Engagement & Confrontation

Pierre-Yves Martel

Highly stimulating. Double Bassist, UK

Martel’s approach is a mix of arco and pizzicato and comes across as surprisingly melodic, even beautiful at times. All About Jazz New York, USA

Coda’s Top Tens of 2006, Ron Sweetman

“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.” —John Cage

When asked once why he played the guitar in such an unorthodox way, the now late Derek Bailey simply proclaimed that he wanted to find out what the instrument could do. Over the four decades he devoted himself to the cause of non idiomatic improvised music, this unique artist never backed down from his uncompromising vision of pushing the boundaries of music-making beyond the tried an true. Not unlike John Cage for that matter, Bailey was just as much a philosopher-king, in his case of free improvisation rather than composition. Even if both men approached music from entirely different directions, each one was as averse to old ideas as they were welcoming of new ones, however far-fetched they appeared to be.

To do that requires a singular sense of determination (or “engagement” as one would say in French), but also a willingness to challenge or to confront, be it oneself, fellow musicians, even listeners. And therein lies the meaning of the title of this debut recording of Canadian double bassist Pierre-Yves Martel.

Nowadays, solo recordings are by no means exceptional, even for the contrabass. But what makes this side stand out from the rest is his concept of “preparing” the instrument in numerous ways, and to find out what it can do in such “altered” states. Beyond the bow and fingers, there are assorted paper-clips, rings, sticks, some directly put on the strings, others on the bridge. But what counts here is not so much the hardware, but the results, and these are no less than fascinating.

But the sounds reproduced here, with no overdubs, by the way, were captured via a multiple-miking system (ten in total), designed in conjunction with the session’s soundman Ross Murray. With various mixes and pannings of signals, the listener is afforded a kind of auditory “trompe l’œil” (or “oreille”, in this case), providing a variety of aural perspectives.

Inasmuch as its portent is conceptual, its intent is totally improvised. Indeed, the musician wanted to surprise himself during the recording, and let chance occurrences happen, something he refers to as “happy accidents.”

Like any recording of improvised music, this one stems from a process (which evolved over a year and a half of experimentation), but one should not view it as an outcome, even less a final product. Quite to the contrary, this is but a first step for a musician of distinction as a player, accompanist and composer, and whose musical range extends from classical, to jazz and improv, and even to baroque and ancient music through his practice of the viola da gamba. And with his musical pedigree, who could doubt his commitment to music (i.e. the aforementioned “engagement”), and his readyness to confront all kinds of musical situations. But beyond all words, it is the music that best speaks for itself. Don’t head off the confrontation, folks: this is one thoroughly engaging side of music. —Marc Chénard, January 2006

“An innovative, personal, rich and diverse piece of art.” —Mark Dresser

CD (AM 148)

  • Label: Ambiances Magnétiques
  • AM 148
  • 2006
  • UCC 771028114825
  • Total duration: 48:37
  • Sympathique case
  • 126 mm × 126 mm × 5 mm
  • 50 g

On the web

Some recommended items
In the press


Andy Hamilton, Double Bassist, April 1, 2007

Pierre-Yves Martel is a Canadian experimental bassist whose range includes classical, jazz and improvisation to early music on the viola da gamba. The 18 pieces for prepared bass here are entirely improvised. Martel’s approach is influenced by guitarist Derek Bailey’s conception of non-idiomatic improvisation - which was essentially a reaction against jazz - and by the genre of solo bass albums begun by Barre Phillips in 1968 with Journal Violone, involving virtuoso extended techniques. Martel prepares the instrument with paperclips, rings, sticks and other items placed directly on the strings and on the bridge, and he mixes arco and pizzicato. The 10-microphone recording set-up allows for a close scrutiny of texture. The recording, which has no overdubs, is projected through various pannings and mixes, creating a rich variety of aural perspectives that the sleeve notes describe as a kind of trompe l’oreille.

