8 Noëtra

From 73 to the end of 1975 I had accumulated a rather large number of manuscripts that I wanted to bring to life, or at least hear. I could not sing all the parts at the same time. I needed a band.

I had the drummer, I needed a bass player.  During a stay in Granville, I went to see Denis, the bassist who had played Luisances at La Vache Brune.  He still lived with his parents in Villedieu les Poêles, 30 kilometres from Granville, I flat out asked him to join us.  Guess what ? He said yes.  I do not remember helping Denis to get installed when he arrived in Dordogne. He arranged everything alone. His job, his house, everything.

Denis. Respect.

Denis personifies the beginnings of Noëtra.  Nice, sweet, somewhat moody.  Perpetual questioning and indecision are part of his life.  Musically, he has good time, can sight read and has a very nice sound, whatever the bass. A valuable quality.

He had a little background in visual arts, his room was cluttered with cardboard boxes full of colored pencil sketches and drawings in a rather round and pop style.  Several times a week he pondered whether to be serious about music or drawing.  He’d even ask us "what do you think?", which would put us in an awkward position.  We owe him the only poster ever made for Noëtra.

I can see you smile to that name.  Well, no, the band’s name is not mine.  It came from Magribe.  He had already found the name at “la Vache Brune", it was now high time we used it.  Later on, he suggested an appendix, a maxim: Noëtra, the Music of Flaming Water.  He also suggested some track titles he came up with as he listened to us: Orge Dais Jadis, Sommeil Ovale, Soir et Basalte… I retained some of them. The other purveyor of titles for Noëtra was François.  I owe him: Mort du Hêtre, À Prétendre S’en Détacher, Sens De l’Après Midi and Qui Est Il Qui Parle Ainsi ? I never understood why all his paintings are Untitled -  he is obviously talented ...

We began to rehearse at Denis’ place, a hundred meters from home, in a house he had found to rent in the village of Creyssensac.

The peculiarity of the houses we all rented was that they were without any comfort.  OK, running water and toilets inside, sometimes a bathroom, mostly without a shower.  The pick of the lot was Daniel's house.  It was at the end of a winding path in the middle of a pine wood that was a good kilometre long.  At night, when the Dance  bandleader would drive us home, the pine needles would sweep endlessly by in the J7’s headlights.  How he put up with this for so long is a mystery.  Daniel learned to drive first, thankfully.  He soon bought a 2CV van.  His house was in poor condition, damp and full of saltpetre, with mice running everywhere, especially in the sideboard (it was a furnished rental).  There was also a bed with a bedstead that he sometimes had to move to avoid water leaks in stormy weather. There was only one room and a kitchen, a corner of which was occupied by the drumset. Daniel stayed more than ten years in that house.  It was his paradise.

Three musicians is good, four is better.

I dreamed of having an oboe in the band.  As we know, I played the oboe myself, badly.
The resemblance to Soft Machine is obvious, although I do not like the sound of Carl Jenkins' oboe in Soft Machine's records. The mic’s placement, very close to the instrument’s bocal, does not help, making for a skimpy sound.  Later, when I took an interest in sound recording, I would find the right mic placement for the reproduction of all the instrument’s harmonics, inspired by a photo of Oregon in concert.  My reference works regarding orchestration in general were the classical music records that mom listened to in Dad's office...

Denis tells me he has heard of an oboist who simultaneously takes classes at the conservatory in Rennes and plays in a rock band. He could manage to get his address.
A cassette with one or two tracks hastily recorded during rehearsal convinced Christian Paboeuf, since that is his name, to join us.  Denis and I will go pick him up in Rennes.
Christian will move to Denis' house in April 77.

Noëtra’s core was born: Jean, Daniel, Denis and Christian.  A particular alchemy, a balance.  Denis and Christian got along very well.  Being of a more random nature, their finances were more precarious than that of the band’s first pair.  They also created a small network of different friends.  We now rehearsed at Denis and Christian's place, a hundred metres from my home, in the village of Creyssensac.

