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Mika Vainio/Franck Vigroux - Ignis EP Music Album Reviews

On the second album to result from a two-year collaboration between late electronic pioneer Mika Vainio and French composer Franck Vigroux, the most striking moments are also the most elemental.

Between 2012 and 2014, French composer Franck Vigroux and the late electronic pioneer Mika Vainio generated a wealth of collaborative material. In live sessions and at Vigroux’s studio in the South of France, Vigroux’s electroacoustic experiments (which sometimes expand into other mediums, including performance) and Vainio’s relentless electronics intersected in a searing place. In 2015, two years before Vainio passed away, they released a collection of these tracks as Peau froide, léger soleil, a blistering album that conjured an atmosphere similar to the dystopian aesthetic Vigroux was concurrently exploring in his solo work.

Ignis is the second, and perhaps not the last, compilation of material from this two-year project. Some of the heaviness of Peau froide has dispersed on this release, but even where the sounds the pair generates have shed some weight, a resolute intensity remains. Its compositions move toward experiments in dynamic and presence that ultimately reconfigure the listener’s relationship to the basic sonic building blocks of that intensity.

The six tracks comprising Ignis are largely without traditional structure, and they vary in the textures and sounds they incorporate such that there’s never quite a unifying palette. In the case of so many other experiments based in live collaboration, a sense of the participants’ curiosity will provide a structureless outing with its internal logic. But the assertiveness with which Vainio and Vigroux navigate leaps in frequency, or from claustrophobic hiss to echoing expanse, indicates that these artists already know their way around this uneven ground—or at least are coolly unsurprised when the floor gives way beneath them.

The album’s opening track, “Brume,” introduces relatively gentle modulating tones that form a sound somewhere on the outskirts of minimal techno. Dread-suffused drones swirl in, trailing long shadows behind them. “Ne te retourne pas” follows a similar path of submersion, beginning with a pairing of high and low frequencies, then slowly filling the chasm between them with a churning mix of crackling and razor-edged prismatic sounds. Though the record goes on to incorporate more conspicuously harsh textures (on “Luxure,” for example, there’s a measured onslaught of violent mechanical noise), the silences that open up are just as essential and intentional here as the pulses of sound they punctuate.

These studies in absence allow detail to come to the fore; many of the most striking moments on Ignis are the most elemental (it’s fitting that the album’s title is the Latin word for “fire”). Delicate—but never precious—microtones feel like nothing more than dry wisps of electricity. A heavily vocoded vocal on “Un peu après le soleil” is a jarring, if illegible, evocation of language amid a field of near-total abstraction. When a melodic string sound enters at the tail end of “Luceat lux,” a faint hint of color threading in among grayscale texture, it feels like a revelation.

Concerned as it is with fundamental components and the spatial presence of sound, Ignis moves with ease between its emotional and sculptural impulses. As is often my experience with Vainio’s solo work, I find it impossible to listen to music that sounds this cold without reading dread, anger, negativity—and perhaps without experiencing fear at the strangeness of it all, something I’m fairly certain neither Vainio nor Vigroux, who produce and sustain these sounds at a deliberate, exploratory pace, felt.

Though they’re hardly the point, those dark sensations aren’t necessarily irrelevant; rather, they’re another set of elemental components among the many at play on Ignis. And over the course of these six tracks, a reshaping of our associations with such pieces occurs. This transformation coalesces in closer “Feux,” an epic that feels deliriously full after the experiments in restraint that precede it. Vainio and Vigroux’s path to maximalism is an uncommon one, a glowing flame aware of the singe left in its wake.

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