L'Ocelle Mare: Serpentement

After the wild tangle of lines that constituted the music of his drums and guitar duo Cheval de Frise, L'Ocelle Mare has seen Thomas Bonvelet, with the assistance of his right-hand man Adrian Riffo, venture into more spacious, contemplative (contemplative of space) areas, and the guitar is now just a relatively small part of his armoury. Serpentement is undoubtedly his most vivid production in this vein.

Having previously chosen locales including the Gare du Nord in Paris, Bonvalet has opted to record this time in a protestant temple in Bergerac, and this doubtless contributes to the sense of cloistered concentration but his gift for rhythm and the seemingly unforced allusions to various folk musics means that the album never feels excessively ascetic. Although the pace slows almost immediately afterwards, the pizzicato flourish that opens the brief 'Serpentement 2' (there don't seem to be any real titles) gives it a slightly giddy feel, while 'Serpentement 6' is positively buoyant and manages to suggest tango without actually being tango. Throughout, there's a perfectly pleasurable tension between melody and pure sound/noise (for every moment of buzzing and scraping there are moments like the passage of almost cutely stuttering electric organ - I think - at the beginning of 'Serpentement 5'), and the recorded sounds are in themselves bold and full-bodied.
The title of this latest missive harks back to a previous effort Engourdissement – as if he's been mapping out states, conditions, of being and playing – but it's also somewhat misleading. 'Serpenter' in French means, probably quite evidently, to meander or 'snake' but Serpentement doesn't feel meandering at all. For all that we're in electro-acoustic experimental, and certainly for the most part improvisational, territory, the album's nine tracks are mostly focused and potent, even urgent – the opener (which we just have to refer to as 'Serpentement 1', as there don't seem to be any titles) has the chunky tocking of a metronome as its spine and also features hand claps and stamping, while 'Serpentement 3' is also shadowed by a more distant ticking. The whole thing is wrapped up in just over 20 minutes. The clock is running, the rattlesnake is shaking its rattle.
David McKenna