The legendary French trio of Jean-Luc André, Jean-Philippe Fée and Sylvie Martineau made their debut in the late 1970s and quickly established a dominant position on the then vibrant international cassette scene. Their label Illusion Productions and their studio Souterrain Scientifique became the marks of defiant creativity. DDAA – Déficit des Années Antérieures – specialized in neo-modernist collages, drowned in obsessive, organically mixed rhythmic patterns of both human and looped origin. It is in the instantly recognizable character of these loops – soluble, ductile and reversible – that DDAA made a lasting contribution to 20th century avant-garde rock.
At the beginning of their career, DDAA exhibited fascination with early-stage mechanization and with 20th century Japonisme. Both motifs interacted gracefully in short, ironic songs and in more extended compositions. Although the band was on the cutting edge of post-punk avant-garde and frequently appeared on compilations next to such luminaries as Nurse with Wound, Merzbow, Organum, Smegma or P16D4, the trio’s style was always more melodic and eschewed caustic aggression of post-industrial mannerism.
DDAA remains virtually unknown outside France and little known inside the ‘Hexagone’. Nevertheless, its historic importance can hardly be overestimated. The band’s copious heritage deserves a book rather than a mere article. This is just a timid beginning.
(The titles reproduced here may not correspond exactly to the subdivisions of the single track on this CD)
The vacillating intro ushers us into the space filled with scraped strings and various haptic modules tampering with oblong metallic fiber. Behind us, a distorted voice explodes into spasmodic sneeze. It will return every 14 seconds as our senses struggle to distinguish a distant factory siren from a ritualistic Tibetan trumpet. The deadpan sneeze and the siren recur in a mid-tempo loop, while the scraping and fumbling of guitar strings continues its abstract ruminations.
Chant de guerre
Subterranean, volumetric bass figure will carry here a mutilated voice uttering unrecognizable phrases. Emergent howling confuses us again – are these passionate soccer fans or a South-East Asia’s professional mourners? These unrelated vocal elements will synchronously fall into a looped pathway. Uninvited, a buzzing harmonica squeezes itself into this organic whole, but dissolves before a disaffected recitation in English reminds us of 1980s British new wave vocal mannerisms. Fully immersed in the loops, the lyrics are not audible. Meanwhile regular waves of French phrases approach us with a bombastically scientific, eggheady attitude. Acoustic guitar accentuates the polygonal rhythmic engine. Then, for a moment, a very argumentative female voice flickers.
La chute de Miandrivazo
It turns out that the self-important “scientific voice” was about wedding preparations. To the squeaks of a cheap organ and children’s calls, a Francophone robot proclaims “I hear a noise”. The observation is correct. The mechanistic rhythm is now more terrestrial, interspersed with industrial noises. A friend once remarked that 1980s’ DDAA sometimes sounded like a more avant-gardish Cabaret Voltaire would have if it had continued to develop artistically, rather than imploded commercially. This could be one of these moments. The aural fabric is embroidered with the multiplicity of voices – anguished commentaries, admonishments, collective doubts and arguments – their contrasted prosody enriches the texture of this fragment. Martial drums briefly compress the invariant flux, echoing classic Test Dept., but lacking the UK band’s intensity. Various percussive divagations intervene and occasionally it seems that the porous guitar would become more prominent, but it is all too soon eroded by the transgressive tape overdrive.
Halte au feu
The next section opens with scuttling percussives, both acoustic and electronically processed. The form gradually coagulates until the familiar, gritty baritone looms. His conceited lines are among DDAA’s most directly recognizable trademarks (unfortunately, I never know if this is Jean-Luc or Jean-Philippe).
Passage de Makay
It takes several minutes before the improvised patting is displaced by a female vocalise, overlaid over and above an old patriotic invocation reproduced from an old 78rpm record. Various other tapes descend on us. Sylvie Martineau intones a fragile melody with her petite voice. Loose metal sheets and unidentified mechanical objects tamper with her efforts to reach our auditory system. Dull sheets of flailing noise periodically distract us from the overall repetitive format of this section.
