When the French composer Mathieu Karsenti is not busy writing music for film, TV and stage, he releases his own projects; often a platform for musical explorations. For his last release—Aitaké Suite for Solo Violin—Karsenti had dived into the Japanese tone clusters—known as aitaké—derived from the traditional instrument the Sho. It appears that these Asian influences have faded into the composer’s latest project—Movements—released at the beginning of the year. This release digs in the composer’s percussive, contrapuntal and textural concepts. In collaboration with percussionist Joe Martone and violinist Jordan Anne Martone, Karsenti performs his own original material, as well as reworks and homages to some of his musical inspirations.
Movements is divided in two parts; the choice of strongly percussive instruments—the marimba and the vibraphone—,more common ones—that are the violins—, and the piano—gluing everything together—represents a very interesting musical blend. At times, the instrumental selection shows similarities with the sound of the orchestrion. Karsenti’s music is often very contrapuntal, and with Movements the accent has been put on the rhythmic personalities of the instruments and the percussion patterns that emerge, as well as the textural capabilities of the instruments; creating altogether a very interesting musical dialogue.
The two surprises of Movements are Karsenti’s musical homages; Aria de la Pastorale After Bach and Gnossienne One After Satie. Both improvisations take basis in the original pieces. Of course, the orchestration of Satie’s work reminds us of Poulenc and Debussy’s arrangements—which were both tainted with Eastern sounds—however Karsenti’s work is more a recontextualisation of the piece through the composer’s language. The rework of Bach’s piece seems to add a sense of urbanicity—and to me a strong suggestive aspect—to an originally nature-influenced piece. It is a delightful surprise to see how the music of the Baroque composer adapts flawlessly to the different musical flavours of the composer.
Something Blue—which closes the album—is a short ternary piece that displays another approach to the percussive personalities of each instrument; with the use of pizzicati on the strings as well as extended piano techniques and of course the vibraphone and marimba.
Another important aspect of Karsenti’s releases is the artwork for Movements, which has been done by the composer. A remaining of his past as a visual artist and wink to his French origins, the artwork for Movements features a digital collage of the Pompidou centre that reflects the composer’s musical intentions; layered, contrapuntal and polyrhythmic. It is no surprise that Karsenti’s music is strongly cinematic and suggestive. However, the composer always leaves enough imaginative and emotional space for the listener to trigger his own images. It is a very successful project that shows that musical explorations and the desire to please the listener’s ears are not incompatible and complement each other very well.