0901-2 Jean-Luc Guionnet:::: Non Organic Bias

Two facts determined the compositional process of non-organic bias :
1 – the title itself
2 – the sound sources used for the piece were restricted to various recordings I made of the organ

Other then the play of words that sum up many of my main points of interests with the organ (organ – organum – organism – organic – etc.), the title, bias, means prejudice, focussing on, interest in, systematic distortion, irregular shape, oblique course, predisposition, partiality, from the french biais, all of them signifiing for me a sort of base of living organism.

Inclinations going through material, warped matter, a form full of inner slopes, a material that bends… non-organic bias : to rediscover the bias of a sound machine (the organ) and then, keeping the same concerns, following up these bias' up until the membrane of the speaker, passing through the whole electroacoustic network.

To compose with the technical issues, to be on the hunt for forms and artefacts that the techniques produce, when, following its own tendancies (bias), it is brought to its own limit : border effects, resonances, natural saturations, … all artefacts that sign the acoustic, analogic, digital, process…

To compose with the tendancies of the non-organic, and with the tendancies toward the non-organic : these are the 2 possible meanings of non-organic bias.

"Non-organic bias" is dedicated to Franck Gourdien.

Paris 2003
Translation : Will Guthrie

ESPACE BAS - 49'59"
As if the wind were bringing us glimmers : sound is a light which scrapes. Documentary of nothing, music detached from the poetics of the source, i.e. from the nostalgia both of the cause and the spaces called real for the good of the cause: with "espace bas" (low space), I was playing at building, freely, almost mentally, the sound which escapes from below.

Like seeking multiple fundamentals of background noise, ultimately managing to make do with noise without making noise — under the pretext of music: it seems that time outlines sounds like water outlines the forms of stones and everything in its path; but one could also say that, in so doing, time scrapes, makes noise in scraping, and involves other forms : forms of time. "Low space" is a false noise, a false music that, in bursts, pulls the bass continuum of passing sound to the edge of forms of time - as if being low amounted to being to come.
Most of the sounds were recorded on the organ of the conservatory of Dieppe.

"Espace bas" is dedicated to Caroline Pouzolles.
Dieppe - 1995 - coproduction : « la grande fabrique ».

Translation : Dan Warburton & Patrick McGinley

ESTUAIRE - 54'18"
Here is the thing as I tell it to myself... In the very middle of a sonic estuary, just under the surface of the sound : a head is turning around itself and feeling, in the thickness of the milieu, what happen "here" as well as "over there" (streams, river's flow, banks, ocean, tides, ...horizons).

In the very middle that is to say where are "meeting" all the geographic signs.

That idea came to me while playing organ, all the sounds are those of several organs I had a chance to play on during the past years (Parthenay, Paris, Metz, Saint-Loup-sur-Thouet, Annecy, ...)

"Estuaire" is dedicated to Giacomo Leopardi.

Coproduction MIA - Annecy (2005)

(Promo clip, flac)

2 x Audio CD,
100 minutes+
Release date: March 2009
18 Euros + shipping order

* Please note that the track order here are different from the cover, here is the correct playlist, we are sorry for the inconvenience.
- Cd with the title Estuaire & NOD is actually "Espace Bas".
- Cd with the title Espace Bas is actually "track 1: NOB" &"track2: Espace Bas".

Related resources:
Also by Jean-Luc Guionnet

Jean-Luc Guionnet / Pascal Battus :::: Toc Sine

Geographically connected
Eric La Casa & Cédric Peyronnet: Zones Portuaires
Battus / Marchetti / Petit: La Vie Dans Les Bois  
Pascal Battus: Simbol / L'Unique Trait D' Pinceau
Eric La Casa: W2
Eric Cordier / Seijiro Murayama: Nuit
Eric La Casa / Cédric Peyronnet: La Creuse
Eric Cordier: Osorezan

Touching Extremes
I’m not the kind of person who squanders precious time in decoding people’s visions when they’re expressed via written concepts that, even after an accurate translation, bury the exact aims and grounds of an artistic statement under the dozens of question marks engendered by a (willingly?) unclear explanation, or the transliteration of a daydream. This happens when I try and read Jean-Luc Guionnet’s notes to the three pieces comprised by Non-Organic Bias, which make your purple prose merchant resemble a hieratic minimalist in comparison.

