Cuneiform Rec. Univers Zero (=1313 revisited) (B,1977+1979,re.2008)****°
The liner notes of this reissue reveal well how the story from Arkham (B) over Magma(F) (Daniel Denis and Jean-Luc Manerlier had joined Magma for some time) hung together and had influence the band to explore further possibilities breaking Canterbury rock and Magma associations (with some free-jazz influences on its way). After a short time operating as Necronomicon (B) (inspired by H.P.Lovecraft’s book, but not to be confused with the German band) with John Van Rymenant (Waterloo-B) and organist Vincent Mottoulle (Lagger Blues Machine-B) they switched to the name Univers Zero (inspired by Jacques Sterberg’s book), besides a few side-projects (Denis joined Supersister (NL) just before they recorded “iskander” ; later Elton Deanwould join them, at the time they shared a concert on stage with UZ’s first appearance ; besides there was also split-group Exil, who developed compositions that would later turn up again with the later Present) with a few small line-up changes before the first album. While their first examples remained something like a split-off from Canterbury and Magma, taking some elements of Third Ear Band (but using bassoon instead of oboe), they invented new combinations of inspirations which what they considered as a more European tradition, some modern classical composers (Bartok, Ives, Berg, Stravinsky, Penderecki, as well as the Belgian Huybrechts). The basic ideas were complex, but were stretched through improvisation, they soon found out they weren’t too far away from what Art Zoyd (F) was developing on their own, just over the border, not too far from where they lived. When their first privately recorded and pressed album was published, it was soon going to be reissued by the fresh Atem label, which was established within Art Zoyd’s entourage.
When you hear Univers Zero’s album and realize it was from 1977, it surely was ahead of its time. In fact, much more than the more operatic-surreal rock experience of Magma, a whole new genre of chamber-music rock was predated and visualised for the first time at this point. Of course, the compositions can be compared very much to contemporary classical music, or classical music, in a rock form, with strong contrasts, for using ‘rock band’ elements with it like drums, used with classical perfection, (and some guitars), mixed with perfectly omitted and perfectly balanced in sound perspective choices of chamber music instruments (string instruments, bassoon, spinet), and with calmer, well arranged and also more complex sections.
This is already Cuneiform’s second edition of the album. As a bonus track it features a live composition, “La Faux” recorded by Belgian national television (BRT) in 1979, predating the studio composition from their second album, “Heresie”.
This piece starts with a very dark, chaotically brooding cloud of sounds, before, after almost 5 minutes, is made the appearance of what sounds like a reverb language spoken word, a bit like a Satanic mass narration, with oscillating violin, and dark organ, without too much happening in it’s stretched darkness in this hell, evoking, with shouts, something or some things of which I have no idea what these strange spirits are after. More Church organ and violin makes the music sounds at this stage as something like a post-funeral mass and music for the living dead. This becomes a bit more rhythmical, with animalistic nature, a bit more like an insinuating ritual, an improvised theatrical description before turning into their more typical chamber-like rhythmically brooding new music composition, still filmic to a degree, as if the appearing beast closes its eyes a bit with some left over looming attention to its surroundings. This second part improvised with some cleverness and also freedom in its strange melodic harmonies, brooding and vibrant, and a vaguely terrifying, (guitar, drums, violin), on the edge of avant-garde of inspiration with its chamber music fundaments. An interesting version which gives an idea of Univers Zero’s live performances. It was recorded thanks to Wim Mertens's support, but i cannot imagine if it ever was broadcast afterwards.