Musically, Christian is a born improviser.  A multi instrumentalist: oboe, all recorders, guitar, then later, as needs arose, percussion and vibraphone.  Much later, his creativity would explode on this last instrument.  We were to become very close.  A friendship that, forty years later, is still going strong.

When we first met, Christian had a rather frail physique, as evidenced by the few pictures taken at that time.  Often we were afraid his instrument would escape him for sheer emotional overspill.  It never happened.  He had a little dog named Ion, whose name expressed his admiration for the band Yes.  Christian liked theatricality in music, as in Genesis or David Bowie.  He also took up drawing, especially in pencil.  Christian is part of my present (2018), which goes to show the importance of our relations.

During our first rehearsals together, we started to play my most recent ideas. One that comes to mind is the central loop of Lisière Pourpre (January 77).  This loop sounded great, in the spirit of King Crimson’s Red, Christian was inspired, Daniel was playing "à la Bruford".  The theme, however, was lacking in substance.  I would have liked a violin to double the oboe.

Chance would decide otherwise.

Michel L., the singer, Jean Marc’s brother, had begun learning the flute. I had made friends with Michel.  Michel has a wonderful rock culture.  An avid buyer of records, he also loved musical conversations.  A good thing, as I am myself rather talkative on the subject.  I felt very good with Michel; whenever I talked to him about my work, about my projects, he expressed interest and always sent me positive feedback.  I also made him laugh a lot with my dance band anecdotes.

I asked him if he would like to play flute with the band.  Michel came from Bordeaux to rehearse with us every Friday.  This Friday ritual was to become sacred throughout Noëtra's life, and even afterwards.  As a result, the theme of Lisière Pourpre - the title is from Michel – gained substance. The idea of ​​the violin had not been abandoned yet, Michel even came to rehearsal one day with Pierre Blanchard, a budding young violinist, to present him to us.  We played together for that rehearsal but we did not see him again. We had nothing to offer him, professionally.

Jazz-wise, Michel introduced me, again thanks to his record collection, to the aesthetics of European jazz which was blossoming, in particular, on the German labels; I was content to follow my favorite musicians by buying, when I could, their productions.  The purchase of Robert Fripp / Brian Eno's No Pussy Footing was decisive, not so much in terms of music as in the reading of the liner notes and the list of gear used: 2 modified Revox A77 Tape recorders.

Maybe I had found the solution for listening to and documenting our work in the long run.  With hope, the tape recorders used by our two heroes would not be out of financial range and not too "modified"!

Soon, a Revox A77 tape recorder was to sit, for a long time, on the most prominent piece of furniture in the living room, a sort of of secretary/filing cabinet repainted in blood red.

I chose the 2 track model, 19 cm / second, obviously twice less greedy in magnetic tapes as the 38 cm / second. Those tapes cost a fortune!

Learning to use the Revox was like learning anything else: through trial and error. The leaking of sound from one instrument into the sound of another instrument became an obsession.  Fortunately, in the A77’s manual was the heading: Re-recording.

This stratagem would be my grail.  We could record the sound of an instrument, play it back while recording another instrument, suddenly: no more sound leaks!  What holds true for one instrument also holds true for a group of instruments.  Now you know how we made the Noëtra recordings.

The basic technique was understood, it remained to be improved so as to achieve audible results.

The band was making progress too, undeniably.

Michel, according to some members of the band, was progressing at a lesser rate. It is true that learning an instrument as an adult takes a lot of time... Were we really in a hurry?
One could theorize about the existence, the life and death of a band.  Others have certainly done so.  I will simply recall these simple rules:  

- When a band is searching for itself (musically), the weakest link gets the hardest hits.
- All members of the band are subject to the tough game of alliances.

Michel had to leave.  Who would be the messenger?  As in school, the class representative.  A frightful responsibility, because Michel was my friend.  But the band, the superior entity, had settled the question, there was no way out.

After that there was a deep cold spell between Bordeaux and me.

The Band must go on. Six months later Dominique Busson joined us.  I knew Dominique from my stint in the second dance band in the Centre region.  The one from Châtellerault.  Not the worst, humanly.  He too was very interested in the band’s musical direction.