The dominant approach is experimental noise as opposed to soundscape. Animals noises are suggested on Correspondences domestiques, and Fromages en crottes is as teeth-jarring as chalk scraped across a blackboard. Seems… far too… familiar is a witty exploration of rattling sounds, while the grindings of Eczema cleverly echo the scratching caused by the skin condition. But this is not purist free-improvisation: Martel does not avoid grooves, for instance, on the chirpily melodic Interlude No.2, and the jazzy Benibraun, while Dresser sets up an East European folkish strumming. Highly stimulating.

Highly stimulating.


Andrey Henkin, All About Jazz New York, January 1, 2007

Everybody knows the hoary old joke about natives on an island with endless drumming, terrified of it stopping and the bass solo beginning. Those natives would certainly scratch their heads over these two solo bass albums. The genre most likely started with Barre Phillips in 1968. Though the work of François Rabbath and Bertram Turetzky were precursors, it was PhillipsJournal Violone on Opus One that set the template for dozens of modern instances: improvising at length with a panoply of extended techniques that vehemently changes the role of the instrument. These two albums are encouraging continuations of the groundwork set by Phillips. Linson and Martel are both engaging young players, the former an American who has most recently (temporarily?) taken Barry Guy’s place in Evan Parker’s Electro-Acoustic Ensemble and the latter a Canadian experimental musician who, in addition to playing double bass, is also supposed to be an accomplished violist de gamba. True to the breadth of the solo bass genre, Cut and Continuum and Engagement & Confrontation, despite having similarly opaque titles, are very different. […] Martel on the other hand offers 18 pieces‚ (the longest under five minutes, the shortest under 40 seconds) on prepared bass in acoustic real-time. […] Martel’s approach is a mix of arco and pizzicato and comes across as surprisingly melodic, even beautiful at times. The remarkably close recording allows for careful examination of texture and there is a flow within each piece and on the album as a whole. A listener’s patience is never tested as Martel introduces different tempos from track to track and can sound the range from computer terminal to thumb piano. For fans of solo bass (Hello? Are you out there?) the choice between these two albums, if there has to be one, is whether your preference is towards more of a soundscape (Linson) or experimental noise (Martel). A long attention span is required for both, either for Linson’s length and measured development or Martel’s sheer density. The times when the instrument played sounds like a traditional bass are few but creep in slyly. Of the two, the sounds generated by Martel are the more fascinating if only for being created in a completely organic fashion. If you really want to make the natives run, obtain both these fine albums and play them simultaneously.

Martel’s approach is a mix of arco and pizzicato and comes across as surprisingly melodic, even beautiful at times.


Pierre Durr, Revue & Corrigée, no. 70, December 1, 2006

Les enregistrements de contrebasse solo ne sont certes pas fréquents, mais on pense rapidement à des musiciens tels que Joëlle Léandre, Brarre Phillips, Mark Dresser, Peter Kowald (dans le domaine des musiques improvisées) ou à des compositeurs ayant travaillé pour des contrebassistes (Scelsi, Cage, Berio, Cazaban, Dumitrescu, avec des interprètes tels que Fernando Grillo ou Stefano Scodanibbio). Certaines de ces réalisations incluent des effets issus de la notion de contrebasse préparée. C’est toutefois une première que de proposer un enregistrement entier dévolu à la contrebasse préparée, et plus particulièrement du côté des musiques improvisées. Pierre-Yves Martel, un jeune Canadien, l’a réalisé ici avec dix-huit courtes pièces, comme autant d’études, visant, comme d’autres plus nombreux le firent, par exemple, avec le piano, à ausculter les possibilités soniques de son instrument par l’utilisation combinée d’objets et d’une spatialisation à partir d’une dizaine de micros. Et loin d’avoir l’aridité d’un travail d’étude, Pierre-Yves Martel insuffle à son engagement une capacité communicative où transparaît une forme d’humour en même temps qu’un hommage à quelques précurseurs de la préparation.

Pierre-Yves Martel insuffle à son engagement une capacité communicative où transparaît une forme d’humour en même temps qu’un hommage à quelques précurseurs de la préparation.