Therefore this writer reverted to the more palatable food. That means the music which, in this occasion, was born from the sound(s) of organ(s), subjected to various types of alteration, granularization and dismemberment. It was not an easy mission to accomplish, despite the hypothetical unfussiness of the music’s gestation and overall structure. The main motive: a big discrepancy in the results generated by the two traditional methods of enjoying the content of a disc. In fact, the frequencies privileged by Guionnet are so damn near and below the ground that, from the speakers, the large part of this double album behaves like an all-engulfing gathering of humongous purrs and potent winds as heard from within a padded room, sporadically interrupted by jarring clusters in the higher registers, or rendered totally awesome through the use of sloping slow motion and other kinds of techniques. In those circumstances, the composer nears some of our favourite masters’s expressive nuances. Xenakis (mais oui!), Kayn, a smidgen of flanged-out Palestine and Niblock in a few brief instances. I’m shivering at the thought of the nonentities who might have the guts to sample parts of this record and reprocess them for their own worthless businesses.

But if you need to assess the actual compositional value of this outing, headphones turn out to be necessary. Also, they must be able to tolerate the centre-of-the-earth throbbing grumble that a piece such as “Espace Bas” constantly elicits, otherwise what you’re hearing is going to be inexorably blemished by the gnarly rattle of earphone membranes unable to perform a truthful conversion of the acoustic mass (in this place a recent cheap Philips worked much better than an old expensive Beyerdynamic). Only at that point one is in the condition of acknowledging Guionnet’s subtle craft, his finely tuned superimposition of roar, wheeze and flutter, the diligence in placing slight substrata and virtually inconspicuous details in the mix. And become acquainted with the presence of extremely acute pitches and foreboding virtual choirs (“Estuaire” is fantastic in that sense). We’re as distant from “ambient” as a metropolitan inferno is from an airport’s waiting hall, regardless of what can be peeped around the web. These are the organ’s bowels screaming, get the picture?

This stuff should be experienced intensely, differently and continually to merely break the external ice of its impenetrability. Success is not a given, which is one of the many reasons behind my attraction towards this thick slab of a release. Consequently, let me join the admiring queue and declare that a copy of this item is mandatory in a serious listener’s collection. The verbal contortions are entirely forgiven.
- Massimo Ricci -

Just Outside
A two-disc set with three fantastic pieces, released (I think) early 2009, more or less for organ (I've no idea how much processing or overdubbing may have occurred), apparently from 1995 - 2005. The works are massive, with enormous depth and richness, undulating with their own logic, somewhere between or beyond Sun Ra at his densest and Xenakis. They're like huge clouds of gas and dust, throbbing here, dispersing there, huge electrical charges arcing in the voids at unpredictable interludes. The title cut (all cut assignations subject to error, btw, as there's some mislabeling) broods and swirls in an utterly alien manner for some 50 minutes--remember Arthur C. Clarke's brilliant (if tritely titled) "Rendezvous with Rama" where the alien ship simply glides through the Solar System, ignoring any attempts at contact, offering not a clue as to its whys or wherefores, then proceeding back out into deep space? This is kinda like that. Obsessive and wonderful. "Estuaire" (the single cut on the second disc) gets into the deep territory some listeners may recall having been approached by Sun Ra on work like "Atlantis" or "The Magic City", except the Guionnet has pierced downward into the earth's crust a few hundred miles deeper, down to where sound's travel-speed is reduced by mantle density. That estuary becomes lava-filled eventually, splitting seams, cresting, seeping into rock before cooling down. A fantastic set, get it.
- Brian Olewnick -

Malaysian sound artist Goh Lee Kwang began the new year in earnest, with several releases on his labels, Herbal and Why Not. Less enterprising than many labels in kind, and more a boutique project, Herbal International has managed to deal out one of the year’s most absorbing recordings, by French improviser and self-described electroacoustic musician, Jean-Luc Guionnet. Although Guionnet plays saxophone and crafts experimental instrumention of his own, I most readily identify him by his work on organ, and the sounds on Non-Organic Bias were created (and obliterated) from that instrument. Two discs’ worth through three long tacks comprise the contents and it’s the rare instance that sound with such linearity can keep my attention for this duration.