Dominique is a clarinetist, flutist and saxophonist. The dream man for a composer who loves wind instruments.  Thanks to our progress in the handling of the Revox, recordings were beginning to sound ok.

Dominique Busson

Marie Christine and I now had two children, Nicolas and Hugues.  Life flowed, peaceful, conducive to the music I wanted to achieve.  Could I have conceived the same music in a big city? Probably not.

We had good relations with our landlords, who were immediate neighbors.  They offered to lend us one of their barns for our rehearsals.  The location of the barn formed an equilateral triangle one hundred meters from Denis / Christian’s house and ours.  We called it a barn for convenience, but in fact it must have been a dwelling house a long time ago.  The floor was cemented, there was a window and, fortunately, electricity.  We learned to guard against summer storm floodings by raising the instruments and the cables.  Other than that, some basic fixing up such as putting egg cartons on the walls and installing a bad wood stove allowed us to settle in in relative comfort.  The front door, made of large slats of chestnut wood nailed together, typical of the region, let drafts flow through.  It locked with a huge key.  The lock could have been fractured by a good screwdriver, a threat to our gear, the only objects of value inside.  I had built two PA speakers, inspired by an Altec / Lansing cabinet bought by Denis.  I was very proud to have managed to build in the characteristic roundings of this kind of speaker cabinet, that project the sound so well.  This “DIY solution to everything” proudness would unfortunately later reveal its limits…  For now this barn will be Noëtra’s theater of operations.

In a play, you need a hero who appears in all the acts.  We already had our hero.

One winter evening, at well past 11PM, Marie Christine and I heard a knock at the front door of our house. Guess who was on the doorstep? Magribe and his girlfriend, back from a season of apple picking in Canada.  They had found our address and had nowhere to go…  Remembering Jean Marc’s generosity,  we opened our house to them until they found a solution.  We know how resourceful Magribe is, and they soon found one.
Magribe and Marie Claude quickly set up a small macramé jewelry making workshop, bracelets, pendants, necklaces, etc. that they sold on the markets. They even hired Christian when he was struggling to make ends meet.

Magribe also acted as our road manager, at that time he had a small van that came in handy for our local “rehearsal” concerts and also for our out of département concerts such as in Caudéran, a suburb of Bordeaux, where we shared the bill with Xalph, or Angoulême, Brive la Gaillarde etc ...

The band rehearsed four days a week in the barn.  Magribe participated in his own way by taking care of the sound and the crafting of electronic and electrical cables of all kinds.  He was always there, like the rest of us, at eight o'clock in the morning.

Magribe, the Revox and the Freevox

Today I remember these times as relatively happy ones.  The outside world was erased. We had few obligations, no fixed hours during the day, the children were not schooled yet. Every day was alike.  In the morning I rehearsed with the band, in the afternoon I played the guitar, trying to spark new ideas or improving weaker passages in certain compositions.  I also took advantage of chance ideas that arose during rehearsals when we made mistakes. Often, at the end of summer afternoons, we’d all meet at Lake Neuf Font, ten kilometers away, for a swim.  It was a fruitful period, I was entirely tuned into writing new material.

For example :

Neuf Songes, December 77
Galopera, February 78
Timothée, August 78
Mésopotamie, October 78

Intense listening of progressive music, post-Miles Davis jazz and classical music from the late 19th and early 20th century, made for a fruitful balance and kept my brain alert.  Stravinsky’s Mass for Wind Quintet in Leonard Bernstein's version was a timely discovery.

The recordings were going well too, although our Freevox mixer was not great, nor were our microphones.  Our equipment, apart from the Revox, was that of a budding amateur band.

This period is documented in the "Recording sessions Timeline" as Tape No. I.  The band, nevertheless, was making progress.

A new concept appeared in our criteria: improvisation.  Analysing the first Eberhard Weber records was clearly for something there.  Saxophonist Charlie Mariano’s fluidity fascinated us.  Christian and I began to dissect this new aspect of music: the mental and technical construction of jazz improvisation.

Dominique did not follow us on that quest, time has blurred my memory of the circumstances in which he left.  Magribe drifted away too, often feeling useless in our passionate musical debates.

The band was on its way to professionnalisation.

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