Music For Writers: When Florent Ghys Watches ‘Télévision’

 iStockphoto / klikk
iStockphoto / klikk

Forget Your Writing Prompts

This is the album of the future, and it’s fast becoming a hit.

Florent Ghys. Image by Jardin. Canteloupe Music.So says a pert, authoritative voice in the opening of the second track on composer-performer Florent Ghys’ new album Télévision from Cantaloupe Music.

It’s called a CD. That’s short for compact disc. The music on one of these is recorded by a computer. When you play it back through a sound system, it’s better than any recording you’ve ever heard.

As the voice, straight out of somebody’s Futurama, goes on announcing the glories of CDs, a double bass is being bowed in a fine, jazzy-busy way that gradually overtakes our helpful, informative voice.

You can program a big or little disc player to start on the sixteenth or nineteenth song. You can fast-forward to a section you like. You can repeat a phrase that moves you. You can repeat a phrase that moves you. You can repeat a phrase that moves you. You can….

Get into your headphones for this one, which has been included in New York Public Radio’s Q2 Music’Album of the Week series.

Ghys, who is from Bordeaux and is based in Brooklyn, writes, “Télévision is about weather reports, digital music, plastic beauty, synesthesia, and dance.”

There’s video with this one, some of which you can see here on Ghys’ site. To my mind, the video is a distraction that ties the concept too closely to the album’s title. I like music, in part, because it’s not like watching TV. Especially this music, which is triggered by it. You may disagree with me, which is always fine, of course. I disagree with myself several times a day.

And as violist Doyle Armbrust writes at Q2 Music:

Fear not, children raised by Zeniths and Vizios, Télévision is not an indictment of the idiot box, but a one-person paean to the unintentional poetry it emits and, in this case, inspires.

You know those maddening “writing prompts” that end up wasting your time with descriptive writings about “a leaf that fell to the sidewalk in front of you as you walked home yesterday” or “your favorite memory from your sixth birthday party”?

Use this album instead.

Drop in on “No Lemon, No Melon.” You’ll hear the title spoken in a way that sounds fully as inarticulate as you may feel at the start of a writing session. And then stringed tones gently come together under a little birdsong to deliver a lovely, warming adagio, all synthesized into a calming, gracious — and slightly scraping (you’ll hear it) — meditation. Picking up energy and percussion, the piece drops you off in a better spot than you started.

In “Moulinex” — “for double basses, guitars, shakers, snare drums, hi-hat, bass drum, and hair dryers” — small appliances do rev up. But in Ghys’ hands, plucky, round tones meet and pass the machinery, then stand back to let a 1200-watt model take a ride. Rippling, rich textures on the frets and a sweetly restrained turn on a snare create — Ghys, forgive me — an irresistible musical coif.

As the Cantaloupe liner notes tell us:

On Télévision, Florent Ghys plays, performs and perpetrates: alto double bass, applause, bass drum, editing, guitar, hair dryers, hand claps, hi-hat, Max programming, mouth hi-hat, piano, shakers, snare, solfège, video, voice and weather reports.

Singing The Body Commercial

Florent Ghys album cover
Artwork for Florent Ghys’ album is by Anael Chadli.

However much we might like to think our “work” is on that higher plane of endeavor we all revere, we writers, Ghys’ listeners, and everybody in between is connected by a kind of commercial ether that pervades everything we do today, frequently without our giving it the slightest notice.

Probably our better thoughts co-exist with these “natural prompts” in our worried world much more harmoniously than we like to think.

For all the melodrama of “Melody From Mars,” Ghys’ sampled voice coos with crafty sass, resulting in a compellingly immersive narrative, a tango of tension too urbane to shrug off. This one sticks with you, you’ll want to hear it again.

“Sans Contrefacon” is a promise of truth made as believable by Ghys’ intakes of breath as by the complexities of its parallel melodies.

Indeed, the artist can bend televised inspiration to his will more easily than you’d expect.

When the instructors in “Swing Out From Open Position” start counting for you, all is fine…until Ghys begins to screw with their rhythms and scrub them up with his own dogged time signatures. The squarest dance has become the coolest jive. “Hips, half-turn, five, six.” Unperturbed, a Copland-esque strut that Martha Graham herself would have enjoyed has soon taken over here, and five minutes into this track, you’ll want to be on your feet. Assertive, sly, but welcoming and infectiously upbeat — you’ll swear that’s “cha-cha-cha” Ghys is singing at the end.

And just as sublty, you begin to realize as you listen to later tracks on Télévision that Ghys is doing less about the cable box and more about his own voice and instrumentation.

The medium is less his message than his muse.

Progressively, precisely, he gathers his patterns and pace to close with “Terminal,” a pulsing array of syncopated sound, which arrives to bless what has become that most iconic and elemental component of our lives among the airwaves: a single electronic tone.

Deceptively thoughtful, this Télévision has a wide screening of emotional triggers in play.

Do you know the jazz pianist Steve Kuhn’s 2004 album Promises Kept? Ghys’ fine work here will remind you of the moment that represented in Kuhn’s work, at once a gathering of concept and capability that signified a sort of surrender, in a way, a giving in to what’s possible for a strong maturing artist in digital times. Ghys’ new album is a grown-up statement.

Florent Ghys, I think, is smiling here — not laughing. If you hear traces of sadness under the fun, you’re catching his intelligence right where it lies.

“Beaute Plastique,” as one track is titled, is more than skin deep. TC mark

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