Album primo-avrilesque, meaning April-Foolish Album, is a collection of visual jokes published by the French humourist Alphonse Allais (1854-1905) on 1st April 1897. Note that some of the captions can’t be translated fully into English, because they use French idioms that refer to color.
• φασὶ γοῦν Ἵππαρχον τὸν Πυθαγόρειον, αἰτίαν ἔχοντα γράψασθαι τὰ τοῦ Πυθαγόρου σαφῶς, ἐξελαθῆναι τῆς διατριβῆς καὶ στήλην ἐπ’ αὐτῷ γενέσθαι οἷα νεκρῷ. — Κλήμης ὁ Ἀλεξανδρεύς, Στρώματα.
• They say, then, that Hipparchus the Pythagorean, being guilty of writing the tenets of Pythagoras in plain language, was expelled from the school, and a pillar raised for him as if he had been dead. — Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, 184.108.40.206.3-4
It’s not true that Cryogénie are best experienced live. That would imply their music can be experienced some other way. It can’t. The live experience is the only experience. And it’s guaranteed unique. These French avant-gardists aren’t the only band to hand out earplugs on the door, but they don’t do it for the conventional reason: that they play so loud.
In fact, they don’t play loud. They don’t play soft either. In the conventional sense, they don’t play at all. Here’s an interview from 2008 with Tïurbeau magazine:
Tïurbeau: I’ve got your latest album in front of me now. Words fail me.
Alexandre: And us too.
François: As usual.
Tïurbeau: Then one has to ask: why do you bother to release albums?
Alexandre: We see it, you could say, as a little ritual, something solid, something material––
François: Something permanent.
Alexandre: Yes, something permanent, to mark the occasion, that will remain with our audience. Often, we hear, they will buy an album after they have attended a concert, as a souvenir, almost. And they will truly play it!
Tïurbeau: They will play thirty-seven minutes of silence?
François: Yes. The silence creates a space, a kind of opening in the present, for memories of the concert.
Alexandre: Yes, for memories, exactly so. Although, of course, in one sense we have pride in the irreproducibility of our music, in another sense we are recording every moment we are on stage. On the brain.
François: On the brains of the audience.
Alexandre: We are recording memories.
Tïurbeau: And the albums are designed to trigger the memories?
Tïurbeau: Bring the memories back.
Alexandre: Ah, yes, exactly so. The albums are a focus for memories of a concert.
François: Almost talismans.
Tïurbeau: In a magical sense?
Alexandre: Yes, why not? For us, experience is the ultimate magic. In the moment, but also in memory.
Tïurbeau: And does this relate to the sensory restrictions of your concerts, the way you try to turn down some senses in order to heighten the sense you are seeking to stimulate?
François: Yes, exactly so. Earplugs.
Alexandre: No aftershave, no perfume.
François: And please shower carefully before you attend.
Alexandre: Yes, shower carefully. And we ourselves, we will take care of the light. Remove it, make the scene very dark. You are not at a Cryogénie concert for pleasing your ears, your nose, eyes, mouth. Non, vous êtes là pour la chair!
François: Oui, pour la chair.
Tïurbeau: For the flesh.
Alexandre: Yes, the flesh. And how do we stimulate the flesh when we may not use another mode, not exploit another sense? No vibration, no infra-bass even. Then what?
François: Yes, this was the question we faced in our formative days.
Tïurbeau: And the answer…
Alexandre: The cold!
Alexandre: Please remember a question in the Gay Science of Nietzsche: Ist es nicht kälter geworden?
François: “Has it not become colder?”
Alexandre: And we want, if you attend a Cryogénie concert, for you to say: Ja! Oui! Yes! Kälter, kälter! Plus froid, plus froid! Colder, colder!
Tïurbeau: The triumph of the chill?
François: Yes. Triumph of the chill!
Alexandre: I don’t understand.
François: [Explains briefly in French]
Alexandre: Ah, yes, a triumph.
Tïurbeau: And with the concept came the name?
Alexandre: Yes, and so we had our name also. Cryogénie. With several meanings. Cryogénie is “creation of cold”, but also, for us, “genius of cold”, “spirit of cold”. Remember the concept of ritual. Our concerts, you might say, are rituals of cold, invocations of cold.
François: And: “If it’s too cold, you’re too old!”
Alexandre: Yes, so it’s said. Of course, in truth we welcome all ages, but if you are in poor health, perhaps better not to attend.
François: Nevertheless, visits to the pharmacy surely increase after we have passed through a city.
Tïurbeau: How cold do you go?
Alexandre: Ah, we prefer not to speak of that. No numbers, no statistics. You are there for the music, not to watch le thermomètre.
François: We get cold enough for our purposes.
Tïurbeau: That sounds rather sinister!
François: Yes, perhaps so. But would that not be the ultimate experience, to die pour une grêlodie, for a grêlodie?
