Pancrace – The Fluid Hammer 2LP
Music for Organous (spatialized and midi controlled pipe organ), Uilleann Pipes, Pi-Synth, Piano, Motorised Bow, Boîte à Bourdons, Gaida, Baroque Violin, Hurgy Toys, Toy Piano, Componium, Bodhran, Low Whistle, Bird Calls, AM-Radio and Shaker.
Pancrace is a quintet from France comprising Prune Bécheau, Arden Day, Julien Desailly, Léo Maurel and Jan Vysocky. Pancrace began with a residence in 2015 at the Saint Pancrace church in Dangolsheim where the instrument inventor Léo Maurel resides.
Pancrace’s debut self-titled double lp was released by Penultimate Press in 2017 and garnered much praise from across the community, ending up in many end of year lists including The Wire magazine’s best releases of that year.
Following the release of the double Pancrace vinyl the quintet toured around Europe. After the first record and subsequent tour the band were despondent that the main character of their story, the church organ, was not there. They took on tour some organ pipes, bird calls and other things which could recall the church organ but this intrinsic element was still missing. A series of meetings and chance encounters resulted in the band developing their own organ which they named “ORGANOUS”.
The approach of Pancrace is based on the physicality of sound, a choice of specific tone qualities within a given spatial contextual awareness. Therefore the manufacturing and usage of the musical instrument are constantly reassessed. Consequently, playing with the mechanical aspect of the instruments is central to their musical approach and narrative. Designing an unbound pipe organ – though emulating some of the mechanical idiomatics of the initial Pancrace church organ – seemed the obvious way to gain more spatial control over a vast choice of places. This allowed them to approach their music from a totally new angle and work from within the organ. The results of these experiments are captured here, on their second opus, Fluid Hammer.
“ During the 2017 OrgelFesl in Waldkirch, we discovered Wolfram Stuetzle’s workshop, he is a church organ maker. In his attic we discovered thousands of old pipes and other elements for organ making. It was here we had the idea we could one day have our own organ for Pancrace. Thanks to his help, we started to collect some parts in his attic. We also met another organ maker Stefan Freisen who gave us an old bellow which he used as a flower pot in his garden and I also bought some of his 80 year old electromagnets. In January 2018, we were all together in Marmoutier to discover the possibilities of MIDI controlled organs. A month later, the organ “ORGANOUS “ was built in my workshop.” – Léo Maurel
This new beast of an instrument, somewhere between a spider or an octopus, lead Pancrace to compose from the frontality of the instrument as well as with the interactive tone possibilities brought by other instruments. With its six panels display (two bass registers, two treble and a pair of crumhorns) the organ projects sound like the musique concrèt Acousmonium giving the listener a spatialised perception of a wide range of tones and harmonics. Unbounded, the pancrace people have achieved a whole new cosmos of sounds focusing on sources rather than reverberation. Here the ORGANOUS is both the process and the context.
Fluid Hammer is the result of the research and experiments undertaken with the ORGANOUS and other instruments. It takes flight from their debut unravelling new entrancing avenues of this unique outfits vision. Fluid Hammer is a more rhythmic and percussive affair than its predecessor, bringing to mind the experiments of Conlon Nancarrow as well as fairground barrel organs. The wide range of polyrhythmic patterns generates a constant tension between the machine and the human play.
During their recording on a sound stage in Albi the musicians noticed right in front of the theatre an old fashion shop selling water pumps from another age. Walking into the “Gaubert pumps” shop was like entering a time warp reflecting by an uncanny entanglement the layers of history the ORGANOUS encapsulates. The voices one can hear on Fluid Hammer are field recordings of the Gaubert father and son. The shop no longer exists, oddly.
Eschewing the more melancholic end of today’s ‘organ playing’ this is playful and bright with moments of mirth amongst the exotic new sound world Pancrace manifest.
The ORGANOUS has also been included in works by sound artist Tarek Atoui who commissioned Leo Maurel to manufacture an organ designed for hearing impaired people and Heiner Goebbels commissioned the instrument for his show, In Vivo Danse – CAMPING during the IRCAM Manifeste Festival 2018.
Throughout the double albums 17 tracks one is exposed to a wide variety of Pancrace potential along with the sprinkled conversation with the makers of the water pumps, (reproduced in English inside the sleeve). At once playful, intriguing, surprising and warm this is an exceptional sonic experience from one of today’s most exceptional units.