François J. Bonnet & Stephen O'Malley Cylene

François J. Bonnet & Stephen O'Malley Cylene
6
Given that Cylene is in part the creation of doom metal pioneer Stephen O'Malley, it comes as a surprise that this project doesn't bear the same levels of abrasion or viscerality as something from the Sunn O))) discography. By contrast, this LP is dissonant and highly introspective.
 
This change of tone is attributable to the influence of composer, scholar and audio artist François J. Bonnet, whose work on this project brings with it a backlog of philosophical and theoretical viewpoints related to the act of listening.
 
Taking influence from the French poststructuralists in his 2016 book The Order of Sounds: A Sonorous Archipelago, Bonnet characterises listening as an imposition of pre-formed ideology, rather than simply an experiential act. When we hear music, we are actually engaging with pre-formed notions of what we are about to hear before we even hear it.
 
Cylene seems to want to enact these concepts, but with mixed results. The LP is littered with divergent sounds that, rather than encouraging free exploration, leave the listener to piece together some tangible meaning from the album's many loose ends.
 
Where the project is more successful is in its opening cuts. The second track, "Erosion Always Wins," opens with O'Malley's characteristic guitar fuzz pitched at a neutral register. Yet, in contradistinction to the song's title, the guitar tones oscillate freely between minor and major, providing the listener with a contradictory sense of both chaos and clarity.
 
On its second half, Cylene fails to escape the trappings of conventional tones and registers. "Tephras" surrounds O'Malley's fuzz guitar with ambient sounds of whispering voices; it's a jarring, and slightly on the nose, attempt at creating a haunting atmosphere. Furthermore, the final cut "Des Pas Dans Les Cendres" shifts into bare organ keys, which creates a striking imbalance with the first half of the track.
 
Cylene is an ambitious yet uneven project. Much of the album has a sense of dread that feels too clear in its intention in spite of the theory that came before. While the album discourages attempts to find clarity in chaos, some listeners will be left scrabbling for any sense of meaning. (Editions Mego)