Running consistently since the mid 1990s, the French imprint, Fractal, has assembled one of the most striking and underacknowledged catalogs of radical music we can call to mind. Primary focused on reissues from the wildest and most obscure corners of European underground - the kind of things that even the NWW list missed - when viewed in its totality, it’s an awe-inspiring thing of beauty. Their latest LP, the first ever reissue of Sonorhc’s “Purf” - celebrating its 50th year anniversary - stands high among our favourite releases in their incredibly long and prodigious run.
A stunning gesture of collective improvisation originally issued by Disques du Cavalier in 1972, it’s an absolute burner, blending elements of free jazz, acid-psych, musique concrète, pan-internationalism, and sonic experimentalism in truly singular ways. Housed in a sleeve that immaculately reproduces the original, it’s a incredible revelation from the 1970s French underground that we’d struggle to recommend enough.
Formed sometime around the beginning of the 1970s around the duo of Jean-François Gaël and Pierre Buffenoir - both remarkable but under-recognised figures on the French music scene of this period - Sonorhc was a singular experimental ensemble of rotating membership, including Philippe Gumplowicz, Michel Puig (who studied electro-acoustic music with Pierre Schaefer at the GRM), Youval Micenmacher, and others. Their name, the backwards spelling of Chronos - Father Time - offers certain clues about the conceptual framework - drawing from numerous musical traditions from a diverse number of periods - that rumbles beneath the three albums they produce at ten-year intervals between 1972 and 1992. The first, and arguably most striking of these is “Purf”, the band’s debut, now reissued on vinyl for the first time by Fractal.
An obscure holy grail chased for decades by serious collectors, with original copies commanding high prices on the secondary market, Sonorhc’s “Purf” presents a beautiful resonance with a number of the Krautrock pioneers - Between, Agitation Free, Deuter, Limbus 3, Dzyan - and bands like Third Ear Band, Aktuala, and Magma, who were springing up across Europe during roughly the same moment.
Filled with inventiveness, sprawling out across eight mesmerising tracks, the ensemble deleteriously deploys a vast range of instrumentation within a hybrid form that shifts between psych-folk jams, wondrous “non-idiomatic excursions”, fragments of musique concrète, and wild free improvisations that split the difference between rock and jazz, each tying in ancient and modern cultural elements - medieval, baroque, oriental, etc. - to create a hypnotizing, immersive whole.
High among the great lost treasures of the 1970s French underground, Sonorhc’s “Purf” is an absolute marvel and a true revelation of the highest order. Fractal has pulled out all the stops and done the world a great service in bringing this masterstroke back into print. One of those records that keeps on unfolding and giving the more it spins, and that’s impossible to recommend enough.
This 50th Anniversary limited edition on black vinyl is housed in a sleeve that immaculately reproduces the original, and is one of the reissues that can’t be missed this year.