Review: Émilie Girard-Charest – Avec

coverI spend much of Avec contemplating the seams between objects, entities, people, sounds. This record illuminates the act of intersection: a bow dragged aggressively against a cello string, the impulses of two improvisers ricocheting off one another, the sounds of chimes colliding with shrill string harmonics. In particular, I think about how taut strings pull at the body of the cello and guitar, thwarted from snapping the frame in two by glue and careful design. So many of these sounds are spindly and sudden, rendered dry and anxious through palm mutes, scuttling in short bursts like the stop-start scurries of spiders, full of the croaks and strains that proclaim the fragility of physical material. Equilibrium is a temporary state of being, and the initiation of sound will always be a threat to the asylum of balance and stasis.

The record is divided into several sections, each documenting Girard-Charest’s collaborations with a different musician or duo. All of them are unflinchingly intimate and fraught with anxiety. Silences play a huge role; not as moments of respite, but as accumulations of energy and burdening weights of the unspoken. Her pieces with saxophonist Marc Vilanova seem to document a period where both musicians forget how to exhale; each instrument announces itself in wheezes and puffs and croaks, with each timbre shaped as much by reluctance as by desire. Girard-Charest engages in curt, cold dialogue with Sylvain Devaux’s oboe, restricted to staccato bursts and hisses of mutual disdain, while the trio completed by pianist Claudine Simon and percussionist Emmanuel Scarpa sounds like a room with thin metal wires strung across it, punctuated occasionally by chimes and tiny taps of ivory, each musician navigating through awkward successions of stiff and crooked postures. The most alarming piece is her collaboration with Scott L. Miller which, amidst a record of taut tendons and threats of fracture, provides catharsis via a sudden blast of electronic drone. In any other scenario, this piece would feel steeped in dread and discomfort. In the context of Avec’s flinches and palpitations of human imperfection, it’s a dose of sweet relief.