Prix Opus 2021-22: Album de l’année — Finaliste
Cage, the group’s fourth release on Ambiances Magnétiques, is at once entirely consistent with the group’s ethos and a radical departure. Those familiar with Pierre-Yves Martel’s broader body of work –– with or without Quartetski stalwarts Philippe Lauzier, Bernard Falaise, and Isaiah Ceccarelli –– will recognise qualities in these pieces, Four6 and One7, that characterise his own music more directly than the group’s previous, excellent releases: Thoroughly deliberate sound-making, attention to timbres in their manifold richnesses, space, and a calm spirit of discovery. And yet, like all Quartetski projects, Cage declares its fidelity to the radical vision of its composer-namesake. In this way, by underscoring the affinities shared by both interpreters and composer, this may be the most ‘personal’ Quartetski record, but achieves this condition, paradoxically, by purging the personal, ridding this music’s execution of the ego in such a satisfying, consummately Cagean way. — Scott Thomson
- Composer(s): John Cage
- Performer(s): Quartetski, Isaiah Ceccarelli, Bernard Falaise, Philippe Lauzier, Pierre-Yves Martel
- Graphic design: Frédérique Laliberté
CD (AM 264)
- Label: Ambiances Magnétiques
- AM 264
- UCC 771028126422
- Total duration: 60:07
- Sympathique case
- 126 mm × 126 mm × 5 mm
- 35 g
On the web
Download (AM 264_NUM)
- Label: Ambiances Magnétiques
- AM 264_NUM
- UCC 771028126484
- Total duration: 60:07
For any way of producing sounds (vocalization, singing, playing of an instrument or instruments, electronics, etc.)
Choose twelve different sounds with fixed characteristics (amplitude, overtone structure, etc.) Play within the time brackets given. When the time brackets are connected by a diagonal line, they are relatively close together. When performed as a solo, the first player’s part is used and the piece is called One7.
For Pauline Oliveros to celebrate her sixtieth birthday and for Joan La Barbara, William Winant, and Leonard Stein.
For any pitched instrument able to play sustained notes.
Each player derives a chromatic tone row obtained using chance operations. All four players use part 1 and play within the time brackets given. Registers are not fixed. The musicians think and act as one individual, playing together as much as possible, or not.
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In the press
Adaptation of two of John Cage’s later aleatoric compositions in their own fashion, members of Montréal’s Quartetski stay true to the composer’s instructions while creating completely original works. With Four6 designed for any way of producing sounds and One7 created for pitched instruments playing sustained notes, Pierre-Yves Martel on electric bass and sine waves and Bernard Falaise on electric guitar plus bass clarinetist Philippe Lauzier and percussionist Isaiah Ceccarelli, both of whom also play synthesizers, construct electro-acoustic tracks of kaleidoscopic textures.
Since One7 wants instruments acting as one, Quartetski’s layered interactions concentrate into a pointillist vibrating mass by mid-point and propelled by altissimo reed whistles and voltage drones, stay that way until the end. Before that, organ-like synthesizer swells, guitar string plinks, unvarying chalumeau-register clarinet buzzes and percussion rolls corkscrew multiple pitches into the exposition before coalescing.
More individualism characterizes Four6 since multiple sounds are expressed and emphasized. Lauzier at points projects both subterranean body tube growls and repeated staccato shrieks; Ceccarelli sounds doorbell-like peals or cymbal scratches as often as bass drums thumps; Falaise’s effects pedal moves intermittent guitar twangs upwards; and Martel’s thick bass strums propel regularized rhythmic vibrations as well as focusing timbral evolution. Crucially, however, at certain moments, reoccurring harsh reed flattement confirm linear evolution.
Transforming interpretation into originality, Quartetski realizes the essence of Cage’s conception in a novel and unique form.
Where much music places the composer, their vision and their efforts to clarify every scratch on the page the center of the universe, John Cage eschewed the authoritative narrative — particularly in his latter-years — to promote a natural, not strict, order. It’s like asking someone “be yourself” instead of forcing them to smile or act in front of a camera while also offering a pep talk to influence the desired result. Further, though, the goal is to “insert the individual into the current in which everything passes.”
