by Maggie Molloy
What does your Monday morning sound like?
For composer and videographer Florent Ghys, Monday morning sounds like a blur of metallic strings, syncopated melodies, bland newscasting, tasteful glockenspiel ornamentation, and lots and lots of double bass. Double the double bass, to be exact.
Ghys’ new ensemble Bonjour is a low string quartet with percussion featuring some of New York’s finest new music-makers. Comprised of Ghys and Eleonore Oppenheim on the two double basses, Ashley Bathgate on cello, James Moore on electric guitar, and Owen Weaver on percussion, the group is taking the classical string quartet model and giving it a 21st century edge.
“I’ve always loved rock bands with a lot of bass, and I’ve always dreamt of a string quartet that would be lower in register than the usual classical string quartet,” Ghys said. “So I decided to incorporate two double basses and one cello in Bonjour. I’m also trained as a classical guitarist myself, so I knew I wanted to add a guitar (acoustic and electric) that could blend with the bowed strings and bring other string timbres to Bonjour’s palette.”
That palette comes alive in Bonjour’s debut self-titled album: a series of musical snapshots capturing the moods of various days and times throughout the week. Performed in no particular order, each piece offers a refined glimpse into the sounds and sentiments of everyday living, from the jumbled, hazy newscasts of Monday morning to the chaotic afternoon distractions of Friday at 3pm.
Ghys was loosely inspired by the tradition of the Indian raga, in which different scales or modes are associated with different times of day. Fascinated by the idea that a pitch set could have its own mood, color, and specific timeframe, Ghys began applying these principles to his daily music practice.
He also, of course, combined them with his trademark jazz grooves, classical composition background, idiosyncratic bass hooks, and inimitable pop music sensibilities. Mix it all together and voilà! You have Bonjour.
The album begins with “Friday 3pm,” an upbeat, danceable tune comprised of wordless vocals sighing above a bed of jagged strings—with some electric guitar embellishments thrown in for an extra punch. It sounds like the blissful anticipation of the weekend ahead: the looming promise of less work, more play.
“Wednesday” sounds a bit more like that mid-week grind: a little darker color scheme and a lot more drama. For Ghys, Wednesday brings a split mood: one moment the voices double the bassline above evergreen acoustic guitar strumming—the next moment, the strings take center stage for an angular canon above a steady rock drum beat.
“Thursday Afternoon” starts fresh with some jazzy bass comping, the two double bassists playing off one another as the other instruments gradually join in, feeling happy, optimistic, creative. Extraordinarily low strings fill out their indie-band sound, eventually dropping into a low, buzzing drone, like a car zooming off into the sunset for a long weekend.
That car zooms right into the track “Sunday,” a reminder of how quickly the weekend passes by. Sunday sounds calmer, nostalgic even, with strings hocketing back and forth above warbling electric guitar chords. Twinkling glockenspiel adds another layer of whimsy above the softly fluttering strings, and before you know it, it’s already “Monday Morning.”
Monday is a bit of a daze: stormy strings, circling melodies, a smattering of indecipherable voices spewing nonsensical quotes from literary and news sources. Monday goes through a lot of moods: first dark then dreamy, anxious then sleepy, focused, excited—and finally, inspired.
“Thursday Morning” is much more buoyant, with pizzicato cello and bass lines weaving in and out of one another, their vibrations echoing across the sparse musical texture. Sighing vocals start in about halfway through the piece, supported by broad bow strokes and the subtle, metallic sparkle of the glockenspiel.
The album comes to a close on “Tuesday Noon Around 12:21,” with electric guitar harmonics gradually creeping through a sparse soundscape of wispy strings, slowly growing in depth and drama as the day wears on.
But whether it’s a Tuesday afternoon or the tail end of the work week, the different days and times ultimately all blend together, and as weeks pass by those individual moments become less and less individual. Certain hours share a similar character, certain feelings or moods last across several days—certain sounds and certain moments bleed into the larger fabric of our lives.
And it’s that sense of wholeness—of complex intersection between those distinctly individual moments across the album—that makes Bonjour the perfect soundtrack for any day of the week.