Experimental musician and sound artist Joni Void’s astounding tapestry of musical connectivity continues. The three albums released via Constellation, ‘Selfless’, ‘Mise En Abyme’ and this year’s ‘Everyday is the Song’, may be the most visible markers of the emergence of Jean Néant (he/them) as sonic collagist Joni Void but there’s an eco-system of other projects and curations supported by that boundless creative drive.
CLOSE / SPACE by Être Ensemble, available now through KATUKTU COLLECTIVE, is the latest communication from a mycelial artistic network of which Joni Void is very much a part. The Ensemble takes its name from a lost DIY venue in Montreal and inspiration from the improvisational jams that it hosted. Unsurprisingly then, Être Ensemble is not a ‘band’ in any orthodox sense, more a portal to receive Joni Void music developed from revisions, samples and electronic abstractions of live shows, sessions and original music made by and with friends.
The CLOSE / SPACE release offers different iterations of Être Ensemble as Joni Void ‘collaborates’ with two distinct sources. The first five pieces that make up the CLOSE segment, reconstitute music originally recorded by multi-instrumentalist Madeline Johnstone for her 2021 album as Mercury Tracer, ‘I – L’, a series of hypnotically minimal, melodic piano miniatures which saw a shift from her ‘heaven metal’ song-writing as Midwife. Être Ensemble take ‘I – L’ as a template, retaining a fluctuating feel for Johnstone’s original keyboard pulse but broadening the scope with intricate, inventive detailing.
Opening track ‘C ‘ uses loops of mournful piano chords as a tolling presence amongst whispered voices and cloistered resonance. From there the tune unravels, less tense more probing via a brush with Kahil El’ Zabor jazz rhythms, a machine music, dial tone sequence and a closing uncluttered, Midwife hinting, tumbling tune line. ‘ L ‘ takes a slightly different route, making a loose live drum sound and stately piano chords the core then submerging such post rock certainties in a rising gabble of testy conversations.
At this point you might relax with the notion Néant’s Être Ensemble are set to explore some relative ambience, re-imagining their source material in a less frenetic state than on Joni Void’s fabulously unpredictable ‘Everyday Is The Song’ album. Then the wobbly chilled psychedelia of ‘ O ‘ crackles and puffs with an inner percussive tension and things feel a little more uncertain. Is this a peaceful state or something more disturbed?
The final tunes of the CLOSE sequence, ‘ S ‘and ‘ E ‘ finish the spelling test but more significantly see the narrative arc complete. The grumbling dub and crunch of ‘ S ‘ escalates the intensity with its high-pitched alarm, laboured breath sounds and cymbal distress before ‘ E ‘finds some warmer resolution. The Être Ensemble soundscape strips back here, acknowledging the calming touch of the Mercury Tracer source, letting the piano sections play out a tune over a delicately understated rhythmic shimmy. It’s a silent sigh for a first half finale and feels very human.
Such emotional reach should not come as a surprise. Joni Void’s output may be experimental and approaches unconventional but the music is connected to the everyday and thrives on the community surrounding it. His collaboration with Madeline Johnstone extends back to Néant’s johnny ripper days before his move to Montreal. A remix on the ‘Under The Covers’ compilation for her Tinyamp label in 2013 marked the start. Then more recently Void’s Everyday Ago platform has included both Mercury Tracer and Midwife tracks on samplers (check out the ‘SansPleur’ and ‘Time Capsule 3’) as well as releasing the ‘I – L’ album that underpins the CLOSE extension. This could be dismissed as simply stoking a discography nerds’ passion but such networking means more. It brings integrity, authenticity and a human side to any DIY scene.
The second segment of this Être Ensemble release, SPACE, comes with a similar spirited collective provenance. Joni Void and Naomie de Lorimier, aka N NAO, first crossed paths on the Montreal experimental circuit in 2016 and have regularly released music together via Everyday Ago ever since. In 2022 along came Tokyo tape curators Babera Records to put out the duo’s third exploration of surreal chanson dream pop ‘Nostalgie d’une porte ouverte’. In the exchange Babera boss Nozomu Hirano gifted recordings of all six titles from his label’s back catalogue to Joni Void and it’s from this material that Être Ensemble’s SPACE sequence was crafted for this latest release.
In contrast to CLOSE, faced with the sonic range of the albums from the Babera listings, a little less restraint is exercised on SPACE as the tunes open out to the possibilities of the broader palate. ‘ S ‘captures this wider geography, entering some doomy folklore zone, all fragmented gongs and gamelan, suppressed scything rhythms, surround-sound hums and snippets of Japanese screenplay exchanges. The kosmische inflected ‘ P ‘ fixates on pulsing variation before diving into a post rock apocalypse while ‘ A ‘ foregrounds a mystery dialogue within droning monotone loops and a creeking, almost contradictory broken beat. It feels as if SPACE is less insular, drawing more on Joni Void’s vision of a cinematic soundscape than the more reflective CLOSE.
The final spell-check brings ‘ C ‘ and ‘ E ‘ the former offering an ethereal dark wave blow in the Actress direction brilliantly punctuated with Joni Void specifics, phone ring interruptions, human sighs and a jug poured. ‘ E ‘ brings a drift of airy purpose to the ending. An innocent vocal hook grows amidst some burbling Four Tet levity then hushes to gradual whispers of rest.
CLOSE / SPACE impresses because it uncannily works as a whole. What could have been a vehicle for hinging two separate projects together has been conceived with care and attention. The two halves mirror each other, inner thoughts through C, L, O, S, E then outer experience through S, P, A, C, E, while the Être Ensemble modus adds further cohesion. It allows Néant to sustain his focus, perhaps contain himself a little, but with enough room to create powerful Joni Void music -illusive yet very, very intimate.
Get your copy of CLOSE / SPACE by Être Ensemble direct from KATUKTU COLLECTIVE HERE