The Electroacoustic Music Store

Le cri du ChoucasNew Francis Dhomont

Cover art: Inés Wickmann (Adagp)
  • Total duration: 70:19
  • UCC 771028213825
  • Canada Council for the Arts

It’s another spectacular creation from an undisputed master of the art.

— Simon Cummings, 5:4, December 31, 2016

… you can comfortably play this meticulous work at peak volumes for immersive and transporting effects, to induce profound states of mind…

— Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector, December 18, 2016

Le cri du Choucas

Francis Dhomont

IMED 16138 / 2016

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English Translation of the Texts in the Work

01:57 — Man’s voice // The Trial, Kafka
In front of the Law, a guard stands at the door. A man from the country arrives and asks him for permission to enter the Law. However the guard states that he cannot presently grant him that permission. The man reflects then asks if he would be authorized to enter later on. “It’s possible,” says the guard, “but not right now.”

02:54 — Man’s voice
The law is something there is no question of escaping.

03:43 — Man’s voice
… the law, in a way, can only be a relationship of madness.

03:56 — Woman’s voice // The Divided Self, RD Laing (in Sous le regard d’un soleil noir)
It’s like one of those nightmares where you try to call for help and no sound comes out.

06:24 — Woman’s voice // The Trial, Kafka
The guard stands beside the open door and the man, as always, leans forward to look inside. The guard notices, laughs and says, “If you are so drawn to it, try then to enter in spite of my ban. Know, however, that I am powerful. And that I am but the least powerful of the guards. Room after room there are guards each more powerful than the last. Personally, I can’t stand the sight of the third one above me.”

07:53 — Man’s voice // The Penal Colony, Kafka
“It’s a special kind of device,” says the officer.

The commandment which the culprit violated is written on his body, with the harrow.

Thus, on the body of this condemned man "Honour your superiors” will be written.

It is not easy to decipher the writing with one’s eyes;

so this man of ours deciphers it with his wounds.

The harrow impales him completely and flings him into a pit where he falls, bloodied water splattering all over the cotton.

Justice has been done.

The machine was breaking down completely; its smooth operation had been but an illusion.

12:26 — Man’s voice // The Trial, Kafka
The man from the country had not foreseen such difficulties, “The Law is supposed to be accessible to everyone and always,” he thought, but now as he observes the guard more closely in his fur coat, with his large, pointed nose and his long, thin, black Tartarian beard, he decides instead to wait until he is authorized to enter. The guard gives him a stool and allows him to sit beside the door. He remains there for days and years. He makes numerous attempts to enter and tires the guard with his entreaties. The guard frequently conducts short interviews with him, questioning him on his native region and many other subjects, however these are purely disinterested questions, such as those great noblemen ask, and finally he repeats that he cannot let the man enter.

17:21 — Man’s voice

18:30 — Man’s voice // Letter to His Father, Kafka
Dearest Father, You recently asked me why I claim to be afraid of you. As usual, I did not know whatsoever how to answer you, partly on account of this very fear I have when I am face to face with you, partly because the cause of this fear consists of too many details to be presented orally in a coherent manner. And even if I am in the midst of providing a written reply, this too will be in a sense incomplete because my fear of the consequences of this letter, with respect to you, hinders me and because the importance of the subject matter surpasses my memory and my understanding.

As such, it is incomprehensible that you condemned me in this way, which could only be explained by a past transgression and a deep contempt on your behalf. This struck me once again, very cruelly, at the very core of my being.

I could only appreciate what you gave me with the sense of shame, weariness and weakness brought about by my feelings of guilt.

Your complete insensitivity to the hurt and shame you subjected me to through your words and judgements was always incomprehensible to me.

The impossibility of peaceful relations with you gave way to another, certainly understandable, result: I lost the use of speech.

27:35 — Man’s voice // The Verdict, Kafka
You were in fact an innocent child, but in reality you were a diabolical being! Know therefore this: I now condemn you to death by drowning!

28:22 — Man’s voice // Letter to His Father, Kafka
… this feeling of uselessness which dominates my sense of self […] is generally-speaking the result of your influence.

My writings were all about you, in them I complained of everything that I could not complain of to you personally.

