Ambient Radiance for Hector Zaour & Swara’s In the House of Mirrors


You know you’ve got something special when you open up a new record and a seed unexpectedly slips out. The one that inadvertently came with my copy of In the House of Mirrors appears to be thistle or cornflower; I happened to see it fall from the packaging just as the record started playing, a blunt symbol of rebirth that made Hector Zazou’s passing (the 60-year-old electronic composer, considered by many to be the biggest thing out of Algeria since Yves Saint-Laurent, died of a heart attack in September) doubly sad and romantic. Though arguably not his “final” record, Mirrors emerged a scant two weeks after his death—a quirk of the calendar rather than overt calculation. That his three-decade career involved a diverse palette of collaborators is an understatement­—having recorded with everyone from Björk and Brian Eno to Jane Birkin and Gerard Depardieu, it’s clear that only someone exceptionally special can attract that much creative energy.

Recorded in Mumbai with Swara—a quartet of Uzbekistani and Indian players on oud, violin, flute, Indian slide guitar, and incredibly subtle electronic treatments—the record features guests like ECM trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer and, surprisingly, drummer Bill Rieflin, who supplied all those killing beats for industrial powerhouses Ministry; here he is subtle and measured, which in its own way is as startling as a good drum break. Zazou sails gently minimal moments across the endless ocean of this intensely beautiful album, mirrored only by the drool across which the listener kayaks as the songs unfold. It’s a nobly natural record, radiant and contemplative, carrying no aspirations other than an egoless purity of being. That was Zazou’s great artistic accomplishment—attaining a state of simple being—rather than recycling the wan wank of navel-gazing ambient noodling that tends to make a better door than it does a window.