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Review

Nick Roseblade, Vital, no. 1277, March 22, 2021
Friday, March 26, 2021 Press

Despite the way it’s being dressed up Commutation is a cover, or reinterpretations, album. Each of the eight tracks is a graphic score written by different composers. This means that the composer used visual symbols to create the notation, rather than traditional musical notation. The five composers, Luigi Russolo, Emilie Girard-Charest, Anestis Logothetis, Fred Frith, Maxime Daigneault, span 100 years of music and culture. What is remarkable that Ensemble SuperMusique plays them in a way that you can’t really tell what era they are from. This is down to the ensemble using a collection of winds, electronics, and percussion to make them sounds contemporary. A prime example is Pour l’heure, one of the standout moments. Instead of using strings, Ensemble SuperMusique re-score it is using electronics, as well as organic sounds. The playing is sparse but forthright. The horns give Pour l’heure a sinister vibe that might have been missing on the original score. The final third, with its bellowing horns and scratchy field recordings, really define the mood of the piece and act as a bookend to how it starts.

In the middle of the album is a suite of Fred Frith’s four Stone, Brick, Glass, Wood, Wire compositions. This is the most important section on the album. On this the album hangs. Original a live double album by Frith these performances take his ideas and run with them. Ensemble SuperMusique’s versions have the same vibe, slightly wonky and eerie, but they ramp up the tension in the way that Frith’s versions don’t. Underpinning all the songs is this junk table aesthetic. Throughout assorted things are being rattled, shook, and jingled. The effect is unsettling, but you can’t look away. Just like in a horror film you have to watch the gruesome imagery; despite being warned by the music. The same is true here.

The albums downside is that it is all a bit oppressive. There is no space between the notes being played. Now, I can’t work out if this is down to the way Ensemble SuperMusique has decided to play the pieces of music or if they purposely picked music that would give them the ability to reinterpret the music this way. Given that these are graphic scores it’s hard to know. The only downside to this is that these versions might lose some fluidity to what the originals had. Saying that Commutation is a glorious piece of music that makes us think about how technology is used and what happens with the data after our task has been completed.

… a glorious piece of music…

Review

Nick Roseblade, Vital, no. 1277, March 22, 2021
Friday, March 26, 2021 Press

There is something delicate about Marilyn Lerner and Nicole Rampersaud’s playing on Brass Knuckle Sandwich that you miss the first couple of time you play it. At first, it all sounds like broad brushstrokes of sound. That susurration for example. It is all long, shrill, trumpet blasts from Rampersaud and harrowing piano tinkering from Lerner, but after you become a tune to it, you start to realise that there is a fragility to the playing. Lerner isn’t so much filling in the spaces left by Rampersaud, but she is adding patches of light to encounter the raspy blasts. It works fantastically well. We are giving a vibrant performance and an indication of what to expect on the rest of the album.

Evermore is probably the most conventional track. Lerner’s piano is elegant and wouldn’t be out of place being played at a dinner party. The work runs are measured but with a slightly ominous edge. When Rampersaud comes in, around the halfway mark, her playing is more conventional and restrained. It reminds me of the work of Marc Chagall. The paintings are lifelike but there is a level of abstraction to them that takes you by surprise. The same is true here. Lerner is playing some really beautiful motifs. It pulls at the heart, then Rampersaud comes in and, BAM, everything has a slightly off-kilter vibe to it. It’s the strongest track on the album.

At first, I thought that Brass Knuckle Sandwich was an odd title, but after listening to it a few times it makes perfect sense. The knockout punch happened during Rizoo. The final track, Rizoo, is also the one that everything hangs on. The previous six have set out the aims and points for the performances. They have shown Lerner and Rampersaud’s regard, and disregard, for a convention. There have been eloquent melodies and bestially thrashings, but here it all comes together. To being with Lerner is taking the more collected route again. Her controlled work is delightful, with a playfulness that was missing on some of the earlier tracks. As with Evermore it allows you to get comfortable with the piece. Rampersaud is again shrill, then around the halfway mark, the roles switch. Lerner starts to play more abstractly with Rampersaud playing in a more conventional manner. The change happens so slowly you almost miss it until it’s too late. What Rizoo does it break our mindset of the previous six tracks. It changes our perceptions with not only what Lerner and Rampersaud are capable of, but what the album is about.

At its heart, this is an album that likes to play with our ideas of form and composition. It leads us one way then bops us over the head and runs off giggling, like a character in a child’s comic. There is no malice intended, just a thrill of doing it. But what did we expect from two of Canada’s greatest improvisers? This is an album that works as a conversation between gifted, and patient, musicians. They are both taking the time to get their points across, while listening, and considering the others. If only all music was this audacious.

If only all music was this audacious.

Critique

Claude Colpaert, Revue & Corrigée, no. 127, March 1, 2021
Thursday, March 25, 2021 Press

… the two pieces gathered here play with the space and the acoustics of the venue…

Review

Michele Palozzo, Esoteros, February 19, 2021
Wednesday, March 17, 2021 Press

At last, in recent years, sound art pioneer Alvin Lucier can enjoy the deserved privilege of being recognized as a cult figure for a new generation of classical and experimental musicians, spontaneously catalyzed by his intuitions as essential as they are meaningful, aimed at deeply listening to a vast and yet unexplored sound phenomenology.

