Former GusGus member President Bongo (real name Stephan Stephenson) has spent the last few years pursuing his ambitious ‘Les Adventures de President Bongo’ project, an ongoing series of album length collaborations that will eventually result in 24 conceptually linked albums, released over a period of several years. One thing’s for sure – it’s certainly been an eclectic series so far, with this latest chapter being no exception.
If the preceding collaboration between President Bongo and Ottar S saw the duo veering off into techno and ambient electronics, for ‘Château’ the spotlight falls on Icelandic violinist and cellist Bjarni Frimann Bjarnason, with Stephenson’s role being producer rather than performer this time around. Running in at closer to a mini-album at 5 tracks over 32 minutes, there’s scarcely an obvious trace of electronics in evidence apart from reverb and delay effects being applied to Bjarnason’s acoustic instrumentation.
‘Lobby’ opens this album with one of its largest pieces as the whistling of a boiling kettle gives way to vast brooding strings, the bowed instrumentation progressing from ominous droning atmospheres, to more abstracted experimentation with sawed textures and squealing controlled feedback, the sudden appearance of a fragment of human voice ushering in looped percussive tones that almost sound like sloshing water, as the string arrangements grow more mournful and cinematic.
Throughout, there’s a constantly present but subtle rhythmic undertow formed by sparse percussive rhythms and plucked string elements that sits almost subliminally in the foreground. If anything, ‘Vestibule’ manages to get even more foreboding as atonal violins howl against a rapid-fire backbone of drummed tribal rhythms, the plucked strings offering melodic flashes and colour before completely dropping out in favour of a rattling, abstracted outro section.
The eleven minute long ‘Douves’ brings the melancholic drones back to the forefront, the pitchbent string arrangements slowly turning more atonal and menacing in a manner that hints at the likes of Ligeti as an echoing percussive pulse inexorably taps away beneath the string instrumentation, heightening the tension to almost claustrophobic levels. ‘Château’ sees Bjarnason deftly shifting from meditative calm to frightening intensity, and on the basis of this, it’s anyone’s guess where ‘Les Adventures de President Bongo’ will lead us next.