By now, everyone is familiar with the fruits of digital sequencing. I’m talking about what happens when you take individual electronic sounds and put them in some sort of organization of pitch, rhythm, and other musical nuance. While many argue that sequenced music lacks the integrity of being actual music played by actual humans, instead being the derivation of a far more intellectual process, it’s an argument that is never conclusive in any respect. After all, it’s given us a diverse selection of sounds, from brainless dancefloor thumping to rarefied unstructured clicks and grinds, and many tangents in between.
So — along comes Pierre Bastien, who in Mecanoid gives us a glimpse of analog sequencing. Bastien builds contraptions out of Erector sets (known as “Mecano” in Europe) and then sets them loose on a variety of instruments, like pianos, castanets, steel drums and some other, more exotic types. Bastien embellishes these brief loops of deterministic activity with his own playing, notably on a variety of keyboards and trumpet, but also on some exotic instruments of his own like godje and sanzas. It’s a subtle but engaging effect — the capacity of the mechanical players is brief, a few notes at best — but Bastien builds solidly on this foundation, moving Mecanoid far beyond the status of novelty record and more into a thought-provoking experiment.
Interestingly enough, all the tracks on here have palindromic names. “Deep Speed” blends chattering rhythmic rattles, actuated Casiotones, and robotic DJ scratching, with Bastien’s soulful jazz trumpet. This stands in stark contrast to tracks like “Avid Diva,” where a mechanical piano riff is cleverly modulated through the use of sanzas (an African thumb piano) and kundi (a sort of harp, as near as I can tell). My only complaint is the lack of video material on this disc; this is something I’d love to see in action.