In the Constellation canon, there were four originators: Godspeed You Black Emperor were orchestral, Do Make Say Think were jazzy, and A Silver Mt Zion had vocals. But Fly Pan Am was the weirdest one—the played with noise, they broke up their songs, they deconstructed their own work and, especially novel to me, everything was in French on the discs.
Roger Tellier-Craig, the main force behind FPA was in GYBE as well. So he knows post-rock.
Their debut album is a long affair–an hour’s worth of music (in all of 5 songs) taken from two different recording sessions. (All translated titles are taken from Wikipedia).
“L’espace au sol est redessiné par d’immenses panneaux bleus…” (“The Floorspace Is Redesigned by Huge Blue Signs…”) is a 13 minute song. There’s ringing noises as a simple melody is plucked out. The full instrumentation kicks in adding a repetitive guitar line that seems to fall into the background behind the opening notes that are still playing out. The guitar lines slowly gets longer and longer, almost like a game of Simon. By around 6 minutes the song has built up a serious head of steam with the bass and drums moving quickly and the guitar getting really complex. By 7 minutes that pretty guitar has turned into a ringing feedback skronking solo which carries on for a minute or so before fading back. At around 9 minutes the song seems to retreat on itself again. The guitars fade away and the bass seems to get a bit louder with the guitars ringing out. The last minute or so resumes a kind of noisy static sound that tells you the song is over. That’s a heck of an introduction.
“…Et aussi l’éclairage de plastique au centre de tout ces compartiments latéraux” (“…And Also the Lighting of Plastic in the Center of All Its Lateral Compartments”) is a 9 minute song that opens with more scorching guitars and rumbling bass. The guitar switches back and forth between a two note melody and a chord (dissonant, of course). The other guitar then plays a different three note melody. About 2:30 in some noisy feedback and samples start taking over the song. All the music drops away except for the bass. By 3:15, all the music had dropped out and its just noisy effects and feedback and then outer space sounds. After about 4 minutes of that (yes, indeed) the bass comes back in playing a kind of discoey rhythm with the guitar supplying a dancey counterpoint which runs to the end of the song. It’s their first song where something really catchy is utterly dismantled by noise.
“Dans ses cheveux soixante circuits” (“In Her Hair Are Sixty Circuits”) is 17 minutes long (!) and is one of the most abrasive songs I can recall. The song opens with both guitars each playing a two-note melody which rotates through a round. They sound lovely together as the bass and drums play a slow rhythm. The melody changes a few times and then by around 3 and a half minutes the main guitar line grows faster (6 notes instead of 2) and the background feels a bit more tense. And then at 5:46, the whole song seems to get stuck on repeat. The bass plays a 2 note rhythm, the drums play the same pattern and the two guitars each play one note over and over. And over. Evidently it’s “a half-tone interval.” And this goes on for 12 minutes. TWELVE! The only differences through this whole section come from the digitalia of guest electronic musician Alexandre St-Onge, but they are the most unobtrusive electronics I’ve ever heard and just seem to bubble and prickle gently onto the repetition. It’s maddening and then trance-like and then maddening all over again. How can they play the same thing for twelve minutes—and their rhythm remains perfect?
“Bibi à nice, 1921” (“Bibi Nice, 1921”) opens with noises and feedback (which is a nice break from the 12 minutes of repetitiveness. But you soon realize that that’s all you’re getting (aside from some distant rumbling noise in the background). It’s a very silent song. For four minutes (out of ten) and then the full band kicks in for a really rocking section—great guitar lines and propulsive bass and drums. But after two minutes, the sound drops out entirely—pure silence (enough to make you assume the disc froze). It slowly returns after 20 seconds–they are messing with us again. At 7 minutes a new guitar line comes in—slow and pretty with a slow drum beat. A solo plays over the top—it is primarily electronic, and sounds pretty cool. The guitars start playing louder and the song feels like it’s going to build up into something huge, but it soon ends and turns into….
“Nice est en feu!” (“Nice Is on Fire!”) seems like it should be connected to the previous song, but it starts off very different with big bass notes playing a very slow riff. The guitar starts playing a nice accompanying riff. At 3 minutes in, voices come in singing Ahhs in a nice melody. The liner notes say that Kara Lacy and Norsola Johnson do vocals on “Bibi à nice, 1921” and “Nice est en feu!” but I didn’t hear any vocals on “Bibi.” At 4:30 the guitar line turns to something else and there’s suddenly a whole bunch of noise flooding the track—sounds of water rushing, maybe—but that goes away and a new melody (slightly dissonant) resumes. With about a minute left the voices resume—angelic and soaring over the rumbling song. It ends this weird disc on a very pretty note.
I love the crazy stuff that Fly Pan Am creates, even if some of it is hard to listen to.
[READ: February 23, 2016] Templar
I had actually started to read this graphic novel before Prince of Persia. But when I saw in the introduction that Mechner talks about Prince of Persia, I decided to grab that one and read it first. The two have nothing to do with each other, but sometimes it’s nice to get things on order.
