Dominique Lawalree – First Meeting (2017)
There are layers to be scratched, surfaces to be upturned, thoughts to be reformed. Over the last decade and a half, as the major label record industry has lost its hold – sputtering ever closer to its impending death, countless fans have released faith and turned their backs – delving down other avenues and into the shadows of time. It’s happened slowly – likely the result of distraction and simple curiosity, rather than a fully conscious or principled effort, but the musical landscape, with our perception of our own interlocking cultural histories, has been radically changed.
Fans have taken hold – digging, hunting, drawing out the missing and obscure – archeologists of sound – starting labels and sharing what they know. As they’ve directed our attention into the shadows of neglect, a new context has sprung to be. Within the expansive reappraisal of the history of recorded music – an effort which continuously rights many wrongs, the vinyl reissue has come to play a central role. Though secondary, and a byproduct of the larger initiative, it is the primary means for listeners to directly engage with neglected artifacts, and for their creators to finally receive some of the attention they deserve. As objects, they have resuscitated countless careers, and brought a near endless stream of incredible sound to our ears.
The reissue market has ebbs and flows. Most fans initially figured it would only go so far – giving up when it exhausted the logical threads or organic interest. It was hard to see it for what it was, or keep up with the rapid fire. No one expected it to dig as deep as it has. This new market, concerned with the ear over the dollar, has begun to lead rather than follow – looking beyond the obvious, facilitating great art toward its rightful place in the light. It’s an aural philanthropy, based on the love of art and learning, rather than a money making game.
Catch Wave shot out of the gate with a bang. The label caught my attention with their first release – Leo Svirsky’s excellent Heights In Depths, which emerged late in 2016. After drowning in its depths, I was anxious to see what was next. Their second effort raises the bar. It’s a brilliant compilation drawing from the long career of the sinfully neglected Belgian composer Dominique Lawalree. I’ve been a fan of Lawalree’s for a long time, but his records – almost entirely locked away on his own tiny Editions Walrus imprint, are painfully hard to find. A great as he is, I’d largely given up – assuming he was too obscure to ever receive the reissue treatment – thus the attention he deserves.
Dominique Lawalree exists in the outer reaches of the history of Minimalism. Though loved and appreciated by prominent figures Like Gavin Bryars and Brian Eno (who considered issuing Lawalree’s efforts as part of the iconic series on Obscure Records), fans of 20th century composition rarely uncover his work. A mostly self-trained composer, his career – which began during the first half of the 1970’s, unveils some of the dominant architectures and biases laying below the history of music. He’s been left out, because he doesn’t fit in. Though, because of the constraint he employs across his body of work, minimalism is the most easily grasped description, Lawalree doesn’t gel within a larger movement easily. He sidesteps most of the basic signifiers through which it’s described. He is singular and unique – an outsider.
Between 1976 and 1985, Lawalree released ten albums and an EP. First Meeting – the result of careful, brilliant, and loving curation on Catch Wave’s part, steps away from one of the more frustrating defaults of the reissue market – focusing on the coveted albums within an artists catalog, rather than contending with their scope. First Meeting has clearly been designed to offer the broadest entry and understanding of the composer’s diverse efforts – to celebrate and uncover him in the way he deserves, rather than satiate the intrigue of the obscure. Drawing its material from four of his most striking releases – Traces, Brins D’Herbe, Vis A Vis, Clandestin which emerged between 1978 and 82, it feels equally cohesive as filled with range – a window into a soul, mind, and another time.
It’s hard to know exactly how to describe Lawalree’s work – meaning it should likely be left to do the job on its own. It certainly can. Much of his sprawling body of compositions focuses on the solo piano, while stepping away from the standard expectations and signifiers of formal composition. Intelligent and emotive, his efforts celebrate the incidental, discrete, and whimsical – melodies which are simple, ornamental, and filled with surprise – like a music box that’s been dropped one too many times. Lawalree illuminates another path. A tangent in the history of avant-garde music that he alone took – one which feels as though it was always there. There is little equivalent. Few composers have pushed an idiosyncratic introspective individualism so far – other than perhaps Erik Satie, a composer of particular importance to Lawalree.
First Meeting is an effort born of love – brought to life in the hands of fans. Through it, Catch Wave has joined the fight – rewriting the standard narratives of 20th century music with a more open view – leading rather than following – giving a neglected composer his rightful due. The album is a stunner – one long overdue and crafted with care. Easily one of the best releases I’ve heard so far this year. I’m overjoyed by the thought of Lawalree reaching so many new ears.
As an added bonus, Catch Wave and Lawalree have offered me a rare treat – to share a few rarely seen scores for works featured on First Meeting. It is an honor for which I can not thank them enough. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have. You can pick up First Meeting from Catch Wave direct, and check out a couple samples below. This is one not to miss.
Dominique Lawalree – (Score for) La Maison Des 5 Éléments (1980)
Dominique Lawalree – (Score for) Waiting for the Bus (1978)
Dominique Lawalree – (Score for) Le Secret Blanc – Page One (1978)
Dominique Lawalree – (Score for) Le Secret Blanc – Page Two (1978)
Dominique Lawalree – (Score for) Le Secret Blanc – Page Three (1978)