Ken Waxman, Musicworks, no. 96, September 1, 2006

Thrusting himself wood, strings and bow-first into very fast company, Montréal-based double bassist Pierre-Yves Martel has unselfconsciously created his own solo bass CD.

Although the session betrays many of the limitations of a young musician doing his first record, the 27-year-old Vanier, Ont. native’s recital contains enough originality to be considered in a field pioneered by such masterful soloists as France’s Joëlle Léandre and the United Kingdom’s Barry Guy.

Martel does this by making Engagement & Confrontation an elaboration of the sounds produced when the bass’s four strings are prepared by placing sticks, paper clips and rings among them. Additionally the sound is captured in studio with multiple microphones – there are 10 in total – to literally amplify every movement. The end result is a selection of tracks, ranging from 35 seconds to 4 and a half minutes, whose improvisations develop midway between conceptual and accidental. There’s no overdubbing involved.

The bassist, whose background includes playing musique actuelle with clarinetist Lori Freedman and guitarist Antoine Berthiaume, Balkan-jazz with the band Foreigners, and early, baroque and so-called classical music elsewhere, has the chops and background for experimentation. On some tunes in fact, you marvel at his sheer audacity, constructing pieces out of fingered drones and scrapes of the instrument’s spike on the studio floor.

But youth’s audacity also plays second fiddle to impudence on the set. Evidentially intent on showing off his developing prowess, Martel has packed 18 tracks into a CD that’s only slightly more-than-48-minutes long. This produces some sections of different compositions which are mere technical exercises, which are also not given enough latitude to develop into coherent statements, and worse of all, sporadically sound like other passages on the date.

At his best the bassist keeps you guessing at his next move, as when he seems to be vocalizing through his string set or somehow produces oscillating wave form vibrations that create secondary bass lines – as if his primary notes were being accompanied by another bassist.

Percussive more than dissonant, his sul ponticello bowing on a piece like Fromage en crottes moves from ear-wrenching shrills down to violent pizzicato smacks. He’s isn’t above whacking the bass’s waist and belly either, or producing what sound like wood rending pressure below the bridge for additional resonance. On tracks like Pneus semi-pneumatiques walking bass lines quickly evolve into the vibrating buzz created by torqued strings. Meanwhile Dresser – which may be a salute to the masterful American bassist of the same name – features guitar-like finger-picking pirouettes that when coupled with percussive motions suggests the African balophone as well.

On the other hand, Benibraun’s onomatopoeia-like sound reflects its title; the balladic For D/C evolves reflectively in broken octaves from high-and-low-pitched strumming; and Correspondances domestiques melds lumbering squeaks and caws into a low-key, burbling theme.

With much of his musical life ahead of him, the young Franco-Ontarian has created a notable debut. It implies that eventually he may attain membership in the highest ranks of improv’s low-pitched string fraternity.

With much of his musical life ahead of him, the young Franco-Ontarian has created a notable debut.


Stefano Isidoro Bianchi, Blow Up, no. 100, September 1, 2006

Tra gli strumenti più votati (e personalmente preferiti) per l’improvvisazione solista perché portatore di un suono molto caldo, espressivo e malleabile, il contrabbasso è il protagonista assoluto di questi due album dall’ispirazione e dai risultati molto diversi. […] Il differente approccio dei due strumentisti si può intuire anche dalla lunghezza media dei pezzi: venti minuti Linson, due e mezzo Martel, che non utilizza mezzi elettronici ma come unica “distrazione” prepara lo strumento con carte e pezzi di metallo e legno. Il suo suono è quindi più “proprio”, caldo e sommesso, se vogliamo più “jazz”, inteso però in un’accezione che di classico ha veramente poco. Anche in questo caso la capacità di Martel (canadese del Québec) è memorabile; i suoi assolo dalle tinte tribaloidi e dagli umori primitivisti, molto puliti e diradati e fortemente poggiati sulla magia di corde stirate e violate, si colorano in maniera sempre diversa e imprevedibile pur restando fedeli all’assunto programmatico di una felpata, interrogativa circospezione. (8) a entrambi, con leggera preferenza per il secondo.


