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High Altitudes for Richard Pinhas

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For over three decades, Richard Pinhas has been recognized as one of France's bravest innovators in the field of electronic music. His work with his band Heldon forged groundbreaking unity between electronics and rock, heralding the industrial and techno genres. His solo recordings are considered masterpieces of electronic composition, wherein he induces the guitar to produce sounds that can only be described as inherently un-guitar-like.

He continues to dazzle with his recent accomplishments.

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RICHARD PINHAS: Tranzition (CD on Cuneiform Records)

This release from 2004 offers 62 minutes of intense ambience.

Guitar maestro and electronic virtuoso Pinhas is joined on this recording by: Philippe Simon on violin, Jerome Schmidt on laptop, and Antoine Paganotti on drums.

Be forewarned: although Pinhas can belt out a savage riff, the majority of his guitarwork here is textural and quite trance-like. Cycling loops generate a lush fog of growling sound, not unlike a horde of remote bees the size of houses. These loops cascade and ebb, producing an effect like clouds buffeted in a languid surf. This surf builds, in complexity, in volume, in emotion, immersing the audience in a churning environment. Attention and concentration become slaves of this sonic tide, stimulated or sedated by the temperament of the harmonic flow.

This surf grows to incredible density. Add to it: drumming, agitating the weaving billows with rhythms that generate a dynamic propulsion to the buzzing tension. Quite durable and engaging, the percussion is forceful and insistent, lending the music an urgency.

Tapes of a lecture on the structure of novels play a vital role in one track, injecting humanity to the synthetic soundscape. Another track features voices that are too garbled to discern meaning; they function purely as another instrument, adding a chittering squeal to the impenetrable milieu.

Swimming in all this is violin: savage and liquid. Isolating the violin from the morass can be difficult, for it blends with the guitar effects like reunited twins separated at birth.

The same can be said for Pinhas' electronics. The guitar treatments are so extreme as to defy codification as "guitar", making it awkward to differentiate these sounds from traditional electronics. This hidden exchange makes for a homogenous unity in the music, but it is an enticing similarity, one that enhances instead of inducing duplication. The result is akin to placing the listener in the midst of a sonic duel that is so furious that no conflict is detectable. Everything flows into a communion of grand sound that can be rather exhausting.

Comparisons can be made to Fripp's frippertronic recordings. But Pinhas has flavored his music with a degree of seething drama and raw intensity that elevates it to another level. Although hardly teeth-grinding, this music is far from passive. Nor is it dark or foreboding, inspiring instead a sense of expansive growth that promises no limitation.

Overall, this recording reveals an evolution for Pinhas, taking his grinding ambience to heights that leave other people's pinnacles buried in earthbound mists. A soaring freedom permeates this music, a sentiment that is heavily laced with inspirational portends, leaving the listener's mind opened and receptive to new ideas and innovative approaches.

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