Despite the way it’s being dressed up Commutation is a cover, or reinterpretations, album. Each of the eight tracks is a graphic score written by different composers. This means that the composer used visual symbols to create the notation, rather than traditional musical notation. The five composers, Luigi Russolo, Emilie Girard-Charest, Anestis Logothetis, Fred Frith, Maxime Daigneault, span 100 years of music and culture. What is remarkable that Ensemble SuperMusique plays them in a way that you can’t really tell what era they are from. This is down to the ensemble using a collection of winds, electronics, and percussion to make them sounds contemporary. A prime example is Pour l’heure, one of the standout moments. Instead of using strings, Ensemble SuperMusique re-score it is using electronics, as well as organic sounds. The playing is sparse but forthright. The horns give Pour l’heure a sinister vibe that might have been missing on the original score. The final third, with its bellowing horns and scratchy field recordings, really define the mood of the piece and act as a bookend to how it starts.
In the middle of the album is a suite of Fred Frith’s four Stone, Brick, Glass, Wood, Wire compositions. This is the most important section on the album. On this the album hangs. Original a live double album by Frith these performances take his ideas and run with them. Ensemble SuperMusique’s versions have the same vibe, slightly wonky and eerie, but they ramp up the tension in the way that Frith’s versions don’t. Underpinning all the songs is this junk table aesthetic. Throughout assorted things are being rattled, shook, and jingled. The effect is unsettling, but you can’t look away. Just like in a horror film you have to watch the gruesome imagery; despite being warned by the music. The same is true here.
The albums downside is that it is all a bit oppressive. There is no space between the notes being played. Now, I can’t work out if this is down to the way Ensemble SuperMusique has decided to play the pieces of music or if they purposely picked music that would give them the ability to reinterpret the music this way. Given that these are graphic scores it’s hard to know. The only downside to this is that these versions might lose some fluidity to what the originals had. Saying that Commutation is a glorious piece of music that makes us think about how technology is used and what happens with the data after our task has been completed.