Political Ritual, the eponymous release by the Québécois electronic music duo of Maxime Corbeil-Perron and Félix-Antoine Morin, presents itself as a mystery, white print on a grey cover, a series of lighter, vertical oscilloscope intrusions appearing almost possibly accidental. The roles of the two performer / composers — here improvisers — are not distinguished. Each side of the LP presents a piece about twenty minutes in length. Each is almost monolithic, made up of electronic and electronically altered layers.
Specific textures emerge intermittently, through fields of static and waves of droning sound that sometimes move with the inevitability of lava, that flux of molten stone, metal, and ash, or perhaps an oil spill or an approaching tsunami. While the LP itself is free of annotation, there are brief hints in the press release, including a description of the group’s music and the titles of the two sides. Field recordings and instruments come upon by chance enter the fold.
The first side, Cérémonie, is strongly rhythmic, whether the beats are heard as patterns of static or feedback. There are two marked shifts in the work. The first is an extended keyboard improvisation beginning around the seven-minute mark, perhaps “a wedding harmonium bought from an old, hungry man in an Indian village improvises modal lines,” mentioned in the online text. The second is a sudden break and bass-ward glissando at the eighteen-minute mark that suddenly shifts the whole forward movement of the music. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a major event in this context, a wholly new plane.
The second side, Projection_cathodique, begins with chant amidst the static and drones. Its developing rhythms are oscillations, pulses rather than beats. The piece repeatedly cycles towards a crescendo, its materials echoing, the texture thickening; when the patterns change, there’s a sudden turn from tension to repose.
These pieces are genuine experiences — penetrating, insistent, necessary works that fully occupy the time of their realization and hearing. Repeated listening changes them: they literally sound different, richer, more complex, with new elements and relationships emerging, transitions becoming more (and sometimes less) dramatic. Searching this music for answers to what politics and ritual share, only the commonalities of mystery, form, and duration emerge — politics and ritual indistinguishable from one another and from consciousness itself.
Political Ritual est un projet formé des compositeurs montréalais Maxime Corbeil-Perron et Félix-Antoine Morin, deux co-fondateurs de l’étiquette Kohlenstoff Records. Le duo avait publié Oro Axe (2014) sur cette étiquette, une pièce de dix-neuf minutes de musique atmosphérique combinant drone et minimalisme, celle-ci performée en partie de façon improvisée. Ils sont de retour trois ans plus tard avec un premier album éponyme comportant deux nouvelles pièces d’une vingtaine de minutes chacune, en reprenant là où ils nous avaient laissés avec une partie improvisée et une production détaillée qui joue savamment avec le niveau d’abstraction des thèmes musicaux.
Cérémonie ouvre sur plusieurs itérations évoluant à différentes vitesses, créant une atmosphère brumeuse et inquiétante. Le passage s’intensifie, comme un tempo graisseux auquel se colle de la poussière de bruit. On sent un courant électrique servir de lien vers une ligne mélodique d’ordre cinématographique, pas bien loin d’un Blade Runner expérimental. La palette sonore s’éclaircit et se diffuse comme de la fumée d’encens qui remplit lentement la pièce. La mélodie est remplacée par un drone résonant comme un moteur d’avion, texturé ensuite par une itération comme une hélice qui déplace de l’air au ralenti. La résonance des percussions placée vers l’arrière dans le mix assure le déroulement de la scène, bien encadrée par des bruits électriques. La masse sonore se stabilise en prenant progressivement une forme post-rock, qui redouble en intensité avec la guitare électrique toute ne distorsion et réverbérée à point. Ça se termine abruptement en «gros noise sale».
Projection cathodique commence de façon plus aérienne, avec des cordes perdues dans des conduits métalliques, des scintillements dissonants et du «field recording» de ruisseau placé en toile de fond. Le mouvement évolue tranquillement jusqu’à ce que les différentes couches ambiantes deviennent bien denses, s’évaporant à mi-chemin pour amincir la trame, le temps de respirer un peu, et poursuivre dans une forme drone. La masse sonore fait penser à une vièle à roue déconstruite, saturée jusqu’à ce qu’elle redescende dans les basses fréquences pour laisser résonner un dernier vrombissement.
Le premier album de Political Ritual confirme leur combinaison drone/minimaliste, mais au-delà des catégories, ce sont les éléments improvisés qui attirent davantage l’attention. Après plusieurs écoutes, on commence à décoder une partie des effets et traitements et à se rapprocher de la matière première, révélant progressivement le jeu du duo. Le contraste entre l’intention brute et la forme polie entretient très bien le niveau d’abstraction, ça donne envie de chercher une explication à l’expérience auditive, mais on finit par lâcher prise et on monte le volume.
Bozzini Quartet was awarded the “2016-17 Opus Prize: Performer of the Year” at the 21st Opus prizes gala on February 4, 2018 in Montréal.
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.
Bandleader, electric bassist and organizer Éric Normand has become a central figure in Canadian improvised music, working from his unlikely base in Rimouski, Quebec to develop a large ensemble, a local festival and regular programs of international visitors, activities that have led to international touring for his ensemble GGRIL. Torche! comes from a 2016 quintet tour in which Normand was joined by Montréal-based drummer Michel F Côté and bass clarinetist Philippe Lauzier along with two distinguished European visitors, French clarinetist Xavier Charles and German trumpeter Franz Hautzinger.
On paper that instrumentation might look like a jazz group, even a free jazz group, but the methodology is very different, with close listening the only directive, and the music’s evolution timbral and textural rather than linear. Wind instruments are sometimes played with oscillator-like evenness, even when they’re exploring complex multiphonics; the unfolding layers of sound can suggest an insect-dense forest or the compound sonic ambience of fluorescent lights, varied electronic appliances and of one’s own internal processes.
Individual instrumental voices disappear into the collective whole, so that one is less aware of personalities, more involved in the movement of sound. The music feels orchestral rather than like a collection of individual voices, collective purpose creating work that is as profoundly selfless as it is involving. It’s a highly evolved art, with the five musicians here shaping eight taut improvisations that are remarkably free of meanderings or those empty moments of merely getting acquainted.
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.