Mise En Abyme is the second full-length by Joni Void, the plunderphonic electronica project of France/Canada producer Jean Cousin, following his acutely accomplished and acclaimed 2017 debut album Selfless. (#8 Experimental Album of 2017 at Pitchfork, among other accolades.)
Mise En Abyme refers to the aesthetic technique of putting a copy within the work itself, a story within a story, as a metafunction that aims to reflect the object back onto the perceptual subject in an explicitly conceptual way. Cousin also plays upon the literal etymology of the term – “placed into abyss” – invoking the recursive neuroses of identity and self-consciousness, the lacuna of seeing/being-seen and projection/introspection; the metaphoric standing between two mirrors, plunged into spatio-temporal disorientation through reflections multiplied to an impossibly infinite vanishing point.
Consistent with Selfless, the primary raw material for the sample-based cut-up songcraft on Mise En Abyme is Cousin’s recordings of the voices of various friends. His self-professed body/voice dysmorphia and search for the disembodied-yet-emotional transcendent subject continues to mandate the use of other (mostly wordless) voices in the construction of his sublimely affecting electronic-minimalist compositions. But where Selfless was a restless, kinetic and visceral work of outer projection, Mise En Abyme is markedly more introspective and meditative – explicitly in search of intimacy and recuperative beauty.
Grappling with a cascade of heartbreaks and discontinuities over the past year, Cousin also calls the new album a “time-travel experiment”, as he culls sounds from devices and sources spanning childhood to the present (phones, cameras, video games, home movies) to retrieve and reframe subjective memories, histories and “regressions through former selves” through immersion in the evocative potential of the mostly wordless voices of others. The resulting sonic portraits simultaneously convey formally abstract dislocations and highly emotive warmth, interiority, humanity and specificity. Side A especially highlights these works – the “with people” half of the album, replete with contemplative, melancholic songs, each featuring a deconstructed performance by a different female voice, propelled to varying degrees with additive rhythmic and textural layers. Side B is the “isolation” half: vocal samples continue to make appearances, now including Cousin’s own voice on “Voix Sans Issue”, and his own lyrics on the computer-narrated text-to-speech spoken word of the self-confessional “Deep Impression” – but the contrasting vibe is more claustrophobic, anxious and febrile. Mise En Abyme ends with a throwback to Cousin’s pre-Joni Void keyboard-based works as johnny_ripper on the gorgeous Rhodes piece “Persistence”, while the closing exuberant maximalist jam of “Resolve” fittingly samples every previous song and locks the album into a self-referential recursive sequence. Thanks for listening.