Alexandre: It’s a joke, un calembour, a mixing of words.
François: A pun. In French, grêle is “hail”, you know, the little balls of ice, and mélodie is “melody”, of course, and so you have grêlodie, for a tune as performed by Cryogénie, a tune of ice, a tune of cold.
Tïurbeau: But not literal hail?
Alexandre: No, not literal. Though sometimes the breath of our audience will freeze and fall as a kind of snow. It makes a sound, that, a very delicate sound, le chuchotement des étoiles, comme on dit en Sibérie.
François: Yes, the whisper of the stars, as they say in Siberia. But of course, no-one will hear it, if they have followed their instructions.
Alexandre: Earplugs in!
François: But the snow, the breath-snow, can be felt on the skin as it falls. This is acceptable, though it is an indirect effect of our music, not something we have planned for.
Tïurbeau: I have felt it. In the middle section of “Frissonique”, particularly.
Alexandre: Yes, and in “Bruitmal”.
François: When the framplifiers are cooking, as you might say.
Tïurbeau: Framplifiers? Can you explain for the benefit of our readers?
François: It is from froid and amplificateur. Framplicateur, framplifier. Amplifiers of cold, or generators of cold.
Tïurbeau: That is one of the most widely discussed aspects of your music, isn’t it? Your equipment.
François: Yes, certainly.
Tïurbeau: But you’re rather secretive about it, aren’t you?
François: You discuss, we are sphinxes.
François: Yes. We have our – what is the term? – our trade-secrets. It’s not in our interests to expose our techniques. Nor in yours, we think.
Tïurbeau: You want to preserve that air of mystery?
Alexandre: Yes, precisely so. The experience is more strong when you don’t understand.
François: Like magic.
Alexandre: Yes, magic. We perform a ritual. The invocation of the cold. We invoke the cold and we throw the cold, we throw it on the audience.
François: Waves of cold. Cryorrhythms. Chords of cold, congelations, grêlodies, chills, thrills, rivers of shivers. That is the Cryogénie experience.
Tïurbeau: But there’s some serious technology behind the experience, isn’t there?
Tïurbeau: And you’re saying no more?
Alexandre: Yes, no more.
François: It’s not in our interests to explain. Or yours.
Tïurbeau: Not even a little?
François: Well, maybe a little. We had problems, in the early days, with unwanted noise, from the equipment.
Alexandre: Just a little.
François: I mean, if you think of a refrigerator, there is noise, of course. And we didn’t want noise, we wanted silence, pure silence.
Tïurbeau: A blank canvas, sensorily speaking?
François: Yes, a blank canvas, for us to paint with cold. So there was that problem to solve. The noise, unwanted noise.
Tïurbeau: And you solved it?
François: Yes, I think we did.
Alexandre: I think so.
Tïurbeau: But the earplugs are still necessary?
Alexandre: Yes, necessary, we think. Because, of course, with silent equipment there is still the movement of people, our movement on the stage, movement of the audience.
François: And the whisper of the stars, with some other effects. There are many things to create noise at a concert. We cannot eliminate them all, or we choose not to, because the earplugs are in themselves symbolic. To use them, you say: “See? I choose to close this door, this sensory mode.”
Alexandre: And you give yourself to us, to Cryogénie, to exploit another sense.
François: To submit you to our chill.
Tïurbeau: Esclaves du froid?
François: Yes, very good. Slaves of cold! But equally we are the slaves.
Alexandre: Yes, esclaves du froid. I like it. Perhaps we will write a song of that title one day.
• Rois du Froid — Cryogénie’s official site
**Kings of Cold.
***Little White One.
« Seul le silence est grand; tout le reste est faiblesse. » — Alfred de Vigny (1797-1863).
“Silence alone is great; all else is weakness.” — Alfred de Vigny.
It’s half tradition, half tic. At every Ruin-Dredger gig, the lead-singer Jerome Daziel asks the same simple question. Sometimes he shouts it and demands a reaction from the audience. Sometimes he whispers it and ignores what the audience does. Depending on the country, he’s asked it in French, Italian, Greek, Russian, Georgian, Mandarin, Thai, Samoan and Quechua. He’s also asked it in complete silence, having written it across his chest and on the palms of his hands in phosph-ink, invisible when the lights are on, glowing ghoulishly when they’re turned off. Occasionally he’s asked it backwards. In English, the question runs like this: “And What Doth It Mean To Be Flesh?”
