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31 January 2018
By Massimo Ricci in Touching Extremes (Italy), January 31, 2018


“It may take several spins prior to realizing how efficient this music is.”

Nowadays, our stance against the vestiges of lowercase improvisation is less rigid than before. Especially because many of its practitioners have eventually understood that the theoretical fecundity of that ground has been nullified by a large number of incompetent locusts. As a result, abundant doses of whoosh-clink-and-sputter apathy have conclusively annihilated whatever good intention there was on this side of the speakers.

Therefore it is nice to collect enlivening signals from a quintet like this, still trying to assign a degree of gravity to the manœuvres occurring in the noisier interstices of (relative) quietness. Two types of clarinet, trumpet, percussion and electric bass would be sufficient to raise serious mayhem; however — although a few rambunctious entities do materialize every once in a while over eight tracks — these musicians mostly spark off a vivacious sub-ebullience whose sympathetic consequences involve more the skull than the ears.

When there is focus to begin with, no secondary attachments are necessary: the sounds truly speak for themselves. Lonesome asymmetries are enhanced by contrapuntal spurts halfway through neo-serialism and animalist devolution. Gauzy timbres and barely intuitable silhouettes evolve smoothly into frolicsome stridency. The devitalizing lameness of a damp nihility — in earlier times mandatory to get additional coverage by currently vanished specialists — has been replaced by the willingness to affirm that the present day improviser refuses to (let the audience) die (of boredom), and — provided that conditions and partners are right — is also capable of inducing legitimate curiosity in a curmudgeon who was not expecting anything phenomenal.

A fine acoustic commentary for damaged illusions, a restrained concreteness with sporadic hints to tight-lipped irony. It may take several spins prior to realizing how efficient this music is. Sometimes it is better to furnish those vibrating molecules with a stronger propeller.

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30 January 2018
By Daniel Barbiero in Percorsi Musicali (Italy), January 30, 2018


“In the closing section, the piece turns to a repeated and strangely vertiginous ascending motif made all the more affecting by the performers’ restrained urgency. The quartet, supplemented by violist Jennifer Theissen and the fine Baroque/early music cellist Elinor Frey, bring out an understated but real richness in the piece”

Over the course of its three centuries’ long existence, the string quartet has shown itself to be a highly resilient medium well-adaptable to changing developments in music. Traditionally weighted toward the contrapuntal, the string quartet in contemporary hands is equally effective in presenting texturally — or timbrally-oriented work, as shown in fine recent recordings of compositions by Scott Wollschleger, Lewis Nielson and Richard Karpen, among many others. But it also serves as an apt vehicle for composers concerned with questions of alternative architectures and pre-compositional structures. With Trip, their latest recording, Montréal’s Quatuor Bozzini present this latter side of the string quartet and its derivatives at the present moment.

Founded a few years before the turn of the century by sisters Isabelle and Stéphanie Bozzini, cellist and violinist respectively, the Quatuor Bozzini — originally called the Quatuor Euterpe — began with a focus on the traditional string quartet repertoire. Violinist Clemens Merkel joined the ensemble in 1999 and has been with it ever since; the remaining violin chair has been filled at various times by Geneviève Beaudry, Nadia Francavilla, Erik Carlson, Mira Benjamin, and most recently, Alissa Cheung. Along with changes in personnel, the quartet’s artistic direction shifted to modern and contemporary music.

Trip is a collection of work for string quartet, sextet, and solo cello and violin by Canadian composer Christopher Butterfield (b. 1952). Butterfield, who is director of the University of Victoria School of Music, comes from a musical family, his brothers Paul and Benjamin both being classical tenors, the former a conductor as well. His own artistic background is eclectic though reflective of the times in which he grew up — when young he was a chorister for the King’s College Choir in the UK, and later was a performance artist and a rock guitarist. He has expressed an interest in treating composition as a kind of “puzzle” whose realized form derives from the operation of rules or analogous pre-compositional structures; several of the pieces on Trip fit that description. Much of his work has been created for chamber ensembles, dance and multimedia environments and, with the late librettist John Bentley Mays, includes Zurich 1916, an opera premised on the chance meeting, in Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire, of Dadaists Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings and exiled Russian revolutionary V.N. Lenin.

