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Friday September 8, 2000

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Gallic popsters carve out their own niche

By Ian Caruth

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Tucson's best "French avant-garde pop" band rocks European-style

The last few years have seen a maturation of many area bands and collectives, so much so that the Old Pueblo seems to finally have a musical identity of its own. Attempts to describe the "Tucson sound" utilize words like "desert-noir." "Dusky." "Sparse." "French avant-garde pop."

French avant-garde pop?

"I like (the label) French avant-garde pop," said Naim Amor, one-half of Tucson-based French emigrˇs The Amor Belhom Duo. "We definitely belong to the tradition of French pop."

Amor - who sings and plays guitar, violin, and "devices" - and musical partner and percussionist Thomas Belhom have resided in Tucson since 1997, adapting their improvisational mix of American and Continental influences to fit their new home.

"Tucson is a natural playground for musicians," Amor said. "It's the lifestyle - it's very spacey, there is time to perform and elaborate. It creates a sound, for sure."

The pair - as is evident in their music - came from a different background than most Tucson musicians. After playing in punk bands during the 1980s, they changed gears and performed from 1992-1997 with Gˇnˇration Chaos, a Parisian theater group integrating dance, drama and music. The experience proved highly formative for the duo's future musical direction.

"We worked with Jean-Charles Fran¨ois, who directs experimental music and improvisation. We worked with him for five years on sound - not the notes, but the sound," Amor said.

"Gˇnˇration Chaos was like 20 people on stage," he added. "(Afterwards) we decided to just experiment more with the instruments - see how the guitar can be more percussive, see how the drums can be more harmonic."

The duo usually performs alone onstage, using a variety of unusual instruments and playing in many different styles.

"We have some really classic-structured songs, mixed with the improv dynamic," Amor said. "We could call (the improvisation) free-form; it's a blend of everything, it comes from all backgrounds. Modal improv, it could come from funk, hip-hop, from straight rock and roll."

Amor was careful to differentiate the Amor Belhom Duo from other French acts - including Air and Dimitri from Paris - who are gaining popularity in the US.

"I don't think our music sounds like that, because (the other artists' music) is made in the studio - it's sampling music, it could be made in a small space," Amor said. "That's the definition of big city music - you don't have much acoustic space. Here in Tucson, the studios are bigger, the houses are bigger - you play with the space itself, and it creates a different sound."

The duo has had a busy schedule recently, playing far-ranging tours, high profile gigs, and local recording sessions.

"We were on tour this spring in Europe, and we played South by Southwest (a major industry showcase) too. We spend 2 weeks in the studio and then we take a couple of weeks off," Amor said. "Right now we're in the studio remixing the first album we did (Wavelab Performance) to make it tighter and better. The new album (Amor Belhom Duo) is already released in Europe, and in two weeks, Japan. We go back to Europe in late October for almost two months."

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