One of the most distinctly human tendencies might be the cataloging of things: making lists, records, organizing them by shape, color, alphabetical order. For as long as I can personally remember, I have been obsessed with collecting and keeping artifacts from places I’ve been: movie tickets, plane tickets, museum tickets. I have countless lists on my notes app: every concert I’ve been to, the grocery list, the to-do list, a list of Bulgarian sayings and euphemisms I don’t want to forget. There is something so obsessive and also impossible about storing all your knowledge, organizing it, and making sure it doesn’t slip through the cracks (though it always inevitably will).
When I first heard Ma délire – Songs of love, lost & found, I was immediately drawn to the idea that the record aims at doing those same things – tracing a history, both private and public, by way of an archive.
Ma délire – Songs of love, lost & found is inherently and predominantly an archival record. It is no surprise to learn that its creator, Myriam Gendron, is a copy editor and book dealer, aside from also being a vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter. Both her first record, and this sophomore album are exercises in reimaging histories, albeit in different ways.
The record is illustrative of what an archive is: both a cataloging and a reconstituting of events.
Throughout her sophomore record, Myriam reimagines traditional folk music from Canada, America, and France. The record is bilingual, containing both songs in English and French, oscillating between language, geography, personal, and other history. She covers traditional songs, fuses them together, and writes entirely original ones inspired by them. The record is illustrative of what an archive is: both a cataloging and a reconstituting of events.
On “Poor Girl Blues,” Myriam finger-picks her guitar and her careful voice sings in French, washing over the listener. There is a constant sense that the songs are not entirely of this time, or space, wherever the time or space might be. Myriam combines two songs here: “Poor Boy Long Ways From Home,” one of the oldest blues songs, with “Un Canadien Errant” (“A Lost Canadian”), a song written by a rebel in the Lower Canada Rebellion, who was exiled from Canada.
The combination of these two distinctly different historical origins render the song anew, and yet also timeless. There is, of course, also a pervasive personal tie to the tune, as Myriam was born in Ottawa, but spent much of her childhood and young adult life moving between Quebec, D.C., Paris, and Montreal with her family.
The archivization of something produces as much as it records that event because a total, complete archive is impossible. There will always be something missing, information that slips between the cracks, inexhaustive classifications. There is no absolute memory. This is to say that, when we are selecting things to place in an archive, we are also casting out others, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. This selectivity creates a perspective and way of viewing and understanding an event. The archive is never subjective or impartial, it is always inherently personal and, in a way, biased.
It is no wonder, then, that many of the songs on this record, whether they be covers, conglomerates, or originals, are concerned with love in distance, yearning, straining towards a space that is not immediately accessible. This is Myriam’s chosen archive. It is what is personal to her that is also universal.
A reading of the album through a lens of a literary theorist and philosopher’s conception of archival work is only fitting here, due to the literary nature of the work that Myriam does, in her music as well as in her day-to-day work as a copy editor.
In his essay “Archive Fever,” Jacques Derrida begins by tracing the etymology of the word “archive.” The Greek “archē” is the earliest iteration of “archive,” meaning both commencement and commandment. This ties the word historically to government and positions of power. Another key point that Derrida highlights is that the archive was originally kept in a privileged space – though guarded and kept by archivists, this privileged, private space was also public.
It is a powerful position to decide what stays and what doesn’t, what is remembered and what isn’t.
An interplay between the public and private is still how the archive functions to an extent today, despite the fact that now most archives are entirely digitized, alongside their physical counterparts. It is a powerful position to decide what stays and what doesn’t, what is remembered and what isn’t. Despite the supposedly easier access to most information in this day and age, one still has to decide to pay attention, to look, to access.
“I Wonder as I Wander” is a remaking of the song by John Jacob Niles, “I Wonder As I Wander,” a religious Christmas carol. John Jacob Niles gleaned the idea for the song from a poor girl in North Carolina, whose family was being evicted from the square of the town in which they were squatting. The girl was singing the first couple lines from the song on the street for money and JJ Niles heard and transcribed the lines, later finishing the song with his interpretation.
The song, therefore, had already been reconstituted once, archived by JJ Niles. Had he not transcribed it, it would have been lost forever – how many songs like this are lost forever?
Myriam strips the song of its religious references and creates a secular love song. Listening to the song with an awareness of its religious context, it is obvious, even without the explicit devotional lyrics, the song remains spiritual and holy. Myriam wasn’t trying to deny the song of this, she merely specified her own devotion.
Engaging with archives is impossible without imposing yourself on them in some way. Derrida has also talked about how speaking or writing of the archive starts to become conflated with the archive itself. On this entire record, Myriam is doing exactly this: documenting these songs, places, moments, while also reconstituting them in her own life, making them tell her story, in addition to their own, inserting herself in the archive very directly while compiling it.
…one would never be able to tell which songs are covers, which songs are fused together, and which songs are originals… making this record as elusive as it is documentary.
“Farewell” is one of few original songs on the record. Listening through, one would never be able to tell which songs are covers, which songs are fused together, and which songs are originals. You have to dig around, google things and follow rabbit holes in order to trace the origins of each. Myriam doesn’t provide any of this, making this record as elusive as it is documentary.
The title of the album itself is a succinct summary of the album as a whole. “Ma délire” translated from French means “my delirium.” A state of delirium, as any state that deviates from the normal, suggests feverish delusion. Often times I catch myself thinking in quotes – whether it be lines I’ve read in novels or poems, or song lyrics, much of my brain refracts back to references that are dear to me or engrained into specific senses or moments. In this way, the album also becomes a sort of personal reference, an archive built internally that’s been naturally spilled over.
“Songs of love, lost and found” perfectly summates the 15 tracks on the record as well. It is a lost and found bin of music Myriam has picked and chosen from to create her perfect outfit of longing. It is a distinctly personal and yet universal (as private as it is public) record of love across geographies and times and accessibilities. It is perfectly clear on this record that art is archive and the archive is art, and it is worthwhile for all of us to be engaging in archival work, however that might look.
© Yoana Tosheva (5/23/2023) – Special for FF2 Media ®
LEARN MORE / DO MORE
Visit Bandcamp to support Myriam’s music directly.
Visit YouTube to listen to the original version of “Go Away From My Window” by John Jacob Niles.
Visit YouTube to hear the earliest recording of “Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home” by Gus Cannon (Banjo Joe).
Visit Religion in America to read the origins of “I Wonder As I Wander” and more on John Jacob Niles’ background.
Visit JSTOR to read Jacques Derrida’s “Archive Fever.”
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured Photo: Myriam Gendron performing. “MyriamGendron@IFA-alter1fo (4)” by Alter1fo is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Bottom Photo: Blurred silhouette on a sunset. “woman near window” by Kristijan Arsov is licensed under Unsplash.