One of the works included in Trip, in fact, draws on music taken from Zurich 1916’s chorale. This is Lullaby, a string sextet composed in 1991. Butterfield sets the lullaby — a simple melody gently rocking back and forth — within a frame of drones, glistening harmonics and silences. In the closing section, the piece turns to a repeated and strangely vertiginous ascending motif made all the more affecting by the performers’ restrained urgency. The quartet, supplemented by violist Jennifer Theissen and the fine Baroque/early music cellist Elinor Frey, bring out an understated but real richness in the piece.

The quartet fall (2013), written for the Quatuor Bozzini, is a work both aleatory and serial. The pitch material consists of the four-note row AABA which Butterfield then subjected to chromatic rotations and randomly-generated dynamics. For most of its length the piece floats on long tones overlapping into dissonant chords; the emergent minor-second harmonies, made even more astringent by the quartet’s eschewing of vibrato, in places recall John Cage’s 1950 string quartet, which Quatuor Bozzini in fact recently recorded. Another aleatory piece, 1999’s Clinamen for solo violin, is a composition made up of 80 cards, each of which containing a brief phrase, to be played in the performer’s order of preference. As realized here by Merkel, the piece is an essay in unpredictability and immersion in the moment, in that no single event foreshadows anything that follows, and no subsequent event explains any that preceded it. Nor does any need to. Instead, there is a concatenation of short, independent and non-accumulating events separated by silences and differing from each other in pitch, phrasing, mood and tempo.

The recording’s title track, a quartet composed in 2008 for the ensemble, is an asymmetrical work of three short movements followed by a much longer closing movement. The piece opens with a polyphonic flourish playing out against a background wash of talk radio, followed by a driving, rhythmically dense second movement and a third movement that breaks the individual voices out into arco and pizzicato lines. The final movement is a reflective adagio of long, suspenseful harmonies sporadically scuffed by rough timbres.

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29 January 2018
By Doug Ramsey in Arts Journal, January 29, 2018


“… volcanic activity.”

The daring American pianist Marilyn Crispell’s free jazz adventures have more than once been compared to volcanic activity. Here, Crispell joins the Scottish saxophonist Raymond MacDonald and the French-Canadian bassist and electronic adventurer Pierre Alexandre Tremblay. The project’s tectonic aspects alternate with moments so peaceful that they sometimes verge on the soporific—but not for long. That is particularly true in the beginning moments of Duo#1. It opens with percussive slaps followed by vague sounds that may be either from Tremblay’s bass or his digital equipment. Soon, MacDonald appears on soprano saxophone. He and Crispell are off on the first of the album’s duets, her sensitive keyboard touch ameliorating and occasionally abetting, his chattering exclamations. Duo#2 finds Crispell and MacDonald in deep musical conversation that incorporates spontaneous mutual phrasing reflecting not only creative compatibility but also uncanny conjunctions of rhythmic like-thinking.

The opening of Trio#1 is electronic, a bit ominous. A couple of minutes in, Crispell’s delicate, sporadic piano interjections begin mingling with Tremblay’s digital sounds as MacDonald’s tenor saxophone rumbles softly, then not so softly, then insistently. Before the track ends, the tenor melds into ruminations accompanied by wind chimes or their electronic equivalent. Through Trio#2, bowed bass and percussion dominate. The music is quiet and at the same time active. Trio#3 ends the album in an atmosphere heavy with portent that evaporates as the music slowly fades away. The listener—this one, in any case—is bewitched and puzzled, and listens again from the top.

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29 January 2018
By Vito Camarretta in Chain DLK (USA), January 29, 2018


Montréal-based sound-artist, performer and composer Nicolas Bernier recently dropped a new release on the label of Acte community (grouping some experimental sound artists on an edge of innovation, who are active in Montréal area). According to the introduction by the label, Transfert / Futur, the title of this release “marks a shift from Nicolas Bernier’s rather reductionist approach of the previous series to a more expressive and colorful aesthetic.” We tried to find out the reason by talking to its author.

Chain DLK: Hi, Nicolas! How are you?

Nicolas Bernier: Fine! In the middle of the electronic music students concerts at Université de Montréal, so my head is (even more) overloaded with sounds this week!

