Passepartout Duo – Vis-à-Vis: Album Review

Passepartout Duo have put together a truly wonderful piece of art, on many levels, for their first full length album.

Release Date: 10th April 2020

Label: AnyOne (Beijing)

Format: LP / Digital

Several years ago, I was lucky to visit Beijing. It was my second visit to this sprawling metropolis and many of the experiences I had were driven by curiosity. One of the places that I visited was the 798 Art District which comprises a complex of 50-year-old decommissioned military factory buildings boasting a quite unique style both architecturally and atmospherically.

Vis-à-Vis, from Passepartout Duo, has been released by AnyOne which is the Chinese art company and record label founded by Yannis Zhang and Yumo Wu. It’s fascinating for me personally to read about artists experiences of being in places I have been and the creative forces that sweep over them when I have that extra little frame of reference. I would recommend reading Passepartout Duo’s experiences of their months in China before really immersing yourself in this album. (You can read here).

As for Vis-à-Vis, well…according to the band, it combines spellbinding musical rituals, introspective lamentations, and otherworldly ambience, and is inspired by a spirited year of travels and encounters. This is a true a statement as you will ever read.

There are, in theory, two pieces of music here. Heartwood and Vis-à-Vis. Both sections are around 17 minutes long. They are broken into four sections each for your enjoyment, should you like a particular part.

When you press play, or drop the needle on Vis-à-Vis, it is hard to stop due to the sense of wonder at what might be around the next musical corner.

Heartwood starts in ambient fashion and is it progresses there are more modulated sounds that veer between the serene to the unnerving. The subtlety with which sounds are created and modulated to sound completely different is enchanting.

Section 3 of Heartwood is absolutely unreal. The use of instrumentation, (designed and built by the duo out of scrap wood and metal found on the streets of Geneva), create imagery of varying shades depending on your mood; light or dark, sweeping meadows or crashing waves, a village sojourn or a city slog.

The best music, for me, is that of interpretation; being the listener and being consumed. In culmination, Heartwood takes the piece full circle back to it’s ambient beginnings.

The second piece of music is Vis-à-Vis. Immediately, this piece is more percussive – the melodious part of the duo strikes straight away as well. The pace is different, and there is an erratic synth melody that evokes a ball of thread unravelling.

Each extraneous noise in each strike of a note is kept within the recording; the force with which the duo play their instruments is kept as part of the rich tapestry that Passepartout Duo create. If you listen on headphones, you can pick up on the many threads woven into the fabric.

A moment of silence in Section 3 of Vis-à-Vis gives way to a highly introspective melody that will enrapture you. It slowly builds. Each repetition builds on it’s previous incarnation as the hypnotic final section of Vis-à-Vis brings to a close an otherworldly piece of music.

Some of the synth sounds almost feel like they wouldn’t be out of place in 8-bit gaming. The crescendo of Vis-à-Vis is a whirlwind of synth. Like it’s predecessor, Heartwood, it completes the circle back to it’s start point with an abrupt ending, mirroring it’s quick start.

Sometimes it’s a challenge to write about such wondrous and intricate music. Whilst there is abundant intricacy; there is opulent simplicity. Each note, each sound, each modulation, each second of Vis-à-Vis’ timbre is something to cherish.

AnyOne, the Chinese art company and record label founded by Yannis Zhang and Yumo Wu, have produced the album’s physical format. Created from multiple superimposed layers of cut and printed paper, the artwork of the album illustrates the concept of its musical counterpart.

Listen to Heartwood in it’s entirety below. I would encourage you to check out the vinyl format of this album as it is a work of art. You can order the vinyl release from the duo’s Bandcamp page. It is a thing of vinyl collecting beauty; take a look!

Passepartout Duo: Official Website / Facebook / Instagram / YouTube

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