Jez Riley French - salts | adagios (Engraved Glass)



1. tuning
2. prelude
3. adagio
4. soliloquy
5. returning
6. sostenuto

Note: "prelude" is not available to stream but is present on the full digital album after purchase

The general conceit of salts | adagios will not surprise anyone familiar with Jez Riley French's works. He's once again interested in capturing "audible silence," utilizing his custom contact microphones and geophones here to record the resonances of architectural spaces. The distinguishing element of this record is that he employs orchestras and ensembles, having them play "re-scored" adagios as French gathers the resulting sounds that escape into the building itself. The result is charming: a sensuous experience of architecture by way of music.

Given the context, one would presume that the album's liner notes would indicate the names of those who performed the modified adagios. It doesn't, and French hints at a possible explanation on the Bandcamp page. Recording halls were unwilling to have their names mentioned on previous recordings from the series as this risked tarnishing the highly touted "acoustic accuracy" of these spaces. As such, one may conclude that a listing of performers could spoil these specific locales, and is why their names are absent. Whatever the reason, it has the fortuitous side effect of eliminating the record's human component, directing listeners to the musical phenomena at play in these buildings. 

The image of a particular architectural space devoid of any people grants the album a slightly haunting tone. It brings to mind Nikolaus Geyrhalter's Homo Sapiens and Tsai Ming-liang's Goodbye, Dragon Inn. In those films, one is subjected to static shots of abandoned places, forced to consider the humans whose imprints are destined to remain there, untouched. Likewise, the sounding of instrumentation on salts adagios enters into the space's walls and ground as if to become enclosed in amber, the musical detritus therein waiting to be unearthed. In other words, the performers are unknown, but their impact is felt.

When listening to salts | adagios, one is also likely to recall the films of Heinz Emigholz. In his recent masterwork Parabeton, Emigholz presents image after image of famous Italian structures—the Pantheon, the Baths of Caracalla, Hadrian's Villa—and the works of architect Pier Luigi Nervi. As with the large majority of his filmography, he eschews long takes despite keeping his camera still. The relatively swift succession of images wash over the viewer, allowing one to soak in the architectural work on a sensorial level. Emigholz understands that the best way to create a filmic autobiography is to have people appreciate architecture in its mediality. We may not get a complete understanding of these buildings' utility (made clear by the near-absence of people onscreen), but the emotional heft of a building's curvature, the color of concrete, or the geometric patterns utilized is deeply felt. This exact experience may not technically be what's present on salts adagios, but the intimacy of these recordings (informed both by its techniques and the resulting sounds) feels comparable.

Ultimately, the reading of salt | adagios as haunting and intimate comes from its source material. The instrumentation, specifically refitted for "durational performances", generates diaphanous drones. These tracks bear a resemblance to similar projects, such as Jacob Kirkegaard's Conversion, but they're also not worlds away from the chilling landscapes of Thomas Köner or the saccharine ambience of artists like Christine Vantzou and Kyle Bobby Dunn. While the music is undeniably pleasant, it's primarily the process behind it that arouses intrigue. That French is still accomplishing such a feat decades into his career is a testament to two things: his fondness and ear for careful listening, and the wealth of sound that lay hidden all around us.


*Note: shortly after this review was posted, Jez Riley French posted the following note on the album's Bandcamp page:

due to the complicated issues around permission naming the ensembles would be problematic, as it would give away locations. However I can reveal that all but one involved UK based ensembles, some at Universities and that the sessions were held as part of either workshops or informal, privately arranged exploratory sessions. I am grateful to all of the musicians for their time and for allowing this release without their names appearing, for now at least.