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Phill Niblock: Baobab Bozzini Quartet

  • SODEC

The Canadian ensemble Quatuor Bozzini are really something special. […] And they do all of this with great aplomb and, even more impressively, refinement. Free Jazz, Belgium

The Bozzinis excel at this kind of intricate, infinite music… 5:4, UK

Originally written for orchestra, Phill Niblock’s Disseminate (1998) and Baobab (2011) were arranged by the composer specifically for the Bozzini Quartet, or rather, for ‘multiples’ of the Quartet: twenty different tracks are mixed in each piece — twenty different instruments, the equivalent of five string quartets. The music is essentially a work on the shifting nature of overtone patterns that arise from acoustic instruments. As composer Robert Ashley convincingly argued, these pieces inscribe themselves in the “hardcore drone” scene of American electronic music:Niblock [brings] the orchestra into the electronic world.” For Disseminate and Baobab, Niblock scored a distinct set of microtonal intervals, and the players are indicated how sharp or flat they should play. But a certain sense of range is given around each chromatic pitch, so that every bow stroke partly determines the microtones. All 20 “instruments” are then recorded to produce the piece. When mixed, the simultaneous microtonal intervals produced by the Bozzini Quartet(s) come together to create massive clouds of extremely rich, beating, and shifting sound. Such a complex signal needs time to unfold, and for the overtone patterns to emerge instrumentalists almost have to display the endurance of electronic instruments, producing long, seamless, sustained tones. As a listener, it is practically impossible to grasp when or how changes in the sound texture actually occur. Our sense of time is confused, and we are drawn deeper into a mode of listening that pays attention to the textural qualities of the “hardcore drone” sound itself. — Emanuelle Majeau-Bettez

  • Collection QB
  • CQB 1924 / 2019
  • UPC/EAN 771028372423
  • Total duration: 45:30

Stereo

  • 44,1 kHz, 16 bits
  • Collection QB
  • CQB 1924_NUM / 2019
  • UPC/EAN 771028372485
  • Total duration: 45:30

Stereo

  • 44,1 kHz, 16 bits

• MP3 • OGG • FLAC

Phill Niblock: Baobab

Bozzini Quartet

Phill Niblock

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In the press

  • Nick Ostrum, Free Jazz, May 15, 2019
    The Canadian ensemble Quatuor Bozzini are really something special. […] And they do all of this with great aplomb and, even more impressively, refinement.
  • Simon Cummings, 5:4, March 5, 2019
    The Bozzinis excel at this kind of intricate, infinite music…
  • Stuart Broomer, The WholeNote, no. 24:6, March 1, 2019
    This recording […] testifies to their willingness to take on challenges to find new musical ground.
  • Pierre Durr, Revue & Corrigée, no. 119, March 1, 2019
    La multiplication des pistes […] permet aux quatre musiciens du quatuor de renforcer l’effet drone de la pièce.
  • Peter Margasak, Bandcamp Daily, February 28, 2019
    … inescapable and exhilarating, with tonal effects that sparkle and groan simultaneously, an impossibly thick, viscous drag that suddenly feels celebratory when the final notes disintegrate.
  • Daniel Barbiero, Avant Music News, February 28, 2019
    Martin set out to create a fecund dialectic of sound and music with the piece, and in that he has succeeded. (cqb_1922). […] Both pieces are quintessential Niblock — thickly textured swarms of drones made up of microtones and moving timbres. Sustaining the requisite long tones undoubtedly is a challenge to the players’ physical stamina, but the sounds never falter. (cqb_1924)
  • Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes, January 23, 2019
    This version of Disseminate stands among the mightiest episodes met over decades of acquaintance with Niblock’s material. Its character is extraordinarily “in your face”

Review

Nick Ostrum, Free Jazz, May 15, 2019

The Canadian ensemble Quatuor Bozzini are really something special. I only recently came across them on Cassandra Miller’s Just So, which I loved. A quick internet search reveals that they have interpreted everyone from contemporary composers such as Miller and Linda Catlin Smith to John Cage (of course they did) to, now, Phil Niblock. And they do all of this with great aplomb and, even more impressively, refinement.

Phill NiblockBaobab is no exception, though it is a very different beast than some of their other releases. (For you Niblock fans out there, you likely already know what to expect.) Originally penned for orchestra, the two tracks on this album — Disseminate and Baobab — have been chopped and reconfigured as 20 separate tracks, each consisting of a single instrument, performed by the quartet of Clemens Merkel, Alissa Cheung, Stéphanie Bozzini, and Isabelle Bozzini. The result, per the notes of Emanuelle Majeau-Bettez, is a sort of “hardcore drone” of microtonal layerings, albeit created by a chamber quartet. In that, it reminds me of a less wandering and less entangled take on Zeitkratzer’s Metal Machine Music recording. As seems fitting for such acoustic drone, these tracks are characterized by sonic modulations rather than melodic shifts or unpredictable sounds. In this sense, the music sounds deceptively mechanical, as if it were a series of digital loops. Of course, the acoustic nature of the music belies this. Apart from the brief fade-in and fade-out marking the beginning and end of each piece, these songs have no prescribed course. They simply and glacially fluctuate, as the listener’s ear wanders from tone to tone.