In my opinion, we are getting close enough to the truth to appease us somewhat and to make life and death easier for both of us.

32:35 — Man’s voice // The Trial, Kafka
The man, who had taken numerous provisions with him for his trip, uses everything in his means, precious as it may be, in his attempts to bribe the guard. The guard accepts everything but says, “I accept these things so that you don’t think that there’s something you’ve neglected.”

33:34 — Man’s voice // Kafka
“I am an impossible bird,” says Franz Kafka. “I am a jackdaw, a kavka. Disoriented, I go hopping around men; they look upon me with a great mistrust as I am after all a dangerous bird, a pilferer, a jackdaw. A jackdaw that dreams of disappearing between the stones.”

34:10 — Man’s voice // Kafka
The poet is, in reality, always much smaller and weaker than the average person in society. Singing through words is for him personally but a means of crying out.

36:35 — Man’s voice // Kafka
I need to live in isolation. Not as a hermit — that wouldn’t be enough — but as a dead person. Writing, in this sense, is like sleeping a deeper sleep, thus being dead; and just as we cannot tear a dead person away from his tomb, you cannot tear me away from my work table at nighttime.

37:27 — Man’s voice // Letters to Felice, Kafka
I’ve often thought that for me the best way to live would be to set myself up with a lamp and all that I need for writing in the heart of a vast, secluded cellar. They would bring me my meals, leaving them always very far from where I’m located, behind the most external door of the cellar.

37:46 — Woman’s voice
Turned inward, full of ill-being, contradictions and ambiguities, Kafka would become an absolute recluse.

40:22 — Man’s voice // The Burrow, Kafka
Could I not, despite all my vigilance, be attacked from the least-expected side; I live in peace, in the most secret part of my house, yet nevertheless somewhere, anywhere, the enemy is digging a hole that will lead him to me.

42:47 — Man’s voice // The Trial, Kafka
Over a period of many years, the man studies the guard continually. He forgets about the other guards, the first one seeming like the only obstacle preventing him from entering the Law. During the first few years, he loudly curses his misfortune but later, as he gets older, he only grumbles to himself. He reverts to childhood and, as he had been observing the guard for many long years and knows him down to even the fleas on his fur collar, he beseeches the fleas to help him convince the guard.

43:53 — Man’s voice // Platon (Sous le regard d’un soleil noir)

44:03 — Man’s voice // A Message from the Emperor, Kafka
The Emperor — they say — sent you, you personally, you, miserable subject, most faraway shadow opposite the imperial sun, to you then the Emperor has sent a message from his deathbed. The messenger, a strong, tireless man set off immediately; with his arms he clears a path for himself through the crowd; when he encounters resistance he bears his chest where the sign of the sun can be found; he advances more easily than anyone else. However there is a large crowd and its dwellings are innumerable. If his path had been clear, how he would have flown and shortly you would have heard the marvellous beating of his fists on your door. But instead of this, what trouble he has making his way through the innermost rooms of the palace! Never will he succeed; and if he did succeed nothing would be won for all that; he would still have to clear a path for himself on the stairs, and if he succeeded nothing would be gained; he would have to cross the courtyards; and after the courtyards the second palace which encircles them; and then again stairs and courtyards; and again a palace; and so on and so forth for thousands of years; and if he reached the last door — but never, never could this happen — he would have before him the Imperial City, at the centre of the world, full of its own accumulated silt. Here no one enters, not even with a message from a dead man.

But you, you are seated at your window and you dream of the message when night falls.

49:58 — Man’s voice // The Trial, Kafka
Ultimately his sight begins to fail him, and he no longer knows whether it is really dark or whether it is just his eyes which are betraying him. But presently he makes out a flash of light shooting into the darkness, inextinguishable, from the door of the Law.

51:40 — Man’s voice // Diary, Kafka
The talent I have for describing my inner life, a life which is related to dreaming, made all the rest of secondary importance, and all the rest withered dreadfully, will not stop withering. Nothing else will ever satisfy me.

52:14 — Man’s voice // The Uses of Enchantment, Bruno Bettelheim, (in Forêt profonde)
Voyage into the abysses of our mind…

… in the realm of the unconscious.