The tracks are plenty distinctive, as Guionnet seems to have aimed for capsuled experimentation along independent themes. The title track leaves little indication that the music was created from organ, but there are isolated moments where the instrument’s unmistakeable sounds whisper through — or the sounds are rendered lightweight fragments and resin from the restructuring of organ au natural after marathon sittings with a computer processor. Guionnet’s notes for this track (translated by Will Guthrie) indicate that raw organ recordings were played back through secondary materials, drawing similarity with Patrick Farmer’s recent re-signaling of a beehive through various objects. Here it results in tremendous bass frequencies and associated rattling, as if a directional microphone captured the rumblings of a blown subwoofer cone. Between surges, the faintest organ sounds can be heard, mysteriously so. At 50 minutes long, “Espace Bas” is the most engaging piece of the set, surprisingly. Something very Xenakis about the slow-moving sounds, played as if in a chasm and with attention to timbral effects in the after processing. The notes, as translated by Dan Warburton, say Guionnet was aiming at “building, freely, almost mentally, the sound which escapes from below.” An apt description, I think. Finally, “Estuaire”, the most organ-centric of the tracks, is built as a collage of sounds used from archived recordings of Guionnet’s seatings at various organs through France and elsewhere. The mix is interesting here, with natural “organic” sounds infiltrated by electroacoustic fashionings — shimmery, ringing tones that tend to be mined and harvested from signal distortion in the mixing phase. It’s another long piece and the most toothy of the bunch, obviously a product of the imaginativeness that must come with committing to such a project. A great record, throughout.
- Alan Jones -

Vital Weekly
The work of Jean-Luc Guionnet deals at times with organs, church organs, pipe organs. Only one piece here with organ sounds. All three are granted a text to explain what they are about, but they aren't too easy to understand. Likewise I don't know what Guionnet does to his organ sounds. Are they played in real time? Are they layered? Are they processed? I simply don't know. In 'Espace Bas' it seems this is not the case, and its played 'as is', with lots of air sounding through occasionally played tones and small clusters of tones. The shortest piece, the title piece, which doesn't seem to have organ sounds, but what it is that is played here I don't know, but this seems to be a much more electronic sound of a hardly identifiable nature. Feedback? Electronics? Enhanced room acoustics? Quite a heavy piece of music here, almost noise based, which seems unlike Guionnet. 'Estuaire' is the longest piece on this double set, which is also very unclear what the sound event is, but its a much more 'mellow' piece than previous piece (which are on the same disc). Slow humming - a motor, an engine, perhaps - with very minimal changes throughout. This is a beautiful piece, the best out of three. Its a piece of ambient music built from all sorts of frequencies that just by themselves wouldn't qualify as relaxing ambient music, but in the drone like capacities work absolutely nice. Very refined this one, whereas the other two are good, and the title piece is the least convincing one.
- Frans de Waard -

The Watchful Ear
... I mention this last set because I been listening to the first of the two discs in Guionnet’s new Non-Organic Bias set today. The fifty minute single track on this disc is titled Espace Bas (Low space?) and is a piece for church organ, though I suspect that what I am hearing here is the result of several overdubbed pieces or fragments of sound recorded on an organ (one such instrument in Dieppe is mentioned in the liner notes) rather than something improvised completely in real time. The music is great, a troubled, undulating sea of cloying heavy tones overlaid by searing higher lines and the occasional violent crash.