De Mauja à Mahabo
An entirely unexpected recorder (Bernard C.?) announces a change of scene. A bubbly, high-pitched rhythm box and a mandolin will lead us onto other, spectral pastures. In the record’s strongest passage, a kaleidoscopic revue of distant memories will pop up, lubricated by an elastic, well-defined loop. First street marching bands and a maître de céremonie who exhorts the “crowd” to move back. Later, various official announcements convey a sense of superfluous, Gallic pomp. They, in turn, will be interspersed with snippets of overexcited sports commentators bent on athletic, machine gun verbal über-performance. A late-night hard-bop moment overshadows a West African choir. A static Buddhist ceremony, immobilized by bells and trumpets; a subglacial new age flute; guttural religiosity of monks’ prayers; Indian radio songs… Some of these elements will filter through as mere forays, but others will morph into a colossal orogeny of sounds. A shamanic chant stays with us a little longer, with organ and tambourine accentuating the instrumental paucity in stark contrast to the accretive value of the looped effects.
Ils s’apperçoivent un grand machin mobil
Without interrupting the flow, this part now segues into a polyrhytmic sequence of Karnatic percussion and mantric voices. Droney choir refurbishes the meditative building blocks of Gong’s early achievements, augmented here by untuned brassy percussion, and then breathy scraping of non-resonant metal sheets. Equally dull clatter is the only permanent feature here. The passage is so dense and polymetric that it is impossible to fathom what kind of rhythmic loop would eventually emerge. And indeed, we have to wait for the band’s very straightforward drumset, Casio and synthesized effects to find a rhythmic clue. The orthogonal loops operate at varying speeds.
Un vrai morceau joue de manière fausse
Silence. Bizarre… A magical, melodic line emanates from the mandolins, electric bass, sustained viola and soft-clipped electric guitar. Airy bongos are here to add some chroma, rather than improve on the reining loop’s rhythmic dominance. The guitar improvises at the center. The sepulchral viola responds to each of the guitar’s opening chords. Slow recitation in English ensues. The solemnity of the voice is crowded with guitar and electronic effects while the granular rhythmic structure becomes more pronounced and distinctive.
Quelque chose d’assez obscur
The final eight minutes take us for a much less abstract exercise of percussive cohesion and a vaguely melodic recitation in English. The phrases, barely understandable, fall perfectly within the meter determined by the drums and the guitar loop. A delicate metallophone adds decorative accents over the topmost layer.
Les 4 soleils à l’horizon
The poignant, unmusical voices will intone a sad song with a faux harmonium sound from a modern keyboard, accompanied by an occasional drum thud and metallic scuttle’n’scrape. The journey ends here.
DDAA’s discography is extensive and not easily available. Many of the older productions are screaming for a re-edition on CD. I strongly recommend in particular all the recordings from the first five years of activity (1979-1984) and from the period 1990-2001. In addition to the records, cassettes and CDs listed below, the band produced a wealth of shorter compositions published on international compilations, including the famed “Masse Mensch”, “Douze pour un”, “Voices Notes and Noise”, “Bad Alchemy no 10”, “Strength”, “Three Minute Symphony”, “Paris-Tokyo” and “Sensationnel Journal no.1”. Some, although not all of these songs appeared on the band’s own collections. The trio is occasionally active to this day.
DDAA: “Déficit des années antérieures” MC (1979)
DDAA: “Miss Vandann” SP (1979)
DDAA: “Front de l’Est” 2SP (1980)
DDAA: “Aventures en Afrique” SP (1980)
DDAA: “Live in Acapulco” 2MC (1980)
DDAA: “Action and Japanese Demonstration” (1982)
DDAA: “Prehistoric rejet” MC (1983)
DDAA: “5ème anniversaire” EP (1984)
DDAA: “Les ambulents” (1984)
DDAA: “Objet” (1983-1985)
DDAA: “Lernen 5. Submusic” MC (1984-1985)
DDAA: “La familles des saltimbanques MC (1984-1985)
DDAA: “When a Cap is Rising” (1982-1986)
DDAA: “En concert” MC (1983, 1986)
DDAA/NURSE WITH WOUND/G.REVELL: “Nekropolis” (1986)
DDAA: “Ronsard” (1988)
DDAA: “Otez votre jeunesse” SP (1988)
DDAA: “Les Corbusier buildings” SP (1988)
DDAA: “Nouvelles constructions sonores sur fondations visuelles” MC (1988)
DDAA: “Bruit son petit son” (1990-1991)
DDAA: “Nouveaux bouinages sonores dans la période” (1990-1992)
DDAA & J-F.PAUVROS: “De Gaulle à Bayeux, un opera Maracayace” (1994)
DDAA: “Baggersee” MCD (1995)
DDAA: “La conférence Maracayace” (1994, 1999)
DDAA: “20 ans de vieille musique nouvelle” (1994, 2001)