CD, Sound on Probation, 2011
“Play Piano and Sounds”, a (sort-of) collaborative effort from two Laurents – one Pernice, the other Perrier – proposes nothing radical for the genre it occupies (i.e., ambient/experimental electronics with piano accompaniment), yet the brilliance of its execution escalates this release to a paragon of its type. The pair of artists involved share a long history, dating to French experimental/industrial act Nox, and although individual tracks on “Play Piano and Sounds”, with its unambiguous title of resounding literalness, are attributable to either one or the other Laurent, the interspersed presentation and shared vision make this a collection of mutual inspiration rather than the already familiar encounter between classical/jazz musician and electronic producer, of which many shining examples exist.
Responsible for five tracks each, Pernice and Perrier meld sparse electronics with reticent piano and occasional downtempo grooves in a simple but effective formula. Within this framework is found unflinching austerity meted out in strict repetition, where the piano’s presence is just enough to add a semblance of melody. The wide-spaced notes hang against backdrops of static textures, spacey drones, ambient swirls, clicks and resonant bass, an ultra-minimal slow motion coldness mitigated by its wholly intelligible method and substance. Pernice I can’t speak for, but from the perspective of Perrier’s other projects, the music here often hints at the unhurried, sedative structures of Zonk’t combined with pared-down interpretations of Heal’s nu jazz and ambient dub. “Play Piano and Sounds” is mandatory listening for anyone with such inclinations.
Despite its aloof aura, the album is not nearly as one-sided or reserved as it might seem, going deeper than the straightforward and – it must be said – agreeably minimalist rubric of ‘piano’ and ‘sounds’. Listeners will discover the vaguely funky small noises at play behind optimistic piano notes in Pernice’s “Aquafish”, or the taut and tribal grooving in Perrier’s ultra-chill “Frôlements”. The wistful “You Take My Heart Forever”, also by Pernice, is rich bass downtempo overlaid by downhearted piano, a good example of this formula’s evocative power. More obscure machinations are hinted at in Perrier’s “Situation”, with its captivating rising/falling dynamic and haunting chords, or his buzzing drone piece, “Mauvais Oeil”, an otherwise sporadic composition where manipulated voices-as-instruments hover like opportunistic phantoms.
Although this sort of experimentalism will not be to everyone’s taste – perhaps even dismissed by some on grounds that it rehashes a timeworn type – the allure of “Play Piano and Sounds”, aside from its superb production and seamless mingling of two artists’ work, is its hypnotic ability to create an understated complexity through the simplest of themes. From calm to disjointed, fluid to shuffling, the album straddles its particular niche with nothing less than competent, fluent gestures.
— Dutton Hauhart