France Culture's Atelier De Création Radiophonique, a national radio station, commissioned Cécile Schott (Colleen) to record music for a special broadcast. Over a two year period, Schott had created a number of songs that were made entirely of music box recordings. Schott was so pleased with the results that she decided to let Leaf Records release the collection as an EP (along with one extra track).
Colleen is not the first electronic musician to work with music boxes. Their whimsical draw has courted a number of other artists, most famously, Richard D. James and Bjork Guðmundsdóttir. With Colleen et Les Boites a Musique, however, the approach is different. The music box is not just a tool used in a song, but a complete exploration of an instrument's possibilities. Colleen takes the boxes further than her contemporaries. She studies them. She manipulates them. She makes them her own.
Colleen pulls a remarkable range of sounds from the simple boxes. The echoy goodness of "What Is a Componium?, Pt1" sounds as if wind chimes were being blown in melodic patterns. The notes on "Under the Roof" seem to lock together like the strings on a harp. The tonal percussions of "Will You Gamelan for Me" and "Calypso in a Box" mimic a Trinidadian Steel Drum.
She uses the boxes to display emotion and create a sense of feeling. With its floating atmosphere, "The Sad Panther" is one of Colleen et Les Boites a Musique's standout tracks. Recordings of soft melodies are played backwards, collapsing into another, and softy shift into a dreamy darkness. The tenderness displayed by this 2 minute track rivals other artist's entire careers.
Colleen et Les Boites a Musique is an EP that switches its moods while keeping its sound. It moves from mournful hymns to lighthearted carols effortlessly. For example, in direct contract to the gloom of "The Sad Painter", is the more lighthearted, "Charles's Birthday Card." This song is a disheveled manipulation of "Rock a Bye Baby." The notes are slowed and awkwardly timed with forced rests that intentionally impede and a l t e r the flow. This changes a traditional classic into something different. The trick is repeated with "A Bear Is Trapped." Here, different sections of "Pop Goes the Weasel" are sped up, slowed down, and reinterpreted. The pay-off has been taken; the weasel never pops. These songs work so well because the originals are so implanted into the collective consciousness that the alterations are clumsy, unexpected, and completely original.
Icy and delicate, gentle and playful, Colleen et Les Boites a Musique is a remarkably deep study of the music box in contemporary songwriting.