Who doesn’t love stories about the Templar knights? The whole premise of the National Treasure is predicated on them after all. Not to mention, The Da Vinci Code and the book that he says far surpasses all Templar stories: Foucault’s Pendulum [RIP Umberto Eco].
So Jordan Mechner has done a lot of research (there’s a sizable bibliography at the end of the book) to create the story about a couple of Knights Templar. He says that “much nonsense has been written about the Knights Templar over the years. I’m proud to say that this book has added to that sum.” He explains that thousands of knights were indeed killed. Some knights did escape, but the main plot he constructed probably never happened. One of the histories he read said that “figures of no importance” did escape, and so that was the basis for Martin, Bernard, Isabelle and their gang–inconsequential Templars and their own story.
He also says (in the preface) that all of the movies about the Knights focus on the treasure, but the Knights’ actual story–their rise and shocking downfall– is even more interesting. He gives a brief backstory. Formed during the crusades, the Templars gained fame as the noblest and bravest knights in Christendom. Their legend grew which increased their numbers. “They were the Jedi of their time.” They peaked in the 13th century under the protection of the Catholic Church and The Pope. Then in October 1307 the king of France ordered the mass arrest of All Templars in his kingdom (15,000 of them). They were brought before the Inquisition and accused of witchcraft, heresy and sodomy. Guillaume de Nogaret the king’s chef minister staged a huge show trail. Prisoners who denied the charges were tortured until they confessed, which made everyone who refused to confess seem like a liar. Despite knowing the truth, the Pope bowed to pressure and Templars were destroyed. Wow.
This story, nearly 500 pages in all, is divided into three books.
As the story opens we see Martin, a Knight, looking longingly at a woman, Isabelle. We learn that he had been “dating” her (or whatever they called it back then) and then one day he found out that she left to be married to the brother of King Philip. So he joined the Knights. As they march through the city, we see that they are drunkards and carousers. They get in all manner of trouble. And one evening they were heading back to Paris when suddenly the above dictum was established–all Knights were to be arrested. And Martin is one of them.
But through some excellent machinations (and good fighting) he escapes. And he soon joins together with a very unlikely band of merry men, including Brother Dominic (a real priest with the tonsure and everything) and Brother Bernard, a loutish drunken man who is not above thieving from people. Martin is offended at the thought of working with him, and they wind up at odds with each other from the start. Before the end of the first book, we see that they have a letter revealing where all of the Templar gold and jewels are hidden.
There’s a great bit of accounting work done in which the bookkeeper shows on his ledger that rooms were empty when in fact it appears that the gold was taken out on hay carts. The bookkeeper, even under torture, swears he knows nothing of the fortune’s whereabouts.
The second book shows the Papal council trying to figure out how to defend the Templar and the Catholic Church against the accusations. It’s tough because of the manipulations of the king–if everyone is guilty no matter what, how do you defend them?
And then we see that Martin and his band have returned to the city to follow the map. They have a general sense that it is hidden in a vault, but their map was singed and all they can read is “though even a fool may approach the vault only a wise man may enter it for the key is [illegible] of brass.
Martin has to find a way to get into the building where the secret vault is. But he has no access. So he has to go to Isabelle. Despite his misgivings, despite their anger toward each other, they still have feelings (and she explains why she rain off to marry the King’s brother). She agrees to help them (even if he doesn’t want her to). They even manage to rescue an old Templar who is crotchety and pious and is angry at Martin and his men about everything especially when they curse by saying “God’s belly button.” Its good comic relief.
Of course Martin and his men are wanted and everyone knows what they look like, so where can they hide? There’s a great scene where they hide in a solder’s bar and are only rescued because Brother Bernard knows his drinking songs.
While they try to hatch a plan they go to all the locksmiths in town to see if they can model a key on the drawing on the paper. But then one locksmith “an old Jew” tells them something they didn’t know.
The men are excited for their success, but all success has a price. The second book ends with the mass execution (a stunning scene) of all of the Templars who signed a petition to speak out against the King.
The final book has them hatching a plan (with Isabelle’s help–she is also planning to make Martin jealous a bit).
I love that they are also joined by Salim, a Saracen (Muslim) who shows them some science–inspired by his own God. The Templars are hesitant to work with him, but he proves to be every bit a wise and helpful as anyone. The plan also involves a whole lot of poop (which they get to leak into Monsieur Nogarte’s house) and a boat to take the poop down the river.
The plan goes rather well until one accident gets the attention of Nogaret and a (very very exciting) chase ensures. The treasure escapes, but not without many casualties. And as the last line of the book says, “The Templar treasure was never found.”
There’s lots of battles in this book, which can be hit or miss for me, but these are very good in this book. The artwork by LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland is fantastic (and looks even better than it did in Prince of Persia, which I thought was excellent as well.
Mechner tells a really exciting story with humor and sadness. The fact that it’s linked to history is just a bonus. Another winner for First Second and their #1oyearsof01 anniversary.