November 19, 2021
The Monkey In The Abstract Garden: Vagabondes -
Alexandra Grimal & Benjamin Lévy
Label: OVNI Records & Bandcamp
Catalog #: N.A.
Location: Paris, France
Release Date: May 5, 2021
Media: digital files
The Monkey In The Abstract Garden: Vagabondes is the second album by the duet of Alexandra Grimal & Benjamin Lévy. The first was simply titled The Monkey In The Abstract Garden and contained two compact discs, one of which was an electronic/voice duet and the second a suite of saxophone solos by Ms. Grimal. Vagabondes is a continuation of the electronics and voice work, corresponding roughly to the length of one cd, though apparently released only as digital files. We were fond of the first release by Grimal and Lévy and included it in the 2020 end-of-the-year ten listening recommendations from the staff of the Poison Pie Publishing House.
We begin this review with a few thoughts on the electronics. Our ears hear an elemental component to the electronics. We don't know whether the origin of the sounds arises purely from manipulation of electronic devices or is, rather, an electronic modification of recorded sources but this uncertainty doesn't especially bother us. In the first track, geyser, there is an amplified sound of water, as intimated by the title. It reminds us, conceptually, if not sonically, of Flood Gate (Vanilla Records, 1993) by Aube, aka Akifumi Nakajima (January 13, 1959 - September 25, 2013). On other tracks the electronics adopt an erratic rhythm that is reminiscient of the crackling of a fire or the unpredictable pop of resin as a pine branch burns. Still another track possessed arrhythmic pulses that particularly called to mind Mexican Jumping Beans (Apollo Records, 1999) by the Dutch composer and sound artist Paul Panhuysen (August 21, 1934 - January 29, 2015). We suppose this last inclusion relates to the element of life.
Ms. Grimal's contribution to the duet is no less varied than that of her collaborator. She too invokes an element, though in her case, it is the element of air manifesting as breath blowing in a way that evokes the possibility of whistling without fully realizing it. The last track features a short and sweet multi-tracked vocal harmony. In several other tracks, she reads from texts. Some of the passages are her own and some are extracts from the book Éloge des vagabondes (NIL, 2002) by Gilles Clément, a French gardener and author. An example is translated below.
Plants travel. Herbs especially.
They move in silence like the winds. You can't do anything against the wind.
When harvesting the clouds, we would be surprised to collect imponderable seeds mixed with loess,
fertile dust. In the sky already appear unpredictable landscapes.
As a final aside, this recording was used in a sound and visual installation: an inverted garden designed by Alexandra Grimal and produced in collaboration with the landscaper David Simonson, the videographer Antonia et Fritche and the musician Benjamin Lévy, from July 2, 2021 at the Center des Arts Numériques, Conventional Stage of National Interest Art & Creation in Enghien-les-Bains.
For those interested, a 2020 interview, The Efficient Thought-Opener of Joy: An Interview with Alexandra Grimal is available from the International Journal of Exploratory Meta-Living on a free and anonymous basis: here.