Chain DLK: Before focusing on Transfert / Futur, some introductory words for the readers who don’t know you… first of all, how did the spark for experimental music (if you agree with such a way of labeling it) become a fire?

Nicolas Bernier: I think the desire for experimentation, to get out of the common musical formulas, has always been there. For instance, even when I was doing folk music (among other punk, post-metal, and every conceivable rock variation) when I was a teenager, I was the one plugging effects, pedal and distortion and playing progressive patterns on my, well, mandolin! Just the fact of playing the mandolin was experimental in the era of power trios.

I am totally fine with the term “experimental.” I actually quite like it, as it puts forward the ideas of trying things to get to a result, on the experience, on the sensitivity, which is one of the main reasons to make music or art. There is no experimental aesthetic, per se; it’s more a state of mind before anything else.

Chain DLK: You said Transfert / Futur is the beginning of a new stage in your artistic and creative path… could you tell us something about the previous stages and the way they interrelate with the present time?

Nicolas Bernier: … And maybe not a long stage, to be honest. I don’t know yet, but I don’t think it will live 7 or 8 years like the previous “frequencies” cycle of works. All my creative cycles are reacting to the previous one. The frequencies were following cycles based on machine and field recordings, so I wanted to avoid this noisy universe to get back towards more basic sounds. The starting point was the sine wave of the acoustic tuning forks, but also the electronic sine wave and micro-sounds.

The funny thing is, while my projects are reactions to the previous ones, the previous will always be included in one way or another in the current ones. The title Transfert / Futur is, in the first place, a way to talk about science fiction, which is the main topic of this new series. But, on a more technical and personal level, it is also a transfer of the previous series within a totally new context. The piece Transfert (299 792 458 m/s) started out by transferring to synthesizers the midi sequences I used in the very first piece performance of the frequencies series. The second piece, Futur (299 792 458 m/s), also started from an old, unused and unfinished synth-based composition that was actually my very first midi sequence I made around 2013, I think (before that date, I was refusing to work with midi and synth, working only with field recording in a musique concrète perspective).

Chain DLK: How many diapasons do you own? What’s the oddest one, and why?

Nicolas Bernier: That’s a good question. I’ve got a couple of drawers full of them, old to new, metal to aluminum, brown to silver. But I’d say around a hundred.

Most of them are just boring tuning forks, but there are a couple that are more interesting: a huge 30 Hz tuning fork, for instance, or the stroboscopic ones, or an old one from the Max Kohl Chemnitz company that was one of the main scientific apparatus suppliers in the late 19th century. But there is one I have a really special relationship with: the Secretan one. Secretan was the company who was commissioned for the official international pitch A=435 Hertz tuning fork in 1859 (before the norm was set to 440 Hz), the “diapason normal.” The tuning fork was once a really serious scientific and musical topic, and the official one was kept in a controlled environment so it’s frequency wouldn’t change over time; it was the Mother of all tuning forks. I don’ t remember how a Secretan tuning fork ended up in my collection one day, and since then, each time I open that drawer, I fantasize about having one of the most important artifacts of music history. But, I mean, it’s really just me inventing stories, as it is probably just another anonymous tuning fork.

Chain DLK: Most of the artists dealing with pure sounds or frequencies I spoke with told me they developed a sort of idiosyncrasy for “dirty” noises… What’s your relation to sound and noise?

Nicolas Bernier: With the frequencies series, I wanted to look towards some kind of purity… while staying well aware that I would never find it. And, frankly, I am not that interested in purity; I am usually more looking for equilibrium between elements. This search towards purer sounds led to a certain clarity in my artistic proposals, I think. I am not a sound racist: all sounds, whether purer or noisier or everything in between, can be of interest. It’s more a matter of how you organize your ideas and elements together.

Chain DLK: Did you use any of the machines you previously built on Transfert / Futur?

Nicolas Bernier: Nope. This album is 100% digital virtual synthesizers. So, pure in a way, but dirty at the same time in the way the elements are organized.

Chain DLK: Well… why did you quote the speed of light in the titles of Transfert / Futur? Any sci-fi-like reverie?