The large wind organ is an instrument so heavily tied to one place in society and everything that comes with it. My strong atheist beliefs are no secret in these pages, but they are formed primarily by a childhood spent often in churches as I attended a Church of England school until the age of eleven that had a vicar as its headmaster. So when I hear even the slightest glimpse of an organ these links are made in my head. Listening for a while longer to this music though and it is clear that Guionnet is reclaiming the instrument from its history and connections. The organ is a hugely powerful instrument, both through its physical ability to generate huge billowing storms of sound, but also because of its place in history. Guionnet is re-channeling these elements into modern experimental music on this piece. For much of the disc the music we hear is expansive and powerful. There is a vaguely nautical feel to the music, gentle swells blowing up into torrential crashes and roars. This is passionate, emotive music but it is divorced from that history. After a while you forget how the music is made and just get pulled along on the journey. A bit of a rollercoaster ride this one and very impressive. I’m intrigued to hear the two tracks that can be found on the other disc and looking forward to Friday’s performance more than ever now. Non-Organic Bias is released on the excellent Herbal label... I returned to Jean-Luc Guionnet’s Non-Organic Bias set today and listened to the second of the two discs. There are two tracks here, the first of which, that might be titled Estuaire (I’m a little confused as to what track is titled what since Lee mentioned there is a mistake on the sleeve) is twenty-one minutes long. Again the source material for this composition all come from recordings of church organs, (several in fact that Guionnet has had the chance to play in recent years) but unlike the first disc of the set, which I wrote about a couple of days ago the sounds are quite heavily processed here. Starting slowly with brooding drones the music grows through passages where it seems to break up into grainy distortion, with the occasional unprocessed roar and plenty of detail coming and going in the background. often all trace of an organ seems to be lost, only for it to return as a more familiar sound appears. the last nine minutes of the piece see the music break apart into smaller particles that flit in and out of silence. In the liner notes to the track Estuaire Guionnet talks of the music being like an estuary, a body of water that is fed by and itself feeds other streams of activity “here” and “there.” As I said I’m not sure if this track is indeed the one called Estuaire but that analogy certainly fits anyway.

The second track on the disc, (probably) called Non-Organic Bias is a very different kettle of fish. The music begins very quietly indeed, with just the slightest murmur of a vaguely organ-like tone slipping into audibility. Steadily over several minutes this sound gathers in volume and intensity, with little swells of twisted sound rising to the top for a moment before the music drifts away again. For the next fifty-odd minutes this virtually featureless, deathly slow progression continues, avoiding any muscularity or show of overt drama and yet also very deliberate and purposeful in its form. I am again left with oceanic references, this time a gentle tide comes to mind, almost unnoticed and yet strangely forceful and direct. This piece is really quite enchanting, a nice companion piece to the passionate power of the first disc and well worth making this a two-disc set for.
- Richard Pinnell -

Monsieur Delire
Jean-Luc Guionnet est un artiste fascinant à suivre: saxophoniste free, organiste, électroacousticien, son art est difficile à saisir ou réduire. Non-Organic Bias est un disque double regroupant trois œuvres pour orgue datant de 1995 à 2005. Tout, ici, est lent, posé, minimal. “Estuaire” pourrait passer pour une étude sur la privation sensorielle: elle grommelle pendant 54 minutes et c’est tout. Où l’est-ce? Les oreilles se repositionnent, l’esprit passe en mode contemplatif et, soudain, les microvariations apparaissent, les battements, l’organicité de cet être vivant qu’est l’orgue, dépouillé de sa chape culturelle, dépuillé des notes qui masquent sa respiration. “Espace bas” (50 minutes) commence de la même manière mais prend de l’expansion, pour atteindre une tonitruance qui laisse pantois. Cela dit, ce n’est pas l’album le plus facile ou le plus saisissant de Guionnet, et il faut être patient.

Jean-Luc Guionnet is a fascinating artist to follow: free saxophonist, organist, electroacoustician – his art is hard to pinpoint or even grasp. Non-Organic Bias is a double CD culling three works for organ from 1995 to 2005. Everything here is slow-paced, serious, and minimal. “Estuaire” could moonlight as a study on sensory deprivation: it growls subvocally for 54 minutes, and that’s it. Or is it? Once your ears reset and your mind switches into contemplative mode, suddenly the microvariations spring to view, along with the flappings and the organicness of this living being that is the organ, stripped from the heavy cultural mantle of notes that covers its breathing. “Espace bas” (50 minutes) starts the same way but expands to reach a deafening level of resonance. This is not Guionnet’s most listener-friendly or striking record, and you better be patient.
- François Couture -

The Silent Ballet
Jean-Luc Guionnet is a man who likes his puns. Perhaps he grew up reading Asterix books and discovered the delights of wordplay there, but that sort of idle speculation has no place in a Silent Ballet review. Nevertheless, the title of his album, Non-Organic Bias, stems from the way that 'organ' can refer to the human body (bits of it a least - let's remind ourselves of Woody Allen's quote 'My brain? But that's my second favourite organ!'). But 'organ' can also refer to the musical instrument which, being a mechanical construct, is non-organic. Even though it is called an organ. With us so far?