55:22 — Man’s voice

57:54 — Man’s voice // The Divided Self, RD Laing (in Sous le regard d’un soleil noir)
The ‘inner’ self becomes itself split, and loses its own identity and integrity. It loses its own realness and direct access to realness outside itself.

58:07 — Woman’s voice // Marthe Robert
There was not a single circumstance in Kafka’s life that did not contribute to the division of his self, to the splitting of his self in two. Why this rift? Precisely because his aim is unity.

58:19 — Woman’s voice // As Lonely as Franz Kafka, Marthe Robert
Kafka makes extensive use of a dreamlike thought process which provides him with the means of condensing multiple aspects of his self into one dreamlike figure.

58:52 — Man’s voice, slow
… you dream of the message.

59:08 — Man’s voice
Permission to enter the Law.

59:16 — Man’s voice

63:15 — Man’s voice // The Trial, Kafka
Now, he does not have long to live. Faced with the prospect of his death, the experiences of all these years jostle in his mind, resulting in a question that he has not yet asked the guard. He motions to him, as he can no longer lift his stiff body. The guard has to bend very low towards him, as the difference in their heights has changed to the man’s disadvantage. “What more do you want to know?” demands the guard, “You are insatiable.”

63:55 — Man’s voice
We don’t understand Kafka if we don’t sense that he is situated on a ridge line. Between the postulation of meaning and the suspicion, the risk of nonsense, making it such that at each moment of this quest we are, in a way, threatened by an absorption into nothingness, an absorption into… a form of despair, of nihilism.

65:13 — Man’s voice
It is undeniable that Kafka tackles something that is above and beyond.

65:18 — Man’s voice
… and constantly gives us the sense that there is another truth…

65:24 — Woman’s voice
It is at once illuminatingly close and yet inaccessible.

66:05 — Man’s voice // The Metamorphosis, Kafka
Gregor felt impeded by his tremendous build; in order to raise himself up he would have needed arms and legs yet he had only small, continuously vibrating legs with which he did not have the ability to take action.

66:35 — Woman’s voice // The Metamorphosis, Kafka
“Come see a moment, the creature is exhausted; he is on the ground, completely exhausted.”

68:48 — Man’s voice // The Trial, Kafka
“Like a dog,” he said. “It’s like shame outlasted him.”

69:10 — Man’s voice // The Trial, Kafka
“If everyone endeavors to know the Law,” said the man, “how it is possible that during all these years no one other than me has asked to enter it?” The guard of the door, seeing that the man had reached the very end of his life, shouts in order to reach his nearly deaf ears: “No one other than you could enter here, as this entryway was made only for you. Now I am leaving and I am closing the door.”

[English translation: Stephanie Moore, iii-16]

In the Press

Best Albums of 2016 (Part 2)

Simon Cummings, 5:4, December 31, 2016

8. Francis DhomontLe cri du Choucas

“When it comes to acousmatic music as its finest, though, Francis Dhomont remains one of the best of the best. […] Dhomont regularly fashions material that’s beautiful but barbed, sometimes arranged in multiple layers of dense activity, sometimes shot through with thin splinters of razor-sharp pitch over roiling depths. […] Coherent and organic throughout, the drama […] is just as much to do with the way musical materials are judged and handled than with the work’s more immediately tangible text component. […] Le cri du Choucas contains music more dark and uncomfortable than one expects from Dhomont, even in the work’s closing moments; far from offering a reassuring conclusion, it passes instead through angular, awkward, even ugly passages, surrounded on all sides by ominous glowering layers of sound seemingly coloured different shades of black. At its end, Le cri du Choucas sounds stunned, which is precisely how i felt too. It’s another spectacular creation from an undisputed master of the art.” (Reviewed in May 2016.)

It’s another spectacular creation from an undisputed master of the art.