At the same time, after decades of empirical studies on the properties of the most disparate objects and materials, the interest of the American dean for traditional instrumentation has been emerging with increasing clarity: an aspect emphasized in particular by Black Truffle’s valuable editions — from the live anthology Illuminated by the Moon (2018) to the Works for the Ever Present Orchestra (2020) which he himself founded. In this context is inserted the excellent Quatuor Bozzini’s new album, an ideal excursus into Lucier’s microtonal and “concrete” investigations applied to an ensemble of string instruments only.

Active for over twenty years now, already the Canadian line-up has considerably distinguished itself in the repertoire of the New York school (Cage, Tenney) as well as today’s offshoots variously affiliated with it (Jürg Frey, Linda Catlin Smith, Cassandra Miller), plus an interesting dual Norwegian project by Kim Myhr ( pressing clouds passing crowds, 2018) and Ingar Zach ( floating layer cake, 2019). But it is especially in the frequent confrontation with Lucier’s poetics that the adoption of an approach that transcends the mere reading of a score becomes indispensable: over the five stages of Navigations, unusual and heterodox forms of harmony take shape, in direct dialogue with and nourished by spaces, in a radical return to the essence of sound making.

A phlegmatic, imperceptible digressive motion unfolds in the shifting unison of Disappearances (1994): at first extremely sharp and compact in shaping an apparently flat acoustic surface, with remarkable control the quartet alternately slides through the tiniest intervals of the instruments, producing the illusory beats that occur in the gap between immediately adjacent frequencies; a fleeting sense of void also accompanies the changes in direction of the bows, like subsidences in the fragile weft of a fabric under the effect of a constant tension.

Composed the same year, Unamuno consists of twenty-four reconfigurations of the same four semitones, vocally replicated by their own creators: an element that accentuates the ritualistic, albeit rigorously objectivating character of Lucier’s performative pieces, comparable to the projection of geometric directrices intended to converge and fuse into a lucent synthesis of complementary colors.

The double iteration of Group Tapper (2004) brings us back to the first CD of the recent collection String Noise (2020), occupied by a patient “measurement” of space conducted by following the reverberation of the bow strokes reflected by the bare walls of an art gallery. The interweaving of rhythmic patterns put into action by Bozzini is however much more lively, even nervous, as it exceptionally makes them pass through a sphere of relative naturalistic mimesis: the curved wooden bodies, struck on their every part with the hard ends of the bow handles, cross in fact a range of timbral solutions that seemingly extends from the patter of busy birdies to the ferocious tumult of the (urban) jungle. These are the most markedly theatrical episodes of the program, performed at physical distance while slowly moving, in order to conjugate the sound gestures and the architecture of the concert hall, the fifth “instrument” which, on closer inspection, plays a fundamental role in each phenomenal instance conceived by Lucier.

Lastly comes the title piece Navigations (1991), previously recorded in the studio by the always formidable Arditti Quartet ( Mode, 2003): deliberately played out on the verge of minimum dissonance, the perpetually unstable scenario sustained by the quartet simulates a spiraling descent into the psychoacoustic depths, home to faint hallucinations once again caused by the changes of tempo and microtonal oscillations in constant interrelation. A true paradigm of the quietly sublimating aesthetics of Alvin Lucier, an irreducible master of contemporary experimentation who, thanks to the passion and sensitivity of the Bozzini Quartet, receives here one of the most substantial discographic tributes released in recent times.

A true paradigm of the quietly sublimating aesthetics of Alvin Lucier, an irreducible master of contemporary experimentation who, thanks to the passion and sensitivity of the Bozzini Quartet, receives here one of the most substantial discographic tributes released in recent times.

Review

Phil Zampino, The Squid’s Ear, March 12, 2021
Wednesday, March 17, 2021 Press

For those interested in vocal improvisation, the latest Chorale Joker under Joane Hétu’s direction is an achievement in large scale vocal ensemble work. Like Maggie Nicol’s The Gathering, Hétu has assembled a large colection of 20 improvisers to perform her compositions, as well as works from Jean Derome and Danielle Palardy Roger. The list of performers is impressive, including Derome, Roger, Lori Freedman, François Couture, Diane Labrosse, Alexandre St-Onge, Michel F Côté, Gabriel Dharmoo, etc. The color booklet shows the ensemble, and images from the scores, including gestures used for the conductions. The results are other-worldly, a hybrid of anticipated choral work and something inexplicable. It’s unusual improvised music of the highest order executed by masterful musicians who clearly enjoy the concept, and the concert from which this album is derived.

The Montréal-based Chorale Joker ensemble directed and conducted by Joane Hétu, Danielle Palardy Roger, and Jean Derome, who are also participants, is one of the most unusual and fascinating improvising vocal ensembles active, heard here in a concert coordinated with Productions SuperMusique at Le Vivier, Amphiteatre du Gesu, Montréal in early 2020; indescribably fascinating!

It’s unusual improvised music of the highest order executed by masterful musicians who clearly enjoy the concept, and the concert from which this album is derived.