Having previously reimagined Prokofiev, Le Sacre du printemps and Bartók’s Mikrokosmos, the Quartetski collective aim their talents at Cage’s Four6, an aleatoric process focused on the initial selection of twelve sounds with “fixed characteristics (amplitude, overtone, structure etc.) “ These are progressed per several time brackets found on the player’s scores (each player has a different sheet); a diagonal line connecting multiple time brackets indicates that interactions should occur more frequently.
The realization here by Isaiah Ceccarelli on percussion and synthesizer, Philippe Lauzier on bass clarinet and synthesizer, guitarist Bernard Falaise, and Pierre-Yves Martel on electric bass is, not surprisingly based on the œuvre of these four gentlemen, is incredibly sensitive, reverent, a feeling of patient conjuring without the intent of finishing anything to term. Stepping into the “For any way of producing sounds” directions, the group adopts a loose focus on the lugubrious: a deep bass clarinet tone with a pleasing intro and bratty overblown honk is enlarged with an amplified bass note, which subsequently fills the speakers; arrhythmic taps on metal played to technically be defined as “sustained”; Falaise gently wringing his guitar’s neck into earthquake tremors. The synthetic sounds range from ruminating, dripping blobs one associates with modular synthesizer, musically complete textural environments, and “sour” organ prelude in the vein of Kali Malone and FUJI|||||||||||TA.
Seemingly intentional, a good number of Cage interpretations purposefully translate as sunny and mild-mannered as the man’s spirited laughter and smile, Quartetski’s Four6 is tense and spooky. Some of the twelve sounds involve (satisfying) electric guitar extended techniques and aforementioned warbling synthesizer gestures; even the cooing bass clarinet tags the end of long, passive sustained notes with a bratty overblown hiccup. I was immediately struck with how it crawls in the same ritualistic way and sonically (timbre) echoes Stockhausen’s 1968 work Aus den sieben Tagen, a piece whose text-based score provides details to guide the player to “Intuitive music” (“instant creation in which fixed principles or rules may or may not have been given”). That work exudes a mysterious sinisterness where it’s unclear if one should run or grab a blanket; am I hearing creation or prolonged destruction of the universe? It is sublimity — in the truest sense of the word — and the furrowed brow with intent stare of Stockhausen.
Per Cage’s side-bar on Four6: “When performed as a solo, the first player’s part is used and the piece is called One7.” Per Quartetski (Martel): “For any pitched instrument able to play sustained notes… each player derives a chromatic tone row obtained using chance operations.” Though obviously not a solo, this second work holds to Lauzier’s (player one) initial bass clarinet gesture as the other three members restrict their movements and in turn have less accidental exchanges (i.e. happenstance chords) than the previous piece. Instead of slightly deviating as on Four6, the formal connection now seems both united and independent with each player supporting and handing off the same line in a Klangfarbenmelodie fashion. The long notes move like rock climbing where the lead carefully scales, thoughtfully pauses to set a purchase for those below who are also working to keep the first guy secure, repeat until finished all while holding the same rope/lead.
The lesson one learns from Cage — when performing Cage — is that the freedom implied from a lack of dynamics, instrumentation etc. on the page can become an unforgivable obstacle in the conservative musician’s mind. When my undergraduate score analysis class was presented with one of the man’s works (missing the instructions and author’s name), we stared intently for an hour trying to envision how a performance of graphs and squiggly numbers could hold interest to anyone. Based on Quartetski’s endeavors, the problem was we 18th Century harmony, cadence and meter-obsessed students. Cage’s is as elegant as those playing and respecting it. Quartetski just happens to be naturally photogenic.
Quartetski was formed in 2007 by Pierre-Yves Martel “as a vehicle to rethink and reinterpret the works of great composers through the lens of creative improvised music”. So far, Martel and his companions realized projects focused on the works by Prokofiev (2007), Stravinsky (2013) and Bartók (2016). Choosing Cage for their new project, the decision for a very different kind of a composer compared to the three predecessors. They chose two compositions belonging to a body of about forty works called Number Pieces composed by Cage in his last years. Each work is titled after the number of performers that are involved. One7 is the seventh work for one performer, Four6 is the sixth work for four performers, etc. Both are not written for specific instrumentation and are dedicated to composer and accordionist Pauline Oliveros, a.o. I don’t know any other recordings of these works and can’t make any comparison. But the fact that they perform One7 as a quartet may be one of more decisions that make their approach different from others. Anyway, we have Isaiah Ceccarelli (percussion, synthesizer), Philippe Lauzier (bass clarinet, synthesizer); Pierre-Yves Martel (electric bass, sine waves) and Bernard Falaise (electric guitar) at work here in an intriguing rendition of both pieces. They play a limited set of patterns interspersed with pauses of different lengths, which evokes the impression of a random-like sequence. Pointillistic, non-intentional dots of sound pass by, but it is evident that something is at work in these works that gives them a fascinating (dis)continuity. The movements are fragile and delicate, always very modest. The performers’ sounds, timbres, and colours are well-chosen and make a beautiful spectrum.
