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Silly, superb sounds from a singer's wild imagination

WORLD MUSIC REVIEW

June 12, 2006|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

French singer Camille's new album, "Le Fil," relies so strongly on recording studio technology that one didn't quite know what to expect from her appearance Saturday at the Knitting Factory.

Not to worry. Although she performed with a pianist and a bassist, and with an audio engineer playing an important role, Camille (who uses only her first name professionally) transformed the multilayered textures, so remarkable on the album, into a gripping live performance.

"Le Fil" means "the string" or "the thread." Camille uses it to describe a continuing drone note that links each of the songs on the CD. The same technique was employed at the Knitting Factory, visually enhanced by a string stretching at waist level across the front of the stage. Her puffy white outfit, recalling both an eccentric wedding gown and Bjork's swan dress, probably would have drawn howls of outrage from the fashion police, but it also added a subtle visual aspect to her performance.

Camille sang many of the songs from the album, employing instantly created audio loops as well as recorded material. One of the most striking aspects of "Le Fil" is its assemblage of vocal sounds, occasionally recalling influences as diverse as Portishead, Bobby McFerrin, Zap Mama and, yes, Bjork. In performance, Camille added a much wider range of spontaneous vocal squeaks, burps, coughs and squawks, often inviting the audience to participate in choruses (hilariously so in a song about cats and dogs, and another about the difference between men and women).

Some of it was silly, some far too adolescent for an artist with obviously lofty creative ambitions. But, like Dizzy Gillespie singing "Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac" next to a fiery, inventive bop number, Camille's mischievousness provided both the entryway and the padding for her more musically adventurous pieces.

Songs such as "Pale Septembre," written shortly after the events of Sept. 11, and "Quand le Marche" and "Le Sac des Filles" are superb works of imagination. Camille's performances of those numbers, like her recordings, confidently displayed what can happen when a probing musical mind uses contemporary audio devices at the service of a gifted, inner creativity.

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