A flame my love, a frequency, the new full-length by Colleen (AKA Cécile Schott), is an album of transformations. A composer who has favored the viola de gamba (and other baroque instruments) with touches of electronic processing in her previous six albums, she makes the leap in her new work to fully electronic instrumentation.
Her seventh album emerged out of another shift that occurred over the course of a single day in Paris. Now based in Spain, Schott had returned to her former home in France for a visit in November 2015, where she saw a lovely scene of people enjoying the afternoon. Later that night, the same scene transformed into a scene of terror with the coordinated attacks that took place at cafes, bars, and a stadium and concert venue.
Though a heavy, despairing sound might seem a natural response to such an event, Colleen’s A flame my love, a frequency is remarkably light. Delicate and based on suggestion rather than profusion, the album seems to capture the ominous glow of the afternoon before the terror more than its mournful aftermath. It opens with “November,” the briefest and sparsest track, built on a single, twinkling synth voice that flutters forward for a phrase, then pauses. With that, the album promises a space for reflection.
It delivers throughout the seven spacious and beautiful songs that follow. “Separating” smolders with an eery intensity as Schott’s quiet, patient vocals echo over dainty synth lines that form a full orchestra in the gaps between them. “Another world” subtly radiates sadness and surprise as a low, resonant synth pulses and brighter voices dance in the foreground. In “The stars vs creatures,” a warm synth waltzes in pretty arpeggios, haunting with simplicity and a touch of otherworldly delay, before making way for a muted drone later on. Though the artist has replaced classical instruments with Critter and Guitari synthesizers and a Moog filter, she hasn’t completely abandoned them; from the piano sounds on “November” to the mallet-like voices on “The stars vs creatures” and string tones on “Winter dawn,” Schott draws so much warmth and depth out of her electronic palette that it’s easy to forget it comes from a series of circuits. For an album voiced by machines, A flame my love, a frequency maintains an abundance of human feeling.
And for an album influenced by loss, that human feeling maintains an impressive degree of levity. Instead of focusing on the shock of terror itself, Schott seems more concerned with the dissonance between beauty and horror. As she sings in “Winter dawn,” while a low synth pulses in an almost cheery rhythm, “The world had nearly ended yet the sky was blue.” Even after the worst event, beauty can persist. Anyone who listens to Colleen’s new album can attest to that.