313

Univers Zero: Univers Zero

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
Historic significance cannot be measured in sales. Music often progresses in near anonymity, its true impact only apparent years after the fact. When Univers Zero released its first untitled album in a tiny run of five hundred copies in 1977, it reached few ears. Those hearing it, however, knew that this was something that had not been heard before. By combining a guitar-based rock trio with instruments usually associated with classical music, UZ was far more than a clichéd, Ekseption-like attempt to "rock up the classics." Instead, by avoiding traditional rock posturing, UZ created a new kind of chamber music for a new assemblage of instruments.



Releasing nine albums since, culminating with the outstanding Live (Cuneiform, 2006), UZ's debut remains both benchmark and landmark. Reissued numerous times over the years, most often as 1313 (the catalogue number from its first issue), this definitive version finally presents this unprecedented music the way it was meant to be heard, clarifying how—emerging out of nowhere with little history to precede it— UZ has been so vital in changing the way chamber music is perceived.



UZ's music was an antecedent for the kind of instrumental and stylistic interspersion considered normal today by groups including Bang on a Can and Alarm Will Sound. Henry Cow's complex, abstruse writing meets Bartok, Stravinsky, Messiaen and Ligeti, but with hints of early music, especially in UZ's use of spinet and harmonium.



With deep, inevitably detailed writing leaning towards the darkly dramatic, composed by drummer/percussionist Daniel Denis—the band's only constant—and guitarist Roger Trigaux, their "learn as you go" methodology makes UZ's unequalled vision all the more important. There's nary a backbeat to be found—not until Denis reformed UZ for The Hard Quest (Cuneiform, 1999), in fact, did a more overt rock stance emerge as part of UZ's complex complexion.



The remastered remixes of the album's five tracks, from the original multi-track tape, reveal previously unheard detail. On Denis' fifteen-minute episodic "Ronde," the presence of the percussion, the rich percussiveness of Michel Berckmans' bassoon and rough edges of Marcel Dufrane's violin lend greater intensity and brightness to the colorful soundscape. Despite UZ's preponderance for composition, improvisation is a component, with Dufrane's solo on "Rondo" a confluence of low-register melody and gradually increasing extremes, synchronously supported by Denis' near-anarchistic percussion and bassist Christian Genet's swooping glissandi.



A 28-minute bonus track, originally recorded by Belgie Radio Televisie in 1979, provides an early view of UZ in performance, with the line-up of Heresie (Cuneiform, 1991) performing its opening "La Faulx." Darker and more bleakly melodramatic, bassist Guy Seger's "interstellar chaotic speech" establishes a link between UZ and avant-art rocksters Magma.



Despite occasional stylistic links, Univers Zero always spoke (and continues to speak) with its own voice. This welcome reissue confirms, once again, that in 1977 a nearly unheard-of group was creating a new kind of chamber music that, in its inclusion of rock instrumentation and the occasional rock stance, would be a blueprint for classical music of the 21st century.


Track Listing: Ronde; Carabosse; Doctor Petiot; Malaise; Complainte; La Falux (bonus track).

Personnel: Michel Berckmans: bassoon, oboe (6); Daniel Denis: drums, percussion (1-5); Marcel Dufrane: violin (1-5); Christian Genet: bass (1-5); Patrick Hannapier: violin, viola (1-5), pocket cello (1-5); Emmanuel Nicause: harmonium (1-5), spinet (1-5); Roger Trigaux: guitar, harmonium (6); Guy Segers: bass (6), vague rumblings (6), interstellar chaotic speech (6).

Title: Univers Zero | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Cuneiform Records


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read The Study of Touch CD/LP/Track Review The Study of Touch
by Karl Ackermann
Published: October 20, 2017
Read Another North CD/LP/Track Review Another North
by Roger Farbey
Published: October 19, 2017
Read Gledalec CD/LP/Track Review Gledalec
by John Sharpe
Published: October 19, 2017
Read Flux Reflux CD/LP/Track Review Flux Reflux
by Glenn Astarita
Published: October 19, 2017
Read Christmas With Champian CD/LP/Track Review Christmas With Champian
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: October 19, 2017
Read Harmony of Difference CD/LP/Track Review Harmony of Difference
by Phil Barnes
Published: October 18, 2017
Read "Backlog" CD/LP/Track Review Backlog
by James Nadal
Published: February 27, 2017
Read "No Favorites!" CD/LP/Track Review No Favorites!
by Troy Collins
Published: November 27, 2016
Read "Twin" CD/LP/Track Review Twin
by Fiona Ord-Shrimpton
Published: April 6, 2017
Read "Richie Cole Plays Ballads & Love Songs" CD/LP/Track Review Richie Cole Plays Ballads & Love Songs
by Jim Trageser
Published: November 25, 2016
Read "Let There Be Life, Love and Laughter" CD/LP/Track Review Let There Be Life, Love and Laughter
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: August 21, 2017
Read "Mal Sirine" CD/LP/Track Review Mal Sirine
by Roger Farbey
Published: September 16, 2017

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.