Counting Crows

Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector, December 18, 2016

Veteran composer Francis Dhomont is one of the big noises in Canadian electroacoustic and musique concrète composition, so it’s no surprise to see him represented on the showcase label empreintes DIGITALes with his recent composition, Le cri du Choucas. Astute readers (and viewers) will instantly recognise the piercing eyes of Franz Kafka collaged on the cover art there. Le cri du Choucas takes the ideas of Kafka as its theme, a pursuit which Dhomont has been following since 1997. There’s a previous chapter, Études pour Kafka, released by this same label in 2009; I don’t recall hearing that one, but the body of it has been reworked here. The composer also positions this release as the third and final part of a grand triologie, begun in 1981 as Sous le regard d’un soleil noir (released by Ina-GRM in France) and continued in the mid-1990s as Forêt profonde. He aims at extremes of drama, enriched with ideas about psychology; he wishes to plumb the depths of a man’s mind, through sound.

You could pick no better creator who personifies “unknowable depth” than your man Kafka; I’ve been reading his short stories since about 1979, and one day I hope to understand them. I can’t claim to have studied a great deal of critical analysis of Kafka, and I’m not sure that I care to; there’s a pleasure to be had for the reader in the constant mystification he sets up with his warped visions of European vistas, his mental labyrinths and strange symbols. I’ve no doubt there are numerous interpretations and explanations of The Trial and The Penal Colony, both works which feature in this music, but Francis Dhomont emphasises one particular aspect: the Law. Dhomont takes “the law” in Kafka to be “a metaphoric representation of the impenetrable realms the human mind hits”, and explores this theme with some determination. He probably reads Kafka’s work as describing a maze which always leads back to the same inescapable place, and ascribes the tone of despair and futility to the gloomy inevitability of mankind’s fate.

Dhomont also gives us his sonic take on other significant Kafka themes, including guilt, solitude, dreams, death, the family, and “impossible messages” — the last one being an apt description of Kafka’s own short stories, for this reader. On Le cri du Choucas — a title which incidentally translates as “The jackdaw’s call” and makes a punning reference to the Czech word Kavka — he does it through rich and maximal fugues of abstract sound. Everything has been heavily treated and processed through a vast amount of expensive-sounding digital crunch and filter effects, yet you feel you could somehow reverse-engineer these noises into their sources if you only listened for long enough. Alien though they be, some sounds closely resemble swarms of chattering voices in a huge mass, which is how I remember parts of Frankenstein Symphony by this composer (from 1997). Often these sounds coalesce and rush forward in a massed advance which seems unstoppable; it creates a suitably nightmarish and unreal mood for the listener.

The work is further illustrated and signposted by a good deal of spoken-word narration (in French), fragments of texts and documentary recordings which I assume highlight significant milestones in the design. But these interpolations also interrupt the flow of the music, and keep reminding us of the grand abstractions that Dhomont wishes to convey, barely allowing us any space to conceive our own thoughts. This is one of the stumbling blocks for me on this otherwise exciting release, as it lends an air of didacticism to the work; it’s like being lectured by stern academics in a stuffy University where the Kafka syllabus hasn’t been updated in over 35 years. One senses that the masters at this academy would have no truck with Orson Welles’ free-spirited cinematic interpretation of The Trial. It’s also something of an old-school musique concrète technique, one which has tended to mar my enjoyment of Pierre Henry’s Apocalypse de Jean, that famed Oratorio électronique from 1969. This aside, you can comfortably play this meticulous work at peak volumes for immersive and transporting effects, to induce profound states of mind… from 25 May 2016.

… you can comfortably play this meticulous work at peak volumes for immersive and transporting effects, to induce profound states of mind…


Dionisio Capuano, Blow Up, no. 220, September 1, 2016


Harry Wheeler, The Wire, no. 389, July 1, 2016
As he approaches 90, Dhomont is still mapping the collusion of hidden drives and open imperatives.


Riccardo Gorone, Carnage News, June 1, 2016

Francis Dhomont, audioartista belga specializzato in musique concrète e acusmatica, presenta un disco la cui ricerca è iniziata una decina d’anni fa, su Kafka, dal titolo Le cri du Choucas, “il grido della cornacchia”, o, ancora meglio, “il grido della taccola”, uccello sempre passeriforme dal piumaggio nero grigiastro, spesso considerato “uccello pericoloso, associato a morte e rovina” come sostiene Florence Bancaud nel suo Kafka ou le nom impropre. E da qui il riferimento allo scrittore ceco (Kavka, in ceco, significa letteralmente taccola, cornacchia, appunto) il cui mondo e la cui figura sembrano innestarsi completamente con questo immaginario.

