ZAKÈ & BENOÎT PIOULARD
Happy Holidays, Dear Listeners, and a Merry Christmas (to all who celebrate)! Joseph here for a special holiday feature, spotlighting a special surprise Christmas Eve release from our friends at Past Inside the Present.
While I’m not exactly what you’d call a “believer,” let alone a practicing anything, I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, and like many Americans I have many positive associations with Christmastime. I’ve always especially loved Christmas Eve: The Feast of the Seven Fishes, Midnight Mass, and the general sense of anticipation that defines the eve of anything. There’s something uniquely pleasurable in waiting. Once Christmas has actually arrived, and that sense of anticipation has been diffused, I feel quite melancholic, the next one is a year away. But Christmas Eve lets us have it both ways, celebrating in the moment while still eagerly awaiting the main event.
ZAKÈ & BENOÎT PIOULARD ~ eve
Zach Frizzell has built up an impressive discography as zakè in a few short years, exploring orchestral music in various guises, often in blurred out ambient drones. He is also the man behind Past Inside the Present, a label which has distinguished itself for their expansive catalog of immersive music, with acts including Black Swan, marine eyes, City of Dawn, From Overseas, and James Bernard, all of whom I’ve written about over the last few years. Zakè Drone has been the place for his own projects, often in collaboration with artists from his wider circle. Thomas Meluch, better known by his moniker Benoît Pioulard, has contributed his Polaroid photographs to the artwork of many Past Inside the Present releases, as well as beautifully evocative press releases, and more recently has had a handful of releases on PITP. But the two have only previously collaborated musically on “A Breath” from zakè’s Remembrance (2022), an album which included many guests and reworks beyond its core eight solo tracks. So this surprise full-length is truly a gift, nearly an hour of music between two great artists.
We’ve often mused on what makes a successful collaboration, but the truth is the best collaborations have a kind of magic to them that can’t be planned or replicated, and eve has that feeling of unforced serendipity. Drawing on years of sonic fragments from his archive, zakè laid out the foundation upon which Pioulard arranged his contributions, ranging from tape-processed guitar, dulcimer, melodica, synthesizer, and of course his voice, which is such a defining part of much of his music. And yet for most of the 52 minutes that comprise eve, these elements remain muffled and indistinguishable, allowing for the elusive third to emerge from the synthesis of its two creators. Because ultimately it’s less about them than the enveloping sonic space they’ve conjured.
The three longform drones that comprise eve channel the peaceful quietude of a long snow-blanked December night. Silence is never truly silent, if you know how to listen, and eve reveals its complexities slowly, like the subtle differences in shades of snow and shadow. Opener “eve” is a 16-minute drift through rising and falling sonic landscapes, grounded in deep swells of bass and gentle ambience, evoking the peaceful anticipation of its namesake. The chiming bells of “frost” are more clearly discernible against the solemn clouds of Pioulard’s voice, subtly shifting from back- to foreground as the hypnotic shimmers erase all sense of time. Like frost forming on the window, there is a structure here that at closer inspection reveals infinite variety across its chilly patterns.
These two pieces exhibit such a beautiful formal symmetry that they alone would constitute a perfectly competent album, but the pair are not done yet. The majestic final track “pine” unfurls across 20-minutes of profundity, from deep roots to clear skies. While still composed of slow-moving streaked tones, there is a relative urgency to “pine,” like the deceptive rush of a frozen river or windswept tundra. Here Pioulard’s dulcimer has its attack blunted but not its momentum, a plethora of thin needles oscillating between individual simplicity and complex collective identity. Instead of resolving at 16 minutes as do the prior two tracks, “pine” declines gently, its base crumbling away leaving gorgeous high tones to ring out melodically, akin to viewing the crystal blue sky contrasted against the edge of a snow-blanketed treeline.
As we’ve come to expect from Past Inside the Present, eve is joyful music to get lost in that rewards both attentive listening and blissful abandon. The digital edition also includes all three compositions in a convenient 52 minute “❆unfurled mix❆”, for those who might prefer the entire album without even the slightest interruption.
While we have long been fan of Benoît Pioulard’s work as a singer-songwriter, my personal favorite of his catalogue is the instrumental album Benoît Honoré Pioulard Plays Thelma (2011). Recorded at home, it marries unhurried loops with deliberate and attentive soundcrafting, presenting the best of the quotidien experiments freed from expectation. Perhaps there’s something of that spirit animating Pioulard’s collaboration with zakè, just drawn out more patiently here on eve.
One of my earliest sonic memories is of the altar bells at Sunday Mass, which as a child I mistook for a literal manifestation of divine presence. And so, the discovery that this joyous sound was performed by those sneaky altar boys is one of my earliest disenchantments. Nonetheless, the notion that sound makes audible that which is otherwise imperceptible has stayed with me, as has some small hope of re-enchanting the world. Besides, the shared experience of listening to those bells still serves a socially unifying function, creating a commons that easily exceeds the religious. Listening to eve, I’m reminded of this capacity that sound has for creating social spaces, for bringing us into relation with one another, sharing in joy and sorrow, celebrating the hope of what tomorrow may bring.