MICHAEL GENDREAU : 55 Pas De La Ligne Au Nº3
23five002, Compact Disc
published in 2002
$12.98, plus shipping

Composer and sound researcher Michael Gendreau posits that his lengthy, if understated career in the amorphous arena of the underground noise culture purposefully avoids the attachments to any stylistic concerns in music: "I don't think it is possible to identify an illogical aesthetic goal, and reach it by logical deterministic means." Such has been the case for his solo work as well as his collaboration with Suzanne Dycus in Crawling With Tarts. In both instances, Gendreau's compositional techniques center on the actualization of conceptual agendas through the repression of the recognizability of any particular tool, medium, or instrument. It is an important distinction to make between repression and disguising, as Gendreau and Crawling With Tarts have been quite forthcoming in what instrumentations and mediums they have decided upon, sometimes emerging as surreal anti-pop, ‘operas’ culled from antique 78s, or microsymphanies constructed from 9-volt motors.

Gendreau has constructed his most recent work, 55 Pas De La Ligne Au Nº3, entirely on several turntables, a very common tool within Gendreau’s catalogue. Immediately upon listening to this album, it will become apparent that any associations to fellow Bay Area wax wizards as Mixmaster Mike or Q-Bert should be tossed out the window. This album doesn’t even have many similarities to such avant-turntablists as Janek Schaefer or Philip Jeck. Rather, Gendreau actively seeks out the rarely considered sonic spaces within the confines of the record player itself. This micro-space is alive with the muffled whirrings of motors quietly spiraling in place and the delicate precision of belts and gears designed to make as little noise as possible. Gendreau amplifies such spaces through the use of accelerometers—technical devices used detect very minute vibrations with a far greater sensitivity than the more commonly used piezo-electric contact microphones. When Gendreau inevitably drops the needle on the record, the whole cavity of the turntable resonates with those vibrations inscribed within the vinyl. For this album, Gendreau relies upon run-out grooves and the hissing crackle of antique vinyl with only the tiniest of references to any appropriated sounds or cultural ready-mades, which appear as merely as quiet upsurge of incomprehensible voices. Compositionally speaking, Gendreau is at his best on 55 Pas De La Ligne Au Nº3, as the album constantly shifts through subtle passages that incrementally increase up to a crescendo of nervous squeals and squalid whistles from his overworked turntable


The Sound Projector
Issue 11, 2003

For this release, Californian sound artist Gendreau has modified old record-players and souped them up like custom cars - what we're hearing is a slowly rotating vinyl disk with a heavy old tonearm, to produce a monstrous grind. He has no interest whatsoever in the content of the records. All he wants is the 'dead' part of the pressing, resulting in a kind of pure inertness. The equipment sometimes howls in protest at this maltreatment, but what can be done about it? Nothing! It's a simple process art that totally transcends its methods of production, and offers a glimpse of something beyond, something bizarrely affecting. It may not be an entirely heart-warming vision. When I first saw the cover photo of this 'blackly' packaged release, I assumed immediately that it depicted an awful abyss of doom.. and endless culvert running underneath the very bowels of Hades. I couldn't wait to hear the abysmal sonic message that might accompany this despatch from such a darkened, Saturnine realm.

Of course, the cover photo is nothing of the sort - merely a close-up of the micro-grooves of distressed old 78 RPM records, one of the artefacts abused by Gendreau in pursuit of his diabolical aims. But nothing dispels the oppressive feeling generated by this relentless sound-art... of the two long tracks, "Two Worlds For Now" is certainly aligned with the school of thought that desires to bury the listener alive in smothering layers of oppressive, heavy sound. A claustrophobia-inducing sensation begins in the ears and quickly spreads to the entire body. Don't play this on a winter's night when you're snowed in at home, or cabin fever will set in immediately. The title work, which combines a sense of ruthless mathematical precision and somehow suggests an ultra-efficient railroad engineer measuring damage to his tracks, comprises at least two or more of these turntable experiments running simultaneously, or overdubbed in the studio, and thus produces a slightly more sonically varied effect. Powerful stuff - the single idea is squeezed for everything it's got.

Gendreau would probably appreciate my mistaken apprehension of the cover photo, as "repression of the recognizability of any particular tool, medium, or instrument" is what he's all about. Apparantly, he's produced entire operas and miniature symphonies with Suzanne Dycus in Crawling With Tarts, using only sets of old 78 records and 9-volt motors. But never has the source been cunningly disguised in an attempt to 'fool' the listener - it's just rendered into something totally unfamiliar. Besides exploring unused 'dead spaces' on his records, he also amplifies the motors, gears, and belts, and gears of his old turntables using devices called accelerometers. These are far more sensitive than boring old contact mics, so the slightest bump or mistake in the process causes sonic havoc - "when Gendreau inevitably drops the needle on the record, the whole cavity of the turntable resonates with those vibrations inscribed in the vinyl," says the press release, audibly slavering with delight. For real fetishists, close-up full-colour photographs of the modified turntables are included in the CD booklet, presented with a near-pornographic attention to detail... cor, check out the tone-arm on that! As the press release points out, this work has nothing whatever to do with DJ turntabling, nor does it align itself with the avant-turntabling artists such as Jesse Paul Miller, Philip Jeck, or Christian Marclay, all of whom have some interest (no matter how remote) in the content of the original records they use. Nor does Gendreau share the passion that Climax Golden Twins have for old, scratchy 78 records and the ghostly voices from the past that float off them - this record is all about machinery, rotation, and industrial grind; and it ploughs its narrow furrow with single-minded purpose. - Ed Pinsent

The Wire
November 2002, Issue 225

San Francisco-based Michael Gendreau is most widely known as a member of the surface-noise duo Crawling With Tarts. On his current soundwork, he plumbs the secret frequencies of seasoned audio hardware, its hum and rumble, and the ratchieting and cranking that lurk within the mechanisms of antiquated turntables. An acoustic diagnostician by profession, he applies new technology to old, retrieving a subliminal soundworld of listening history.

