peculiar) way Lena dubs her roots orchestra. One could even say that she dubs him, in the historical meaning of the word (to dub comes from the Old French adober, itself coming from frankish dubban, “to strike”, because during the accolade ceremony, the knight used to receive a slight blow on his shoulder from his monarch): thus she dubs Mathias Delplanque, conferring him knightood with a slight blow on his shoulder – I hear that blow at the twilight of the track entitled « Cheval Vapeur » (“horse power”) (the following track, « Ghost Wax », being the long echo of this dubbing), that is the almost geometrical center of the disc.
Having located the dubbing, the exact moment where the pseudonym becomes orthonym, we only have to discover how, or rather through which musical operations, an orchestra of roots actually becomes Mathias Delplanque. I say: by burying the vocals. Dub producers (particularly King Tubby) had but only one goal: burying the vocals. Not only burying them in the ploughed soil of the version, but also truly driving them deep through the various layers from the successive steps of the dubbing process, until they were totally hidden, inaudible yet present, only buried so deep they hardly got the eardrum of the aficionado to vibrate. Once again, this is not about making voices disappear, but about burying them. Under an often instrumental exterior, dub is – remains – vocal. And indeed, such is Lena’s recopying …almost too much.
For Lost Wax is full of voices; at least five audible ones: Daniel Givens, Julien Jacob, Neil Carlill, Alice Lewis, Black Sifichi; the others are countless. In fact (if one tries to set the audible voices / buried voices ratio), Lena’s recopying process is hardly more vocal than a dub by King Tubby, although voices are more apparent in the former: there is both more and less burying in Lena’s. This is partly due to the number of roots and partly to the nature of the burying. Lena does not work on tracks to be « recopied », but on roots to be orchestrated. There is no original state to which the versions can be compared. Lena buries in abstracto. She orchestrates real/fake originals, which are real/fake versions. I talk about “versions”, because the material comes twice from elsewhere; and “originals”, because the burying process makes it familiar, crystal-clear, transparent. The apparent voices tread this well-trodden path, making it disturbing, grazing the orchestra, spreading out way-too-well-hidden viscera on this easy ground; waiting for something better; waiting for Black Sifichi; because his voice is not above, but underneath, floating underneath, along with the soil stuck to the roots, it is not apparent because it came after but because it looks – the colour of the first specks of dust - as if it was there before there was anything to bury. It is not original. Like an unexpected core from the geology of the recopying; it talks to us.
Now, I can answer the question that remained pending: why Mathias Delplanque and not TKOFIB or Black Sifichi? Because it is the only voice on the album that is rigorously inaudible, the one that is the most buried, the most dubbed, his master’s voice bearing its own name, the root that adds up, impossible to orchestrate: the orthonym.
(1) Lost wax casting is a technique used in bronze metallurgy as well as silversmithing. It consists in creating a wax model to which one attaches a network of channels, also made of wax, allowing the wax to flow out and then, the casting of bronze. The whole system is encased in a mold made of some refractory or fire material that is heated until the wax melts, and into which molten metal is poured. The bronze model thus obtained is similar to the original wax model and will have to be refashioned.