This is music to listen to closely. This is music to read to, to tune in and out of. This is music to mediate to and contemplate. If full, subtle, and loud new music is your thing (and, yes, this should be played loud), Baobab is well worth the listen. And, if you are not yet sure whether you enjoy this “hardcore drone,” this compounded, aggressive monotony dense with rich timbral subtleties, then this album is an excellent place to start.

The Canadian ensemble Quatuor Bozzini are really something special. […] And they do all of this with great aplomb and, even more impressively, refinement.

Review

Simon Cummings, 5:4, March 5, 2019

One of the more memorable events at last year’s Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival was the late night concert at Bates Mill given by Quatuor Bozzini, featuring music by Éliane Radigue and Phill Niblock. A few weeks ago, the Bozzinis released an album featuring two works by Niblock, including the one they played in Huddersfield, Disseminate as Five String Quartets. i have to admit that i was sceptical about the extent to which the experience could be adequately captured in a recording. Niblock’s endless waves of juddering pitch had made Bates Mill seem not simply filled but saturated, one minute feeling as though we were submerged in water, the next suffused with dazzling light. Either way, it was a veritable flood.

This recording goes a long way to living up to that mesmeric live encounter. Both works, in fact, inhabit this same soundworld, both starting life as orchestral pieces that Niblock reworked for a live string quartet plus four additional prerecorded quartets. Disseminate as Five String Quartets sets out with only the implication of stability, harmonically complex from the outset with something that may or may not be dronal at its core. This develops into a conflict where apparent stasis (the piece, after all, is built upon slow moving, drawn-out pitches) is continually undermined by strange undulations and shifts in its tonal makeup. Often, one becomes aware of something only after it’s actually been present for some time, and it’s similarly difficult to track the evolution of the work’s harmony, which from around halfway through has become seriously smeared, still dronal but tonally clusterfucked.

By contrast, Baobab begins in the utter clarity of octave unisons, which gradually shift out of alignment, allowing other notes (at first, only fifths) to encroach. Due to the proximity of the near-unisons in the first third of the piece, the combined texture resembles a vast squadron of planes, or perhaps the aural sensation of sitting at the dead centre of a hive of bees. Alien pitches in this context seem all the more jarring, threads out of alignment in an otherwise perfect weave, leading to a lengthy central episode where the opening octaves could hardly seem more distant. All the same, Baobab doesn’t explore the same range of harmonic complexity as Disseminate, instead playing more actively with how stable the music seems, on one occasion dropping out the lower register notes to give a brief illusion of balance.

With both pieces it’s more than usually the case that how one perceives them is going to be entirely unique. This is not merely due to individual perception, but the way and the specific locations (harmonic locations, i mean) where one focuses attention, which can be radically shifted by the slightest turn or tilt of the head, drastically altering the apparent pitch-content and pitch-emphasis of the music. It’s perhaps never been more true that multiple listens to the same recording result in completely different experiences.

The Bozzinis excel at this kind of intricate, infinite music — what we might call ‘upper case’ ambient — and it’s no hyperbole to say this recording really is almost as good as having them there in the room with you. Apropos: i’d recommend not listening to this album through headphones, which for me had the effect of making the textures sound reduced and diminished, even somewhat deadened. To get the desired effect, be sure to play through speakers — loud! — and thereby be overwhelmed by Niblock’s endless, extraordinary flood.

The Bozzinis excel at this kind of intricate, infinite music…

Review

Stuart Broomer, The WholeNote, no. 24:6, March 1, 2019
This recording […] testifies to their willingness to take on challenges to find new musical ground.

Critique

Pierre Durr, Revue & Corrigée, no. 119, March 1, 2019
La multiplication des pistes […] permet aux quatre musiciens du quatuor de renforcer l’effet drone de la pièce.

Best of Bandcamp Contemporary Classical: February 2019

Peter Margasak, Bandcamp Daily, February 28, 2019

Montréal’s peerless Quatour Bozzini uses overdubbing to adapt two typically intense works by Phill Niblock, originally scored for orchestra, illuminating the inherent psychoacoustic effects with breathtaking power. Disseminate was written in 1988 for Petr Kotik’s S.E.M. Ensemble; it opens with a crushing, buzzing unison, as the stacked microtonal intervals suggest a chorus of bagpipes blaring through a wall of Marshall amps. Dazzling beating and machine-like throbs surround the listener, but the unison begins to fall apart almost immediately, with painstakingly slow shifts. Like so much of the composer’s music, you don’t notice the change until you’ve reached the next location. Still, there are moments when some tonal shifts are greater and there’s no missing the stark developments, as when a few strings emit a wonderfully glassy screech around 20 minutes in. The title piece was composed for the Janacek Symphony Orchestra with the Ostrava banda in 2011. It begins with what sounds like a conventional chord spiked with dissonance, and its lengthy descent to B-flat begins with a mixture of B-sharps and C-sharps. The downward motion is inescapable and exhilarating, with tonal effects that sparkle and groan simultaneously, an impossibly thick, viscous drag that suddenly feels celebratory when the final notes disintegrate.