Beyond archaeology and a firm grasp of the physics of vibration, his art of noises involves discovery of forms. The opening "Two Worlds For Now" has a murmuring drone and clicking switches; it thickens, creaks, and mimics animal cries before settling into a mechanical groove until abruptly halted when someone cuts the power supply. The long title track imports deep drone otherness into the zone of vinyl splatter and hiss. A grey ghost of turntablism is submerged in squalls of distortion and interference. But the noise is primary. Appearing like traces on decaying Edison cylinders, human voices vary the texture and add decoration. The real substance springs from the equipment's repetitive purr, revolutionary churnings, shock assaults, and shrill emissions. There may be an underlying family resemblance to the 'threshold of audibility' school of exploratory electronica, but Gendreau's choice of spindle and drive belt, rather than microelectronics, brings refreshingly graphic results. - Julian Cowley
October 6, 2002

This record is nothing if not meditative.

While pushing the normally suppressed and inaudible whirs and clicks of the mechanical innards of your favorite turntable into the foreground, Michael Gendreau has curiously pushed the attention on the actual sound output of his recording to the back. My zen-like state of concentration aside, it was virtually impossible for me to listen to the opening piece (one of two long tracks that makes up the album) without wondering where the sounds came from, how they were recorded, and what this all said about listening to the playback device instead of the playback. The use of a turntable to produce sounds other than those reproduced from a vinyl record is far from novel, but Gendreau spends a full 16:50 trying to beat the idea of these hidden sounds into our head. A constant drone that could be the inside of the tone arm amplified to a low roar, reminded me a great deal of the results of a naive experiment I once conducted by placing a microphone in front of a fan and letting it record for half an hour. It's interesting for about two minutes, then you realize that your ears have intentionally filtered this kind of sound out all of your life for a reason: it's boring. The second (and longer) of the two pieces finds Gendreau more actively affecting the results of his micro-scale recordings. Clocking in at 35:45, it's still not a piece for anyone deeply engaged in the Nintendo Generation, and the piece could easily be broken into smaller, more digestible segments. Structurally, it works like listening to a record as the record player's various internal sound quirks are explored episodically like grooves in a record that isn't there. The absent needle and wax are referenced in the way the track picks up an idea, exploits a sound or natural rhythm for a while, then drops the idea and skips onto the next. After nearly an hour of listening for the compositional touch that Gendreau added to make these more than simple field recordings, I came to realize that maybe the music was not, in itself, the point. The only question that remains for me is this: why wasn't this released on vinyl? - Matthew Jeanes

March 2002, Issue 5

speaking of rather droning & noise stuff… well, 23five inc, offered us recently 2 new additions in its releases catalogue. The first one being 55 pas de la ligne au no 3 by michael gendreau known to most of you as a member of the us crawling with tarts outfit. a project who in my opinion had a more allow me to say "sophisticated" sort of experimental sound which you either loved or hated till their memorable "motorini elettrici" 2x7" on the us gyttja label a few years ago which was one of their greatest releases up to date (& highly recommended as well). 55 pas… was recorded between 00-01 using as a main source turntables or to be more specific, old turntables’s motors in order to create his soundscapes… being as well into manipulated turntables sounds too am always interested in listening such experiments and concerning michael’s case must admit that I found the result stunning enough. michael manages to create a unique ambiance w/ the manipulated sounds of the motors, sometimes droning where some sort of scratches of vinyls, etc sounded more as if coming from a distance (something which I fancied a lot in this case) or at others despite the manipulated (& more noisy) result I had the feeling of a more primitive sound coming out of it, a detail which personally attracts me, cos as I mentioned above am dying for such "bizarre" or "primitive" (or even call it "naïve," "static" or whatever) sounds created either by turntables themselves or vinyls "melted" on turntables. so worked out for me as a mesmerizing release…

Undergound Studios
republished through Igloo Magazine, Rewound Vol. 1

23five Incorporated is a San Francisco non-profit organization founded in 1993 and dedicated to the education and discussion of sound as a medium in the public arena. This is the first of two releases by the label this year and certainly heightens one's awareness of the possibilities in the ongoing dialogue of sound and its infinite sources. On his debut solo effort, Bay Area experimenter Michael Gendreau (Crawling With Tarts), is in fine form (or reduction of it so to speak). The two track set includes Two Worlds for Now, a disconnected horizon line whose plug gets pulled at its conclusion. While exploring the unexpected potential of turntable motors and mechanisms Gendreau has ruptured some preconceptions of tools underneath which would ordinarily be used to listen to any old vinyl. This deconstructionist approach to undersized sound makes for a recording that is almost, in essence, what is "left" of sound, the resonance. This is an atypical ambient release, with a low-end sizzle and hum in a vacuous space with minor mechanical goings-on. In its puzzling bellows, the 35-minute title track leads the listener astray as it rambles in its physics and amplified world of micro-sound. Here there are hints of data transfer and voice channeling that has at once a startling approach and tectonic finish. The repetitive churning of teeny motorized units, in their climbing, distorted frequencies will have you hanging on each transition. Some of the finer sources play with the idea of scale, while at times these palm-sized worlds grow into 300 foot tall super coasters, and in moments they are again transformed smaller than a pinhead. 23five is ready to challenge our ears with visionary work that pushes the barriers of the noise/sound envelope. - TJ Norris