Paul Bijlsma, Phosphor, no. 120, August 1, 2006

The Canadian double-bassist Pierre-Yves Martel released a solo-album through Ambiances Magnétiques. This album features 18 short tracks, the longest not clocking over four and a half minutes, in which the prepared double bass is the central issue. Referring to the welcoming of new ideas by John Cage and Derek Bailey, this musician plays his instrument in an unorthodox way. The outcome is a mixture of instrumental blues and improv. sessions. It’s nice to notice how many and varied sounds Martel can create with just one instrument, due to which the atmosphere changes regularly. Sometimes one can’t even believe hearing a double bass, despite the excellent sound quality.

It’s nice to notice how many and varied sounds Martel can create with just one instrument, due to which the atmosphere changes regularly.


Mike Wood, Foxy Digitalis, August 1, 2006

This is stunning minimal jazz driven by sonic invention. Double bassist Martel has long been a fixture in the Montréal jazz and Musique Actuelle scene, and here he produces a tour de force filled with the possibilities not only of the genre, but for his instrument as well. His prepared bass experiments involve attaching paper clips and sticks, among other objects, to the bass, as well as trying out several variations of bowed and finger techniques. The result is amazingly dense, and coherent. You do not get the sense that this is virtuoso masturbation. Martel is seeking out new sounds, new ways to force the bass center stage, and he succeeds. Highlights include Cages, which is probably a nod to the master of prepared instrumentation. Dresser and Felt Clips hum and ache in ways the bass rarely has been able to convey. The two part Mulo suite is a perfection of his harmonic and experimental ideas, as is the amazing Correspondances Domestiques. Martel has also applied his vision to the Montréal avant-garde band Rake Star, but here, following his own ideas, the results are more satisfying. While Canada has not been known for its adventurous music, enough proof has been amassed that now that ought to change. From the Noise and avant-rock typical of Canadian labels like Alien8, to the powerful jazz scene in Montréal, our neighbors have been quietly but forcefully doing more than just slowly becoming a new model for real Democracy. Martel is only one of the visionary artists fueling that transformation. 9/10

Double bassist Martel has long been a fixture in the Montréal jazz and Musique Actuelle scene, and here he produces a tour de force filled with the possibilities not only of the genre, but for his instrument as well.


Michael Anton Parker, Downtown Music Gallery, June 16, 2006

With these 18 tracks of solo music for prepared contrabass recorded in October, 2005 by a young Montréal musician, we have a perfect example of a trend in contemporary music that I find endlessly rewarding, familiar acoustic instruments put under a microscope to reveal unfamiliar possibilities. Martel is an example of a musician who’s drawn a personal cartography of nooks and crannies in their instrument’s potential sound space, and it’s in the solo format that we can hear their naked vocabulary and organizational impulses without any musical compromises. Averaging around 3 minutes apiece, these are miniatures that allow Martel to present a huge range of approaches; it’s possibly the most varied solo contrabass disc I’ve encountered. At the same time, the timbral and structural variety within each piece obviates a “catalog” effect. For short passages we hear rare shades of bow pressure recalling Fernando Grillo’s Fluvine or Stefano Scodanibbio’s Scelsi interpretations, and other restrained fixations echo the outstanding solo works of Domenico Sciajno, Michael Bullock, Tetsu Saitoh, Kazue Sawai, etc. Both non-repeating and repeating structures are employed, the former offering the joy of ephemeral glimpses of mystery sounds and the latter conveying the feeling of strange machines carrying out their strange lives in the middle of a short film by the Brothers Quay. Though the music was created via improvisation without overdubs or electronic processing, Martel achieves some grainy, static-like textures and unnatural harmonies that vaguely feel electronic. Much of the credit goes to the multiple close-miking recording techniques used, with as many as 10 (!) microphones collating heterogenous sound events. One can imagine Martel sometimes rapidly moving from one attack to another at a different location on his oversized fiddle, and several tracks have a semi-regular alternation between contrasting timbres that creates an illusion of ensemble interplay, with the kind of tightness of timing that can only come from a single nervous system overseeing an array of sounds, much like a drumkitter weaves the contrasting timbres of different cymbals, drums, etc. A truly captivating disc from start to finish!