Guionnet's instrument here, you may have guessed, is the organ, and has set himself to explore the possibilities of the instrument in his work (he also plays alto sax). With its vast array of pedals, pipes and stops, the organ has a bewildering array of sounds that it can produce, not just the forceful yet expressive sounds of Bach's Toccata and Fugue or Saint-Saëns' Symphony No.3. Some of these sounds have already been explored by other musicians, for example the Spire series on Touch, but there is no indication that this particular well is running dry. Give an exploratory musician any instrument and he will try to come up with something different - it might not always be successful but there is no harm in trying.

Non-Organic Bias contains three lengthy tracks each exploring the sounds of the organ in a different way, illuminated by Guionnet in the sleeve-notes. The title track is the shortest piece here, and slowly, slowly builds up into a fizzing, crackly conclusion in the closing minutes as the 'border effects, resonances, natural saturations' presumably are allowed to escalate into some kind of electro-acoustic feedback. After drifting in and out of near-silence this breakthrough is some reward offering a little variation and development to what has gone before.

"Espace Bas" - or 'low space' ('the bass continuum of passing sound' apparently - perhaps something gets lost in translation) is pretty much a deep drone for its duration recorded on an organ at the Dieppe Conservatory. There are changes, but drawn over such a length that they barely register (much like failing to notice a glacier move, such is the time scale we are dealing with here). The gradually swelling tones at one point resemble a light aircraft flying overheard and eventually the piece coalesces into a sort of resolution before fading away into a long reverberating hum. The sound of the drone itself does not stand up to exploration over this kind of duration and it is a curiously unsatisfying listen.

The final piece is "Estuaire", the sonic estuary ('just under the surface of sound') put together from recordings of different organs that Guionnet has played over the past few years, and is the most dynamic work here, with a vibrant organ drone kicking in after he's puttered around for the opening two minutes. But after a strident section, this retreats into the similar background hum of the previous track. However, at around the midway point, things start building up again...

Now, I should point out that Non-Organic Bias operates on a different scale to most albums reviewed in these pages. The three works have a combined running time over two hours and when I refer to "Estuaire" getting exciting, that's the last half-hour. If you've been patient, you'll have already sat through some 90 minutes of not entirely enthralling drone and hum. Eventually, oh sweet mercy, a much more interesting organ drone kicks in to shake the listener out of their torpor, as if the Phantom of the Opera has sneaked in from off-stage and is malevolently pulling out all the stops. I don't think it's too far beyond the realms of possibility to suggest that should Sunn O)))) play one of their church gigs, Guionnet in this mood would be a perfect support, even collaborator, wringing the organ for all its worth in the most fitting environment.

The powerful final half of "Estuaire" cannot, however, disguise a pretty lacklustre opening, or the forgettable opening pair of tracks. Now, I know that with lengthy drone pieces, the listener only gets out what they are prepared to put in - but even sitting there, attempting to concentrate on the "Espace Bas", the mind wanders and drifts away, not in a good way so an apparently carefully crafted composition turns into just so much background noise, like the fridge, or workmen in the street. The eventual pay-off in the final piece is not earned by what precedes it.

In theory, Non-Organic Bias is a fascinating work, a lengthy exploration into the possibilities of the organ as an instrument for experimental composition. In practice however, it fails to capture the imagination, so that when the section that actually works arrives, most listeners' patience will have been exhausted. There's nothing here that really adds to the lexicon of drone and those interested in organ(ic) pieces are advised to stick to the aforementioned Spire series which combine composition and drone in a much more successful way.
-Jeremy Bye -

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