Christopher Bissonnette – Pitch, Paper & Foil (Kranky, 2015)


After a significant hiatus between his third and fourth records, Bissonnette returned to the musical world only last year with Essays In Idleness, something of a divergence away from his previous material as he began to explore the possibilities of modular synths and generate rather more spontaneous electronic creations rather than the generally more field-recording derived content of his past. The results felt like Bissonnette creations at their core still, often probing and sometimes disquieting in their unusual presentation, and things have only become more refined on Pitch, Paper & Foil as we see him take these synth explorations further and show us a sense of his tempering.

As though defining this new era in his sound, opener “Epoch” bridges the mere 12 month gap between records and immediately we feel a sense of continuation, with shining, piercing tones cutting strongly through the chugging mass of overlapping and twinkling sounds below, like rays shining through the shifting mass of the ocean’s surface. Yet it seems to rally and strain in its sort of dark grandeur, its loudest moments growling and screaming and hollering at some ethereal imposition that keeps it submerged; things settle down in “Diminution” and mostly beyond though as much of the angst becomes stripped away in favour of light and naively methodical bumblings, seemingly content in its ignorance as it plods along in seemingly pseudo-random movements. It’s a sound that also seems to be found in the reservations of “Shuttering Slides” also, although there’s a sense of anxiety not previously present in its somewhat more jittery and twitchy expressions, nervous as it closes shop on a previous chapter of sound, but the echoic noodlings share a similar sonic palette.

The second half of the album seems to undergo a transformation away from the deliberate synth notes and falls into increasingly drone dominated territory, with “Surcease” easing us into this new ground on beds of pseudo-stringed drones that rise thickly through its core, migrating away from the languid and echoic pulses that dominate its earlier moments. Its comparatively smoother sound makes way for the appropriately luxurious “Textbooks of the Elites” where there is almost no hint of our synth twinklings, the entire piece lost in beautiful swathes of sonic luxury, contented perfection played out in placid pools of softly shifting sound. It’s by far the most relaxed and stripped back piece here, although the unfamiliar “Rate of Delay” isn’t too far off either as it hovers in ethereal and almost alien synth walls, advancing in mysterious airs and with just a touch of menace as it plods along.

That only leaves time for the fragile tinklings of closer “Dualism”, finding itself for the last time plucking shining notes out from the void and sending their echoes bouncing off crystal walls, its naive and quietly brilliant sounds blissfully unaware of the limitations around them. That seems to be the dominant theme here, of this desire to temper the difficulties of the modular synth and find a path through it, fighting against complexity and systemic limitations and echoing those sentiments through the music. It’s a brilliantly clever piece once you recognise what Bissonnette is trying to achieve and as with all of his works it’s elegant and sumptuous in every moment; listen to this as a man trying to puzzle through creative and technological struggles and you’ll see it’s effectiveness.