Album Review: Yann Gourdon’s self-titled LP hypnotizes the listener with swirling, baroque instrumentation

The new offerings from French artist Yann Gourdon create a hypnotizing atmosphere that pushes and pulls the listener from its fabric.

It can be argued that ambient music is defined by intention and spatial interaction: a work must intend to not demand the attention of the listener, and it interacts with auditory space in a fashion that supports this intention. Despite its intentions, however, well-executed ambient works can withstand intense scrutiny on the listener’s behalf, altering their own spatial orientation to gauge the work’s quality. In both of these instances, the new offerings from French drone artist Yann Gourdon create a hypnotizing atmosphere that pushes and pulls the listener from its fabric.

The new self-titled project is a collaboration with Gourdon’s fellow La Nòvia Collective members that brings physical space to the forefront. In detailing their recording practice, Gourdon notes that their process relies on developing dynamic relationships with the acoustic identity of their environment. The LP is a series of improvisations on the hurdy-gurdy, an amusingly-named, crank-powered stringed instrument that allows the player to drone multiple tones. This ability is central to the compositional characteristics of Gourdon’s project, as both sides of the record feature an omnipresent drone. Minimalist in nature, the textures that Gourdon is able to evoke from the instrument are unattributable to any common instrument; the general listener’s lack of experience with the instrument creates an immediate interest in the material on the record.

“Face A” is a twenty minute improvisation of flourishing gestures and quasi-electronic tones. Throughout the piece, there are glitching motions that evoke an electronic presence without compromising on the organicism of the instrument. Given the man-powered nature of the bowing, the drone notes phase in and out of focus without ever being completely abandoned. “Face A” features standout moments to the listener eight minutes in, where the flourishing motions grow increasingly animated; and over fourteen minutes in, Gourdon creates a sudden spaciousness in the texture that, alongside the Sputnik-like pinging tones, capture deep-space aesthetics. The character of the composition is a mesmerizing eternal swirl that invites both closer observation and distance on the listener’s behalf.

In contrast with the ebbing motion on the front half of the record, “Face B” shows Gourdon embracing straightforward drone characteristics, building the composition on a resolute chordal structure. There are moments throughout the piece that suggest deep cello motives, with blurred pulsing injecting forward motion into the mix. Similarly to “Face A,” Gourdon supplants the texture with strength in the bass end around the fifteen minute mark, creating a wide expanse that envelopes the listener in dark, warm tones before fading away into ether. 

Yann Gourdon promises to be a rewarding listening experience for ambient fans and newcomers alike. With deep-seated textures that function simultaneously as a centerpiece and an ornament, the malleable nature of the sonic qualities on this record can bend to the listeners’ needs at any given moment. Yann Gourdon is due out on streaming services on April 23rd, courtesy of three:four records.

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