A truly captivating disc from start to finish!


Karel Kouba, Unijazz, April 10, 2006

“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.” This quote by John Cage introduces the solo recording of young Canadian bassist Pierre-Yves Martel, who, by altering the upright bass using pieces of paper, wood and metal, ties in to a tradition initiated by Cage’s prepared piano. Another inspiration of Martel’s creation is the philosopher of free improvisation and non-idiomatic playing, guitarist Derek Bailey. Martel is a classically trained musician, who does not use his skill for show. Rather, in the spirit of his two musical fathers, he is trying to unearth the inner expressive possibilities of his instrument. In his hands, the double bass leaves the boundaries of conventional context with which it is often associated. With preparation, unconventional use of the bow and extended techniques, Martel creates unexpected shadows, creeks, thuds and murmurs bordering with silence; the resulting sounds are often percussive in character, and at times reminiscent of wind instruments. The multi-layered structure of these improvised compositions holds firmly together, does not slide into purposeless and as a whole the album does not bore. This can be credited first of all to Martel’s experience with jazz and classical idioms, which play a role of contrast in his playing, as well as the chosen form of short compositions. With the essence of surprise, Martel’s world of sound represents an unheard-of side of music. (translated by Petr Cancura)

Regards sur la relève, Bassman Research: Pierre-Yves Martel

Paul Serralheiro, La Scena Musicale, no. 11:7, April 1, 2006

Finding your voice as a musician is no easy task, nor is finding your place in the music community at large. With remarkable ease and confidence, however, Ottawa native double bassist and composer Pierre-Yves Martel has found a niche for himself in the thriving Montréal scene. Most surprising is that this 27 year-old player has done so with a solo album, Engagement & Confrontation, to be released very soon on the local Ambiances Magnétiques label. But if one judges by his concert schedule, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Just last month, he headed south for performances in both Boston and New York and will perform two concerts in Toronto with guitarist Antoine Berthiaume on the 21 and 23 of this month. Here in town, he will spar with drummer Isaiah Ceccarelli on May 3 at Casa del Popolo as part of the Improvising Montréal Series. What’s more, Martel is active in both the contemporary and baroque music scene (he also plays viola de gamba) and has composed for classical and jazz ensembles alike. Barely out of music school, Martel is now a full-fledged working musician. Despite the risks of a solo album, the choice seemed natural to him. Inspired by the work of John Cage, fellow bassist Michael Formanek and René Lussier, Martel considered the potential for the “prepared” acoustic bass. “The research for the album,” he explained, “took place in my apartment where I just investigated the instrument’s sound possibilities. I built a kind of recorded library of musical miniatures and challenged myself to discover different sounds. It was like viewing the instrument from different perspectives.” Heartened by the results of his explorations, Martel applied successfully for a Canada Council grant last year. Recorded over a three-day span last October, the session was captured by no less than ten microphones. “The actual material is improvised,” Martel notes, “but stems from 35 very well-defined preparations.” Martel sees this process as similar to playing the melodies and changes of jazz standards. “Each track has one preparation. These include things like an open D tuning, rubbing the bass, using sympathetic vibrations, moveable bridges, and various clips on the strings.” “The prepared bass is a whole new instrument,” Martel sums up. “I’d like to work with other sound artists and try to bring prepared bass into group settings.” To this end, you will surely find Martel busy at work around town in one group or another, digging into the adventure of creative music.

To this end, you will surely find Martel busy at work around town in one group or another, digging into the adventure of creative music.