Review

Robert Cahen

La Nef Des Fous

Recollection GRM • 2024

In the beginning, I was wary. The Frenchman Robert Cahen is known as an icon of video art. That Recollection GRM now releases audio recordings form the early 70s, suggests a primarily archival interest. What else could »La neuf de fous« be but a collector’s item that pales compared to Cahen’s installations? Two reasons suggest something else. First, music is everything but a side note in Cahen’s oeuvre. He studied under musique concrète’s grandmaster, Pierre Schaeffer. His video art again and again addresses music and it’s presuppositions. Secondly, »La neuf de fous« sounds out the potential of art. It’s title, »The Ship of Fools«, refers to the Western tradition’s grand anti-democratic metaphor. It originated in Plato. Society, supposedly, is like a ship. A ship needs a navigator. How do you become a navigator? By acquiring knowledge about navigating. Only fools would believe that a vote could legitimate leaders. Like-minded, Cahen’s music is aristocratic. »La neuf de fous« does not give a fig about popular appeal. It is musique concrète par excellence, self-assertive, uncompromising, and grimly determined. Guiseppe Ielasis’ mastering gives it the gravitas of an Ahab. Thus, Cahen sketches the image of an avant-garde that shifts the helm by letting listening habits walk the plank. This elitism is everything but sympathetic. At the same time, it is difficult not to feel captivated by Cahen’s rigor.