But you could see the whole of a Ruin-Dredger gig as asking the same searching thing. The band specialize in unusual frequencies that hunt out – and hum out – the resonances of the human body: the lungs, the bones, the blood. And their music sets up strange resonances in the mind. It’s both mindless and masterful, at once tearful and tyrannous. Sometimes it sounds like mathematics trying to come to life, and sometimes like mathematics trying to commit suicide. There’s a lot of science in their music, and a lot of silence too. “Star-clusters having tantrums,” is how one early review ran. “With occasional episodes of narcolepsy.” That mixture of sound and silence is mutually reinforcing: the sounds are sterner, the silence is sharper. They began their career with the albums Xoli-Hein (1992) and Pyramidion (1996), where they forged a series of griffs, or “gruff riffs”, that were often Ohrwürmer, or “ear-worms”, as German calls tunes that stick in your head. Even if you don’t want them to. But I’m not sure “tune” has ever been the right word for the music Ruin-Dredger create. It’s part industrial noise, part wolf-howl, part bat-twitter, but mostly “folded, fused, fissured, fractured, fidgety phonaesthesia.” And if you want to sample it, this album from the turn of the century is a good place to start.
What to call the album is one of the first puzzles it will set you. The band’s website usually calls it “a3” or “a3”; in interviews, the band themselves refer to it as “Triple-A” or “that A-fucker”. The second name comes from a plagiarism suit by the astro-music veterans Kargokkult that put Ruin-Dredger’s career on hold for nearly a year, 2002-3, and allegedly threatened to bankrupt their record-company. In the end the case was thrown out of court and even today some conspiracy-minded Dredge-heads claim it was cooked up for publicity between the ’Dredgers and the Kargonauts. The case might never have got as far as it did without that lunar cover for Triple-A, where the corroded letters of the band’s name and the album’s name hang above a lifeless moon-scape. Only it isn’t our moon. And it isn’t necessarily lifeless. Ruin-Dredger have a bee in their bonnet about the pre-biotic – the conditions necessary for the appearance of life. That’s what the first track on Triple-A, “Invention of the Cross”, is about: the chemicals that gave rise to life. And it literally has bees on it: the band sampled bees and bumblebees in flight and gathering nectar. They then altered the pitch and speed of the buzzing and made it sound both unearthly and unsettling. I’ve known people demand the track be turned off or skipped when it’s played to them.
But skipping track one of Triple-A is a bit like jumping from the frying-pan into the fire, because track two, “Seventh Sword”, is even more unearthly and even more unsettling. Bat-twitters hurtle through the speakers, falling from the ultra-sonic to the infra-sonic, rising in reverse, twisting, turning inside-out, mating, mutating and miscegenating. Then, as though the band have taken mercy on your ears and your mind, everything slows and soothes for track three, “Titanomachia”, which is often preceded in concert by the aforementioned carnal question: “And what doth it mean to be flesh?” This track is one of the last outings for the griffs of their early career: a slow, synth-based triple chord underlain by a sample of waves washing on an unknown shore. Track four, “Breathing Vacuum”, has also been known to provoke a “Turn it off!”, because the mumbling beneath the music is both sinister and sorrowful. You feel as though you should understand the words or, worse, that you will in your dreams. The chimes in the track are sinister too: they sound like a deep-sea, or deep-space, monster tapping on its fangs before putting them to famished use.
Which sets things up nicely, or nastily, for track five, “Scylla / Charybdis”. This is named after a pair of sea-monsters faced by Odysseus on his journey home from Troy and has been described by the ’Dredgers as a “battle-song”. The waves on “Titanomachia” are back, but bigger, badder and in a mood to fight. Daziel’s electronically treated voice wolf-howls a series of unintelligible questions, answered by patches of silence and gong-like drum-rolls. Track six, “Nyctogigas”, starts softly, builds back to the volume and violence of “Scyl/Char”, then breaks apart to allow the bats and bees of “Whilom” to steer your imagination out and up into the freezing star-light on the outer fringes of the solar system, where comets, shorn by the cold and dark, wait to swing sun-ward and regain their blazing locks. I like to listen to “Whilom” in the dark, wearing a blindfold, but then that’s the best way to listen to all of Ruin-Dredger’s music. Listening like that conjures visions and commands the viscera. Not an easy album, nor an unrewarding one, Triple-A isn’t their finest hour, if fan-polls and sales are any guide, but it’s an excellent guide to where they had come from and where they were about to go. If it’s the alpha-and-omega of their career, perhaps that explains the title: the “a” is the alpha (α) and the “3” an omega (ω) tipped on its side. I see it, or hear it, as a bridge between the ’nineties and the ’noughties: they’d give up the griffs and big up the bats, from then on, but they’ve never stopped asking that simple, sinister/sorrowful question of themselves and their listeners: “And What Doth It Mean To Be Flesh?”
a3 / a3 / Triple-A (S.R.K., 2000)
1. Invention of the Cross (5:26)
2. Seventh Sword (3:33)
3. Titanomachia (7:18)
4. Breathing Vacuum (9:03)
5. Scylla / Charybdis (6:11)
6. Nyctogigas (4:20)
7. Whilom (13:37)