Quelques usines fantômes. BRUNO DUPLANT
(Unfathomless 2012)

Review by Chris Whitehead

Any object or entity we come into contact with is surrounded by allusions and ideas. They form layers in a cloud around it, and by peeling them away and considering them we may eventually get to the core, the essence of the subject.

In any created work some of these layers are placed there by the artist who may wish to project emptiness, warmth, space or any number of feelings into or onto the audience. In painting pigments are layered over each other, often a background can be perceived upon which the vision of the artist takes shape. If sound is the chosen medium, silence is the background, the blank canvas, the empty disc, the file without content that needs to be populated.

Some layers of allusion are provided by the observer or listener, the person who comes upon the object in order to glean some meaning from it. These layers are memories, feelings, histories and assumptions, sometimes linked and sometimes not linked to what the manufacturer, designer or artist was attempting to achieve.

I grew up in the great English steel producing city of Sheffield. Although we lived some considerable distance from the industrial core, I remember with great clarity lying in bed at night listening to the faint but rhythmic hammering sounds of the forges.

Once it was possible to be enthralled by a walk around the steel works. The sights, sounds and smells of deep industry constituted a sustaining lifeblood for the city. Glowing furnaces and black interiors, men’s voices dwarfed by the clatter and scrape of raw metal, this was after all Sheffield’s reason to exist.

Succumbing to political and economical tides, by the 1980s many of these factories became silent and derelict. Production stopped and a grey pall held sway. Life seemed to have been sucked out of the city. It was to all intents and purposes the end of the era of manufacturing. Steel stopped being melted, rolled, hammered and cut to be made into ships, cars, cutlery and engines. Companies closed, workers were made redundant and the meaning of Sheffield changed forever.

Bruno Duplant’s Quelques usines fantômes depicts ghost factories. Factories bigger than the room you are listening to the CD in. Huge metal foundries where work is taking place, but the workers never speak. The silence on which these scenes are painted is never disturbed by human interaction, only the sparse incursion of metal on metal or the breath of cold wind and furnace blast.

Phantoms without substance are carrying out these activities, often in distant parts of the plant. Close by a pipe clangs like a cemetery bell whilst in a dark adjacent workspace some coal-like material is being emptied from a container into a pile on the stone floor.

Duplant forms space and darkness from his building blocks. He positions discrete sounds carefully and never overwhelms the listener with a monstrous industrial roar. This is much more subtle. It isn’t industrial music, it is ghost music. The industry has gone, but the sounds are preserved as memories, phantoms, spirits emanating like vapours from dead factory walls and floors.

The success of this piece to me is the way the layers of meaning Duplant has carefully laminated into Quelques usines fantômes interlace with the layers of memory and experience I as the listener bring to the work.

To me it is a walk round Sheffield after the closures. A certain sadness, a sense of loss, a sense that something has forever vanished. Almost as if during pitch black, still nights, if you listened carefully enough and pressed an ear to a derelict, long abandoned foundry floor in any city or town, the emergence of this haunted music might not seem such a far fetched occurrence.

Of course I speak subjectively. Clearly you will clothe this evocative and fascinating composition with your own personally nuanced mantle of significance.



[Bruno Duplant, drawing by his son Melvil]

Bruno Duplant discography
Unfathomless website