Whenever I think of Pierre Bastien and his army of robots playing their instruments, I can't help but picture the films of The Brothers Quay, with their fragile and sometimes frightening stop-motion movement. Over the course of many releases now, Bastien has made a name for himself by creating loop-based music that has a human quality. His rhythms fall out of time, his little electric motors click and grind a bit, and everything just feels a bit unsteady, as if it could fall apart at any moment.
In this modern world of computer-based music that is synced up and quantitized and generally peerless (and often filtered to sound less so), the work of Bastien feels like a true throwback to an era of little corner shops where craftsmen could fix a clock or re-heel a shoe, depending on what the order was. Visions of Doing is his latest release, and it collects different tracks from years of collaborations with flimmaker Karel Doing. Nine songs run just under forty minutes, and as with past releases, it's a quirky charm that drives things.
"The American On The Highway" opens the release and plays out like some sort of weird back-alley broken-down jazz invention. Gamelan-type percussive sounds provide a repeated rhythmic element while a sound somewhere between a trumpet and a kazoo plays a lonely lament. "The Girl From Surinam" is even more strange, again playing out like a small vibraphone insect army on the backing percussion while a gurgling melody that sounds like a bugle underwater provides the melodic thrust.
And such is part of the joy of Bastien's music. Instruments sound familiar, but you can't quite place them. "Turkish Boys At The Harbour Tide" sounds like a sitar unspooling as thrift store bongos and shuffling cardboard march it along, while "South African Lady" veers into an unsteady free jazz with ramshackle drums, odd stabs at an organ sound, and what sounds like a theremin drifting through the awkward gait. Musically, there aren't a lot of dynamics at play here, but while Visions Of Doing may not knock your socks off with huge payoffs, it's a delightful little album from an artist who is part tinkerer and apparently part magician as well.