In the last years of his prolific creative life, iconic experimental composer John Cage (1912-1992) composed some 40 number pieces. For titles, he coined a unique system in which numbers indicate the number of performers or the number of instrumental parts in each work. Superscripts were added when compositions shared the same number of performers.
Cage’s notation of these pieces features two time-based categories: fixed and flexible “time brackets.” Fixed-time brackets indicate when the musician/s should precisely begin and end a tonal event. Flexible-time brackets however, allow musicians choice in the matter, admitting into the performance, a) chance and b) the anarchic harmony of sounds and silences simply co-existing, two key Cagean notions.
Both works on this album belong to that corpus. One7, “For any pitched instrument able to play sustained notes,” is the seventh piece in a series of compositions for one musician. Except, in this performance the polished Montréal group Quartetski have decided to interpret the open score with all four member musicians: Isaiah Ceccarelli (percussion, synthesizer), Bernard Falaise (electric guitar), Philippe Lauzier (bass clarinet, synthesizer) and Pierre-Yves Martel (electric bass, sine waves).
Four6, also for unspecified forces, also lasts a leisurely half hour. The four musicians are asked to “Choose 12 different sounds with fixed characteristics (amplitude, overtone structure, etc.) ” producing a mellower soundscape than the dramatic musical moments generated in One7.
Quartetski’s nuanced realization of these two autumnal Cage works admirably animates the scores, imbuing individual character which belies their apparent abstract appearance. Marked by attention to timbral richness well-represented by this refined recording, the quartet displays a spirit of sonic discovery that’s aurally refreshing while respecting the composer’s musical aesthetics.
De invloed van John Cage op de hedendaags gecomponeerde muziek kan moeilijk worden overschat en in tegenstelling tot veel andere grote namen uit de vorige eeuw wordt zijn muziek nog opvallend vaak uitgevoerd, met als hoogtepunt de vorig jaar verschenen box van Apartment House met daarop alle zogenaamde ‘Number Pieces’, uitgebracht door Another Timbre. Maar er is meer. Ook Quartetski bracht onlangs twee ‘Number Pieces’ uit, bij Ambiances Magnétiques, te weten Four6 en One7 en bij Naxos verscheen vorig jaar de Cd American Percussion Works waarop Percurama onder andere ‘First Construction (in Metal) ’ uitvoert.
Apartement House nam dertien stukken op, ze komen hier morgen aan bod, in een bezetting tussen vijf en dertien leden (het eerste getal van de ‘Number Pieces’ duidt op het aantal uitvoerenden, het tweede op de volgorde binnen de stukken voor die bezetting. ‘Four6’ is dus het zesde stuk in een bezetting voor vier musici), Four6 en One7 vallen daarbuiten. Soms schreef Cage een stuk specifiek voor een instrument, meestal liet hij het echter open, iets dat ook geldt voor de twee stukken die Quartetski hier uitvoert. Four6 dat hij schreef in 1992, het laatste jaar van zijn leven heeft als aanduiding ‘four performers’. Het geeft dit bijzondere kwartet, bestaande uit percussionist Isaiah Ceccarelli, rietblazer Philippe Lauzier, Pierre-Yves Martel actief in de weer met de viola da gamba en diverse objecten en gitarist Bernard Falaise, de mogelijkheid Cage’ materiaal maximaal naar hun hand te zetten. De combinatie van percussie, objecten en rietblazers, viola da gamba werkt perfect, evenals die van akoestische en elektronisch, de elektrische gitaar van Falaise. One7, uit 1990, was dus bedoeld voor één instrument, keuze vrij. Dit kwartet houdt zich er niet aan, al klinkt het hier wel als een onlosmakelijke eenheid, waarbij met name die prachtige wolken van klank opvallen. Niet helemaal conform Cage’ wil, maar wel heel mooi gedaan.