… inescapable and exhilarating, with tonal effects that sparkle and groan simultaneously, an impossibly thick, viscous drag that suddenly feels celebratory when the final notes disintegrate.

Review

Daniel Barbiero, Avant Music News, February 28, 2019

For Musique d’art, a five-movement, hour-long work for string quintet by Martin (b. 1981), the quartet — which in addition to the Bozzini sisters includes violinists Alissa Cheung and Clemens Merkel — is joined by double bassist Pierre-Alexandre Maranda. Like Niblock’s two pieces, Musique d’art is centered on the development elongated chords, but with more variability of density, dynamics and rates of harmonic change. Pitches drop out and fade in; discordant tones come and go as the intervals between notes widen and narrow; bow articulations shift to introduce changes to timbre and to add complexity to the stacked overtones. Not all of this is about pitch relationships: while at times the quintet sounds like a robust, tuned and detuned tamboura, at other times their collective sound dissolves into harsh, grey noise and rough, unpitched textures. Martin set out to create a fecund dialectic of sound and music with the piece, and in that he has succeeded.

Founded by the Bozzini sisters, cellist Isabelle and violinist Stéphanie, the eponymous Montréal-based string quartet has been a significant presence in Canadian new music since the early 2000s. The Bozzini’s two CDs, one each of works by US composer Phill Niblock and Québec’s Simon Martin, are the latest additions to a substantial catalogue of recordings of sound — and concept-based contemporary music.

Baobab presents two large-scale works by Niblock (b. 1933). Both pieces — Baobab, originally composed in 2011, and Disseminate, composed in 1998 — were first written for orchestra and appear here as revised in 2017. By means of multi-track layering, they’ve been rearranged for string quartet multiplied times five. Both pieces are quintessential Niblock — thickly textured swarms of drones made up of microtones and moving timbres. Sustaining the requisite long tones undoubtedly is a challenge to the players’ physical stamina, but the sounds never falter.

Martin set out to create a fecund dialectic of sound and music with the piece, and in that he has succeeded. (cqb_1922). […] Both pieces are quintessential Niblock — thickly textured swarms of drones made up of microtones and moving timbres. Sustaining the requisite long tones undoubtedly is a challenge to the players’ physical stamina, but the sounds never falter. (cqb_1924)

Review

Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes, January 23, 2019

This record comprises the performances of two Phill Niblock scores, Disseminate from 1998 and the title track, first conceived in 2011. For the occasion, the composer worked with Quatuor Bozzini (Clemens Merkel, Alissa Cheung, Stéphanie Bozzini, Isabelle Bozzini) with the aim of multiplying the string quartet’s voices and overall muscle. The procedure is synthetically explained in the liner notes, so I won’t bother repeating it here; moreover, Niblock’s ways of assembling his cascading microtonal drones are (hopefully) well known to the readers of this blog. Let me just remind the brightness of a man who, armed with a mere laptop, still manages to produce unlikely levels of psychophysical correspondence with the invisible forces of our environment.

This version of Disseminate stands among the mightiest episodes met over decades of acquaintance with Niblock’s material. Its character is extraordinarily “in your face”; the self is symbolically invited to get out of the way, an army of shifting pitches developing a totality of quivering intensities striving to reach the perfection of an all-encompassing embrace. Baobab starts with a quasi-tonal affirmation, its enormous strength actually giving a chance to believe we’re hearing a steady chord. With the passage of time, the congenital jarring features start breaking through: right there the fun begins, internal rhythms and oscillations projecting a sense of cerebral and spiritual completion that no spoken or written word will ever be able to equal. The whole appears at once imperial and utterly instructive.

Aside from the usual advice — namely, playing this music loud for an improved functionality of the adjacent upper partials — one can only dream about the average brain finally learning to decode and accept the complexity of a mass of contiguous tones, regardless of someone’s dictations on “consonance” and “dissonance”. As the initiator himself said, it is what it is; the spaces may be completely filled by the sounds, but the ultimate outcome is the silence of the mind. Kudos then to Quatuor Bozzini, who finely rendered an essential concept of Niblock’s vision: the instrumentalist — a fundamental injector of sonic fluids — is nevertheless a means to an awesome end.

This version of Disseminate stands among the mightiest episodes met over decades of acquaintance with Niblock’s material. Its character is extraordinarily “in your face”

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