Molto intelligente la narrazione delle tracce, poiché di questo si parla: la comprensione profonda che il suono si sviluppa all’ascolto orizzontalmente, come la narrazione, come il potere cinetico della voce narrante. Al di là dei titoli che sono chiaro riferimento alle opere letterarie (La loi, La colonie pénitentiaire, Le père, La métamorphose), Dhomont sviluppa le sue tracce seguendo le vicende del celebre racconto, Davanti alla legge, che spesso intervengono nei vivissimi affreschi acusmatici. La voce narrante, presenza quasi minacciosa dell’opera, è alterata, pitchata verso il basso in modo da risultare asettica e inesorabile. Il disco è sicuramente denso (momenti davvero profondi come i quasi 15 minuti di Le père in cui Dhomont mescola cori, noise, voci, rumori d’ambiente, armonici intonati, che regalano un’imponente immagine del dissidio interiore di un rapporto) dovuto soprattutto alla sua complessità, ma la scelta dell’autore riesce ad essere accattivante: il taglio prospettico scelto dal Nostro si concentra su ciò che Kafka era in Kafka, l’autore nelle sue opere, o meglio, l’autore filtrato dalle sue opere. Si pensi alla traccia Le Choucas in cui voci che si sormontano ripetono il nome dell’autore che si mescola al nome della cornacchia in ceco e francese (kafka, kavka, choucas), identificando le sue figure, mettendo a nudo l’autore e la sua figura che si auto interroga, che si auto accusa (impossibile non pensare alle atmosfere de Il Processo). Raffinate le due “parafrasi” di Dhomont (Paraphrase I e Paraphrase II) con cui prepara piccoli sipari sonori introdotto da alcuni fondamentali passaggi del racconto di cui poco sopra. Inquiétante étrangeté passa in rassegna, tra le varie registrazioni, un estratto audio che sottolinea l’olismo della figura kafkiana: il meccanismo onirico delle sue opere ha fatto sì che fossero il mezzo per poter sviluppare i diversi aspetti di lui stesso in una figura unica.

Il lavoro di Dhomont è lo specchio incrinato della figura di Kafka e, nel contempo, una linea di luce che fa brillare aspetti inediti dell’opus all’ombra della cornacchia.


Anthony N Frank, MusicPaper, June 1, 2016

Βετεράνος συνθέτης της ηλεκτροακουστικής και ακουσματικής μουσικής, ο 90χρονος Francis Dhomont, δημιουργεί ένα έργο με αποσπάσματα από γραπτά του Κάφκα, ονόματι Le cri du Choucas. Τρίτο και τελευταίο μέρος της δουλειάς του — Cycle des profondeurs — για τον Τσέχο συγγραφέα, ο Dhomont χρησιμοποιεί τα κείμενα με ψυχαναλυτικές και συμβολικές διαθέσεις με την παραμορφωμένη φωνή του αφηγητή να συνοδεύεται από μουσικές — από συμβατικά όργανα, φωνές, ηχητικά εφέ, field recordings, ηλεκτρονικά δημιουργημένους ήχους και ακουστικό υλικό παραποιημένο από προτσέσορες — σε μια νουάρ καφκική ατμόσφαιρα.

… σε μια νουάρ καφκική ατμόσφαιρα.