Nicolas Bernier: Basically, all my projects reflect my obsessions (my life is made of obsessions that usually stay for a couple of years, and then leave space for a new obsession and therefore a new series of projects). For the last couple of years, I’ve been obsessed with science fiction. Before 2014, Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey were basically 100% of my relationship with sci-fi, nothing else. But then I got hooked and I’ve been watching, reading and dreaming about parallel worlds, lasers, and humanoïds since then.

With the first project of the series was an installation where I wanted to recreate the feeling of the space travel scene at the end of 2001. So this is why I chose the speed of light as the main thread in the project, because my aim is to reflect those travels at light speed, those transfers to parallel zones, those spaceships full of neons and blinking control panels. And, well, the speed of light is saying that, as in my previous projects, I am still working with light, but with a different angle, a different sub-topic.

Chain DLK: The idea of attaching an interview (in French and English) in the booklet is pretty good…

Nicolas Bernier: I think so, too! It is something the label, Acte, really wants to keep in all their releases. It gives some content, some sense in releasing music in this era of unlimited downloads. A pretty exciting new label from Montréal, by the way, with a quite open-minded vision of what music should be in this 21st century.

Chain DLK: Most of the sounds in the second track synthèse (299 792 458 m/s) reminds me of something I did ages ago by short-outing circuits of some old drum machines… how did you create the sounds you included in this track?

Nicolas Bernier: This is quite interesting, as it is one more proof that the nature of the tools doesn’t really matter, whether they are analog or digital, old or new. Because, like I said earlier, this piece is 100% virtual synthesizers. No short circuits. All “clean” and planned, but composed in some kind of dirty ways that make it feel a bit improvised or out of control, even though it’s the complete opposite.

Chain DLK: Any word about the first half of Transfert / Futur?

Nicolas Bernier: In reaction to my previous series, one of the intentions of this new one is to NOT be conceptual, and transfert (299 792 458 m/s) is a good case in point. While I flirted with pop elements in my first releases a decade ago, I have always been away from the four on the floor type of music. This piece is a long ascension aiming to place a kick drum on every beat. In the end, the 4/4 stays a bit disarticulated, but we are pretty much as close as I get to more conventional rhythmic electronic music (aside from the scores I made for modern dance pieces, maybe). So it’s kind of a return to more intuitive and more physical music.

On the other hand, the visual, scenographic, installative or performative aspect is often an important component in my work these days. The music was composed beforehand and should then be able to live by itself as music, but in the end, it is also an audiovisual performance that pursues those science-fictional ideas. There is a glimpse of the performance here:

Chain DLK: How are you going to move this new series of releases forward? Any installation in progress or in your forthcoming plans?

Nicolas Bernier: I worked for years on a quite important installation project, but for some reason (mainly financial) I had to abandon it. I’ve got tons of other ideas, but as soon as your projects rely on the fabrication of tangible devices, it gets complicated technically and financially. So the future will tell.

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23 January 2018
By George McVicar in Stray Landings (UK), January 23, 2018


“The ‘politics’ of Political Ritual remain somewhat unclear, but its ambiguity is addictive.”

Maxime Corbeil-Perron and Félix-Antoine Morin have released an intriguing new 12” with Ambiances Magnétiques: Political Ritual. The record presents two 20-minute pieces that work more like ‘sound sculptures’ than songs. They take as their subject the detritus of sound, the unwanted buzzes and resonances of technology. On Political Ritual, these sounds move out of the corners and rubbish bins and into plain sight. You are made to confront sound as it really is: caked in surface noise and sonic debris.

Political Ritual is a record of two halves. The first, ‘ Cérémonie ’, judders like a truck over bumpy terrain. There are moments of what sounds like hyper-engineered studio-production trickery. But in fact, many of these are from acoustic sources, like cellos and organs played in unorthodox styles. There is even the introduction of “a wedding harmonium bought from an old man in an Indian village”.

The unanswered questions left by ‘ Cérémonie ’ are concluded by the record’s second half: ‘ Projection cathodique ’. Here, elements of traditional ‘musicality’ creep in, like the bassline that broods over the piece. The ‘politics’ of Political Ritual remain somewhat unclear, but its ambiguity is addictive.

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