I've collected a few drone albums over the years, not a lot by any means, but enough to somewhat efficiently fuel my craving of it. I've purchased albums purely on their hype (as much hype as these albums get) and I've acquired things purely on hunches. Some turn out to be year end highlights and others absolute flops. But every once in a while I'll come across something that redefines the nerdiest parts of my musical taste, so much so that I don't even know what to do with myself. Jean-Francois Laporte's 'Mantra' is such a recording; a musical nerd's wet dream.
Laporte is a French-Canadian who has established himself as somewhat of an underrated guru in the realm of electro-acoustics and aside from competitions and festivals has kept quite a low profile. Mantra was originally released as a 3" on Metamkine back in 2000 and is now presented amongst other work on this career spanning compilation entitled Soundmatters put out by the incredible San Francisco based 23five organization.
As fantastic as the other material is on this album, it all somewhat pales in comparison to the monolithic Mantra, a 26 minute piece composed and recorded entirely from the emanating sounds of an ice rink's cooling compressor. Laporte used no post-production techniques or editing processes of any kind in the creating of Mantra. The entire piece was recorded acoustically using PVC piping and metal covers(?) to manipulate the sound source directly in order to achieve desired timbral shifts. Not only that, but being the perfectionist that he is, he attempted the recording 200! times over just to get it perfect, constantly monitoring the input levels for any undesired peaks or valleys, of which there were many. Wow. But wait, the plot thickens. There was a rumour started by some punks over at KPFA radio who said that Mantra was in fact the sounds of a Zamboni and not those of a cooling compressor. This was of course around the time when the original recording came out in 2000 and little was known of the actual source material. So the rumour spread like wild fire and everyone in the country was talking about this radically avant-garde recording. Sadly though after the truth was unveiled that the recording was in fact just your everyday air compressor and not a mechanical elephant-sized ice roamer everyone soon lost interest and Mantra was forced to retreat back to the fringes of popular culture. Oh well, I still think it's one of the best things I've heard.
As for the music itself, well, I won't get into too much detail as it's something that you have to experience yourself. But as always, deep listening is key and reveals a lot within the sounds. There is a definite underlining composition that holds the entire thing together, controlled subtle tonal swells resulting from the skillful utilization of metal covers and PVC tubes. My own music largely revolves around the use of scrap metal and ideas of industry and cultural decay, so reading about the physical and acoustic element of this use of non-musical 'stuff' in the piece has got me really excited. There is a particular point about two fifth's of the way through the piece where the industrial churning of the great compressor slowly dissipates and all that's left is a crawling low-end drone and the sounds of spurting decompressed air that reminds me why I got into this stuff in the first place. Then, slowly, a distant sounding metallic scrape creeps in and out of the mix until the roar of the compressor rolls back, swallowing everything in sight. Anyone into drone, industrial, or weirdo-sound art stuff should seek out the 'Mantra'.