French DJ and instrumental hip-hop producer Arnaud Bernard, better known by his moniker Onra, is an experienced yet obscure producer in the trip-hop genre. Having produced seven studio albums and numerous EPs, Bernard is no stranger to the music making process — especially the uniquely specific process he uses. Since 2006, Bernard has traveled to Eastern Asian countries such as China and Vietnam to collect records produced there. Beginning with his second studio album “Chinoiseries Pt. 1” in 2006, he’s heavily sampled these records in his music to give it a unique twist juxtaposed to most other trip-hop artists that employ a lot of Japanese influence. His seventh studio album and the conclusion to the Chinoiseries trilogy, “Chinoiseries Pt. 3” released on March 10, 2017. As with most trip-hop, the cuts contained on this record are meant for relaxation and background music for other tasks. Because of this, the record appeals to a very specific niche, but an outsider looking in may still find some interest in the unique sounds and melodies contained within.
The record contains a collection of 32 individual cuts spanning 58 minutes in total. Most of the tracks are exceptionally short, rarely going for much longer than two minutes. Each of the individual tracks sound similar yet they also bring their own unique sounds and samples to the forefront of the mix.
A great example is the second track “Loyalty.” It combines grainy and lo-fi wood block percussion and bells with a deep punchy bassline. The sounds of Chinese lutes and erhus mix melodically with the prior base elements and some sparse vocal sampling interwoven at various intervals.
“The Storm” is much more conventional from a modern music standpoint. It uses a heavily modulated and delayed snare that pitch shifts up and down almost like rain pattering on a tin roof. It also makes use of a synthesized sample of what seems to be a handpan, similar in sound to a steel drum but more muted and subtle. This is topped off by the crackling sounds of rolling thunder.
“Pearl Song” is a cut that brings Chinese vocals into the spotlight. The track opens with a woman singing what seems to be a traditional piece recorded in the ‘50s or ‘60s. As these vocals progress, the track introduces a heavy kick drum that breaks up the vocal sample and syncopates with it to provide a strangely compelling and melancholic melody that drives the track forward.
The shortest track on the record, “Memories From 1968,” blends together traditional and classical Chinese stringed instruments with the more modern drum progressions and modulated synth chords of today’s synth pop or alternative rock. While the track barely makes it past the one-minute mark, it stands as one of the most interesting fusions of sound on the record.
Bernard has been producing his unique Asian-influenced sound for quite some time. The Chinoiseries trilogy stands as a testament to how sampling in instrumental music can help breathe new life into forgotten classics of a culture as well as spread awareness of those classics to the open minded from other cultures. As a record meant for consumption, “Chinoiseries Pt. 3” may not be the most dense or meaningful collection of music out there. But for the purposes of unique and enjoyable trip-hop production, this collection of beats stands as a solid record for any lover of cultural expression and hip-hop music.
Other Great Cuts
“New Year’s in Guang Zhou,” “Waterlily,” “Fake Porcelain,” “Autumn Moon Shining Over the Calm Lake”