Imagine American composer-multi-instrumentalist Frank Pahl and the French team of Francoise & Christophe Petchanatz (who perform together as Klimperei) as a trio of musical puppeteers with a diminutive army of self-playing, toy-box instruments. The laundry list of gizmos brought together by the transcontinental trio for its sweetly-titled collaboration, Music For Desserts is a who’s who and what’s what of obscure noisemakers. Of the nearly 40 under Pahl’s control we find automatic zithers, binary doorbell quintet, washing machine, toy trombone and something called “virtual pet: gerbil.” Klimperei’s contributions are slightly more vague but nonetheless mystifying — metalophone, melodica, things apparently strange enough to simply be credited as “devices.”
And when the curtain rises on this production, with the delicate foundation of mysteriously plucked strings, tiny bells and light percussions, their cast of toys immediately affirms every flavorfuul insinuation of the record’s title. The first airy moment of the opening track, “Lyon Fritters,” is one of both fragile beauty and reserved dignity, qualities that define every one of the “desserts” until the final course. Whether the instrumental creations are defined by the playful euphonium and barrel piano in “Charlotte Russe” or the gently eerie organ drone and whistled melody of “Richelieu Cream with Parlines,” the trio never fails to create sound environments which are stunningly theatrical, imprecise machines, ready at any moment to run off their tracks.
There couldn’t be a better example than the comical and compact “Hedgehogs.” The reedy melody rises to inspired heights over a champagne-drunk piano accompaniment, then momentarily runs out of gas just to rise again. The grandest of the 18 tracks comes with the door bell-driven pulse of “Almond Rock Cakes,” by far the longest track at a moderate 5:29. After its toy-whistle introduction, the momentum of self-playing instruments begins, serving as a backdrop for the highly dramatic prepared-piano and euphonium melodies that follow.
Coming to its conclusion with “Stuffed Angelica,” Music for Desserts ends with understated ambience, fading out in a diminishing, discordant wave, the perfectly sedate conclusion to the theatrical mania that precedes it. And when Pahl and Klimperei conclude, this musical achievement is built on a melange of emotions that is both lighthearted and meaningful — an achievement that depends on beautifully complex minds and beautifully simple machines.
Nate Cavalieri writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.