James Blackshaw’s new release is not a tribute to Mike Patton’s experimental metal band; it’s actually a tribute to someone a lot more insane.
Fantômas is a popular villain in French culture, created by Marcel Allain in 1911 and appearing in no less than 43 books and 13 films. French silent film director Louis Feuillade also created five films involving Fantômas, which were released between 1913 and 1914. In 2013, Yann Tiersen organized an effort to score the five Feuillade films and play them live to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the films; in doing so, he invited James Blackshaw to tackle the fifth film, Le Faux Magistrat (Tiersen himself played at the event, as did Tim Hecker and Amiina). And so Blackshaw put together 75 minutes of music and invited Simon Scott, Duane Pitre, and Charlotte Glasson to help perform the score. No one was murdered during the construction or performance of the score, to my knowledge — you can never be too careful around Fantômas (also note that the performance was on Halloween, which is kind of spooky!).
What’s surprisingly absent from Fantômas, is Blackshaw’s signature twelve string guitar. Here, we’re limited to six strings and on occasion some piano work. Meanwhile Scott, Pitre, and Glasson contribute drums, electronics, synth, guitar, vibraphone, violin, saxophone, and several other instruments. In total, what could be a rather cacophonous adventure is actually pretty mellow and at times sinister. Having not seen Le Faux Magistrat myself (it’s on the agenda), it’s a bit presumptuous to claim it fits well with the film, but given the general feel of that era of silent film, Fantômas fits the bill on a superficial level. It’s engaging, yet not overpowering, but also accents with film with a variety of moods that likely highlight the anti-hero’s unforgivable deeds. Films were much tamer 100 years ago as well; Blackshaw’s rendition would probably not mesh so well if Fantômas was given a modern day re-imaging.
Much like fellow 12 string guitar-slinger Alexander Turnquist, Blackshaw has been branching out from his solo efforts over the past few years and flexing his muscles as a composer. In Fantômas he completely abandons his normal crutch, and there is a tangible sense that his world is now completely unrestricted. Sure, we’ll likely see him revert back to the stable 12 string in future works, but for now, the possibilities are endless.