Simon Cummings, 5:4, May 23, 2016

When it comes to acousmatic music as its finest, though, Francis Dhomont remains one of the best of the best. Le cri du Choucas (the Cry of the Jackdaw) is a 70-minute work that forms the third and final part of the composer’s Cycle of Depths (following Sous le regard d’un soleil noir and Forêt profonde). As one expects from Dhomont, it’s a bold statement that comes across both as a continuation of and an ongoing reinvention of the acousmatic ‘tradition’ (for want of a better word). Quoting Michel Chion, Dhomont calls the piece an “electroacoustic melodrama”, an extremely appropriate description for a piece founded upon and musically elaborating fragments of text both by and associated with Franz Kafka. The emphasis is psychoanalytic, Kafka’s words being expanded by considerations from Marthe Robert’s As Lonely as Franz Kafka and RD Laing’s classic The Divided Self. It takes a little time to get used to its dramatic approach, declamatory spoken passages alternating with and inserted throughout extended musical meditations, but one soon acclimatises to this rhythm, and the results pass quickly from merely fascinating to deeply moving. Dedicated to Dhomont’s father, the text and music confront very complex and painful aspects of Kafka’s own paternal relationship. In response, Dhomont regularly fashions material that’s beautiful but barbed, sometimes arranged in multiple layers of dense activity, sometimes shot through with thin splinters of razor-sharp pitch over roiling depths. Le cri du Choucas is often startlingly vivid (the opening industrial soundscape of third movement La colonie pénitentiaire is like being plunged into the prologue of a Terry Gilliam dystopia), but without any sense of calling on easy associations from ‘anecdotal’ sources. Put another way, sounds — as they so frequently do in Dhomont’s work — usually remain just out of recognisable reach, yet retaining enough recollective proximity to trigger both memory and imagination. Coherent and organic throughout, the drama in Le cri du Choucas is just as much to do with the way musical materials are judged and handled than with the work’s more immediately tangible text component. Eighth movement Un message impérial is a masterclass in poised tension; despite being situated in the middle — and background, the steady increase in pressure is heart-poundingly riveting. Considering the difficulty of the subject matter, Le cri du Choucas contains music more dark and uncomfortable than one expects from Dhomont, even in the work’s closing moments; far from offering a reassuring conclusion, it passes instead through angular, awkward, even ugly passages, surrounded on all sides by ominous glowering layers of sound seemingly coloured different shades of black. At its end, Le cri du Choucas sounds stunned, which is precisely how i felt too. It’s another spectacular creation from an undisputed master of the art.

It’s another spectacular creation from an undisputed master of the art.

Musique électroacoustique et Franz Kafka?

Anne-Marie Jeanjean, Revue du crieur, no. 3, April 1, 2016

Voilà qui ne pouvait manquer d’attiser ma curiosité. Il faut préciser que Francis Dhomont, pionnier bien connu — et honoré — de la musique électroacoustique, travaille depuis longtemps avec les textes de Kafka; il est un familier de son univers.

Troisième et dernier volet du Cycle des profondeurs, ce disque s’intitule Le cri du Choucas. L’ensemble des sons — évidemment non identifiables — prolonge chez l’auditeur l’étrange désarroi induit par l’écriture de Kafka; le prolonge et l’amplifie ou le bouleverse radicalement. Cette profusion a nécessité une construction rigoureuse très équilibrée dans la distribution des courtes citations de textes de l’écrivain tout au long des 12 séquences.

Parmi elles, et il faudrait bien des pages encore pour analyser vraiment le montage acoustique, je note en milieu et fin de la séquence 3 [La colonie pénitentiaire] l’emballement sonore en avalanche qui renforce l’engrenage de l’imaginaire avec de brusques retombées vers le concret. À la séquence 5 [Attente], pris avec «l’homme de la campagne» dans le rideau sonore, les auditeurs ressentent profondément ce qui agite, ce qui peuple cette attente avec ses à-coups d’espoir / désespoir, son questionnement sans fin. Et ce mot «Warrum?» (Pourquoi?) Qui la clôt. Warrum répété plusieurs fois qui hante l’ensemble de la composition: la question sans réponse possible… Le thème du père se déploie dans la séquence centrale 6 [Le père] qui est la plus longue (15 min). Très troublante car au fil de l’écoute se re / découvrent des fragments connus et qui prennent dans cet environnement là, une intensité autre, différente.

Les voix (dont celle de Marthe Robert) transformées, ou non, ajoutent à la dramaturgie générale avec beaucoup de sobriété, contrastant avec les explosions et tourbillons de musique dont Francis Dhomont sait parfaitement, en grand maître qu’il est de la matière sonore, infléchir des nuances inattendues faisant de ce disque un grand bonheur d’écoute qui enrichit tout autant notre réflexion que notre théâtre intérieur.

… une construction rigoureuse très équilibrée […] un grand bonheur d’écoute…

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