Missy Mazzoli, the young composer who writes the music for the all-female modern classical ensemble Victoire, seems to have a private line on mute anxiety, on quietly nagging uncertainty, and on the four short pieces that comprise the Door Into the Dark EP, she taps it with effortlessness bordering on the uncanny. Her urgent, enigmatic songs feel like 3AM dispatches garbled by a bad connection, with only the occasional loaded phrase puncturing the static. The… read more »
Missy Mazzoli, the young composer who writes the music for the all-female modern classical ensemble Victoire, seems to have a private line on mute anxiety, on quietly nagging uncertainty, and on the four short pieces that comprise the Door Into the Dark EP, she taps it with effortlessness bordering on the uncanny. Her urgent, enigmatic songs feel like 3AM dispatches garbled by a bad connection, with only the occasional loaded phrase puncturing the static. The band's combination of chittering electronics, found sound and repetitive string and woodwind lines eloquently conjures how it feels to helplessly grope for words that don't exist to describe disquiet we can't place, how it feels to be left alone with only the colors of our own thoughts for company. Victoire live in the up-close dots of a Seurat painting, the point where a seemingly clear picture dissolves into incomprehensibility. You can squint and focus, but the harder you train your gaze, the further everything breaks apart.
The five-piece group — rounded out by Eileen Mack on clarinet, Lorna Krier on keyboards/electronics, Eleonore Oppenheim on bass and Olivia De Prato on violin — exists in a nebulous area between indie, chamber pop and modern classical. Many of the groups currently floating in this sphere use their lack of genre simply as an excuse to write vague, underdeveloped music, but Victoire turn indeterminacy to an advantage. Structurally speaking, a song like "I Am Coming for My Things" is made of nothing: it is built on a terse, flat voicemail message from an utterly defeated-sounding woman ("I am coming for my things …I don't have any money"), scored with the flutter of a single violin, the ghost of a cello and a softly keening clarinet. That is (mostly) it, save for an equal-parts violent and beatific meltdown at the two-minute mark. And yet the piece hums with the exquisitely alive awareness of a Webern miniature, each voice calling out, profoundly alone, into the cavernous white space surrounding it.
"Door Into the Dark" finds a similar allure in ambiguity, both harmonic and emotional. De Prato's violin delicately walks up and down the same five steps with a hesitant, reiterative rhythm, as if continually correcting itself mid-thought. Mack's clarinet floats somewhere in tonal limbo behind it, sounding long, yearning low notes, before both trail off unexpectedly, leaving behind only the watery keys, which feel like the last traces of a dream, the vague shapes that remain after your eyes open and the details have fled your consciousness.
The dark-horse element that gives Victoire's soundscapes their teeth and texture is undoubtedly Lorna Krier's mesmerizing keyboards and electronics. On "Like A Miracle," a fluttering, processed "aah" that pans left and right is both captivating and disorienting, like sunlight glittering on water. Then, a distorted MIDI piano wells up from the background and slowly devours the track whole. On "A Song For Arthur Russell," an insistent tapping somewhere between Morse code and a clacking typewriter beats away while keyboards, clarinet and processed vocals pulse in the foreground. Like all the songs on this beguiling EP, it urges you to lean forward, to decode the message just out of earshot. But there is no secret, nothing that needs unlocking, just four gorgeous and inscrutable pieces of music worth puzzling over.