Jean-Luc Godard: Nouvelle Vague (ECM New Series 1600/01)

Jean-Luc Godard
Nouvelle Vague

Featuring the music and voices of:
Dino Saluzzi
David Darling
Patti Smith
Jean Schwartz
Werner Pirchner
Paul Hindemith
Heinz Holliger
Paul Giger
Arnold Schoenberg
Gabriella Ferri
Alain Delon
Domiziana Giordano
Roland Amstutz
Laurence Cote
Jacques Dacqmine
Christophe Odent
Laurence Guerre
Joseph Lisbona

But I wanted this to be a narrative. I still do. Nothing from outside to distract memory. I barely hear, from time to time, the earth softly creaking, one ripple beneath the surface. I am content with the shade of a single poplar, tall behind me in its mourning.

In every Godard film, there are moments in which chaos reigns. Ambient sounds replace human voices. Animals, especially dogs and crows, always seem to have something to add. The mechanical world becomes part of the conversation. These intersections of sound and darkness, of silence and light, underscore our social inequities and nothing more. They pass without judgment, suddenly swallowed whole by accidents and unarticulated pain. Yet it is in precisely these gnarled irregularities that the larger construction of life, and this film depicting it, is betrayed. There is no order beyond choice, no means for permanence in a world so finitely recreated. The film gives illusory clout to its own staying power and falls flat against the screen long before its depth can be realized.

As a soundtrack, Nouvelle Vague is a rich experience, made all the more so if one has seen the film and has its images in mind. An earlier companion piece to the vastly significant Histoire(s) du cinema, this is the complete aural map of Godard’s multi-sensory essay. Like the soundtrack to Histoire(s), it brings to light not only the film’s interior but also its exterior nuances, probing its topography, if you will, with a practiced hand. This is strictly a descriptive engagement. As spoken voices fade in and out of a painterly mélange of musical selections, ECM and otherwise, our ears (and our eyes) spin the one continual thread holding it all together. The musics of Dino Saluzzi and David Darling figure most heavily in Nouvelle Vague and inform much of its dialectic edge. They are placed among, and in place of, dialogue, adding to a mounting intellectual cacophony. Darling’s cello merges with a beeping car horn and screeching tires, Hindemith graces the inside of every mask donned by the film’s characters, and voices cry out like solo instruments against a larger orchestral palette. Godard’s familiar splashing water also makes its requisite cameo. Yet it is Saluzzi’s bandoneón that provides some of the more understatedly dramatic moments. Its tearful, bellowed cry is as recognizable as the rhythms of the filmmaker using it, and ends the text on a stark note as a car speeds away in a swirl of filmic dust.

With this release, ECM redefined what a soundtrack can be: something that literally “tracks sound,” marking every stage of a narrative with its most fleeting aspects. Diegetic distinctions are arbitrary in Godard’s world. Sound is image is sound. Our own mental pictures are no less substantial than those captured on film, for captured is precisely what they are. Nouvelle Vague invites us to let the visual world unfurl—not through the sound, but as the sound itself.

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