Album Appreciation: Totem by Franck Vigroux

While the term ‘Totem’ emerged from native American belief systems, it is widely recognised that many, if not most, cultures which emerged at similar times also contained elements in their society that could be regarded as totemic. Essentially it is something that is a representation of a society or section of society and can be something intangible such as a spirit or tangible, the totem pole perhaps being the most obvious.

While we tend to equate totems with ancient cultures they exist today, think of anything we can say is emblematic of our country or a sub-culture we’re part of. Arguably one of the most well know totems in modern culture would be the monolith in Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’… and it is that which came to mind for me when ‘Tropiques’ the first track of this album drops out at the end, leaving a silence that feels perceptively quieter and filled with more meaning than would normally be the case.

Silence can be a powerful force especially when bracketed by great slabs of noise, and this is something Vigroux does on a number of occasions… the end of forth track ‘Cris’ being another example. This is interesting because you could be forgiven for coming away from listening to this album by thinking that you’ve been sonically battered for nearly an hour.

When you get inside it however it feels a lot different. Yes there are moments when the dial shoots through techno, past IDM and into noise territory. But there are times, such as on ‘Baron’, when the beats take a dark and sinister tone and you are almost in the soundtrack of Chernobyl.

Then there is the use of space, such as with ‘Éléphant’ which takes a very zen-like approach, a less is more notion where, for me, the idea of flux is present because of what is absent. This track really draws you in and holds your concentration because it almost feels like a stream of consciousness that you are trying to hold on to.

Elsewhere are tracks that are such ‘Chronostasis Grand Final’ that are such massive slabs of music that you, contrarily, have the same problem of trying to find an aural ‘foothold’ onto the music… if ‘Éléphant’ is a stream of consciousness this is a torrent. Then with ‘Capaupire’ you get both… a disorientating interspersed mix of noise and space…

These feeling are intensified with ‘Télévision’ with its sense of chaos and overload… a totem of our culture for sure, one that we both revere and seek to ward off. Here Vigroux gets into the heart of this duality with sounds that both attract and repel… a sensory overload that doesn’t let up.

After this the final, and longest, track of the album ‘Diaphane’ is a wonderful sonic meditation replete with drones playing below static and interference, a form of totemic musique concrète which stretches out into infinity as it fades out into silence… a meaningful silence… at the end of the album.

This is an album that you really need to get inside to appreciate. It is challenging and it is provocative. It is an album that gets inside your brain and gets you thinking, and while Vigroux seeks to reflect on how ancient cultures revere myths and totems…. and how they were influenced by them. He has also created a sonic palette from which we can reflect on our own place in our own society, and on the culture influences that shape what we do and who we are.

What, then, are our totems?

‘Totem’ is released by new Berlin-based label ‘Aesthetical‘, and is available on CD, double vinyl and download.



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