Few top tier string quartets have been as devoted to experimental music as the Montréal ensemble Quatuor Bozzini, who routinely bring a stunning rigour to everything they play, whether the radical work of Swiss composer Jürg Frey or key Canadian figures such as Linda Catlin Smith, Cassandra Miller and Martin Arnold. This new album focuses on the music of Alvin Lucier, one of the most enduring and consequential sonic explorers of the last half-century, and the group’s razor-sharp precision and empathy helps bring the gripping psychoacoustics of his research into dynamic relief.
The album is bookended by two conventional yet open-ended string quartets, starting with the 1994 composition Disappearances originally written for Lucier’s students at Wesleyan University, and closing with the 1991 piece Navigations for Strings, previously recorded by Arditti. They feel like companion pieces. The first is built from harmonically rich, unison long tones that seem to float towards eternity, but eventually one musician slowly, almost imperceptibly, raises or lowers their individual pitch, incrementally followed by the others to produce acoustic beating with ever-changing rhythmic patterns, all contained within an immersive sustain. It’s the kind of work that could go on for hours, but this version clocks in at nearly 17 minutes, generating an immersive sonic experience at the heart of Lucier’s ongoing fascination with the science of sound.
In between the group perform two iterations of the 2004 piece Group Tapper, an adaptation of a piece written for violinist Conrad Harris — and recently featured in an hour long workout by his String Noise duo on a Black Truffle album — in which the musicians thwack at the bodies of their instruments with the butt end of a bow. Each one taps out different rhythms, but the real pleasure is observing how the percussive sounds fill the space they’re played in, as the musicians slowly move in the room, perpetually altering the sonic profile. Unamuno was written as a vocal piece, with each singer intoning a single pitch in a four-tone cluster, but the Bozzini’s complement the voice with strings. Lucier is brilliant, but his music always works best when performed by the truly dedicated.
Le surréalisme, parlons-en. Êtes-vous plus du type Lynch ou Jodorowsky? Des générations entières n’ont-elles pas été partiellement traumatisées par la grosse chenille fumeuse d’opium dans le dessin animé d’Alice au pays des merveilles? Parlant de ce film, ce sont les paroles du bariolé chat du Cheshire (au fait, qu’est-ce que des «momerate»?) qui ouvrent la nouvelle collaboration de collages sonores et d’effets de pédales entre les artistes expérimentaux N Nao et Joni Void. D’accord, le ton est donné. Alice nous guidera à travers des trappes, des détours, des incantations, des atmosphères entre glauque et ivresse. Les univers de ces deux explorateurs de l’inconscient s’arriment si bien l’un à l’autre que l’on croirait entendre un groupe formé depuis longtemps. Leur collaboration ne remonte qu’à 2019 toutefois. L’oiseau chante avec ses doigts est le premier d’une série d’albums bricolés avec du matériel grappillé depuis leurs débuts ensemble. ★★★ 1/2
While listening to this new performance of Navigations, I was thinking about the earlier performance I heard, but somehow I don’t seem to be able to find that CD by Wergo. The actual title is Navigations for Strings, and this work composed by Alvin Lucier in 1991 and the closing piece of a five-part CD, as performed by Quatuor Bozzini. Lucier also composed the other four pieces and even while I have a considerable hefty book on my shelves from him, these compositions are not mentioned, so I am not entirely sure how they ’work’. As with many of Lucier’s compositions, there is usually conceptual reasoning behind it, a plan that is executed. It is interesting to know this, but is it essential for enjoying the music? Perhaps not. The title piece is the longest here and the opening Disappearances follows that in length; it also follows it in musical direction. In both of these pieces, the string quartet plays long, sustaining tones, with Disappearances being more ’in your face’ and Navigations for Strings more like an easy flow. There are two versions of Group Tapper, which is the group version of Tapper, for solo violin, but I assume now performed by the players of Quatuor Bozzini. Much to my surprise, this is a rhythmic piece, and I assume by using the bow as a mallet upon the surfaces of the violins, alto violin and cello. The longer of the two seems to be spacing out the intervals between the various ’hits’, and over its eleven minutes gradually be dying out. In the middle is Unamuno, “for four equal voices (1994)“ and this is an eerie piece of music. With the strings singing like ghostly voices, this is like the soundtrack for a haunted mystery flick. There are three pieces here that are ’textbook’Lucier pieces, sustaining, sine wave-like but entirely along with the sounds of real instruments, closely knit together and beautiful, plus two pieces that were quite the surprise, but of course, there then I reminded Silver Streetcar For The Orchestra, played on an amplified triangle and it all made sense. I just need to brush up my knowledge on Lucier again, I thought. This excellent CD is a perfect reminder to do so!
Since 1997 Michel F Côté, Bernard Falaise and Alexandre St-Onge have been releasing music under the moniker Klaxon Gueule. These albums take bits from noise, experimentalism, avant-garde, free improvisation, and jazz to create something forward-thinking. The group have now released their eighth album, Entièrement unanimes, loosely translated to Fully Unanimous. Using the blueprints of the previous 24-years to create their strongest release to date. Which is no easy feat!
From the opening salvo, there is something wonderfully wonky about Entièrement unanimes. Its charm comes from the giddy glee that seeps out of every pore. It reminds me of those early electronic albums where it was more about experimentation, and fun than what was actually created. That isn’t to say that Klaxon Gueule hasn’t crafted some wonderful music. Non-lieu d’adieu is a fantastic piece of music that lurches around over ad-hoc percussion, whimsical synths, and delightful bleeps.
Toute la glu is built around a fidgeting bassline which allows lyrical guitars and obtuse synths to create something that is both transfixing and repulsive. You are drawn to it and cannot look away, but there is something at its core that makes you want to flee. This juxtaposition is something that has been missing on their previous releases, but here is used to make our stay and lives up to its title of All the Glue. Entièrement unanimes culminates on Deux ouverts directement devant. Here everything is pushed to it (ill) logical conclusion. From the psychedelic intro, gossamer guitars and xxx we are shown another side to the band. The previous 11 tracks have been atonal twitching things, but here Klaxon Gueule shows us they are capable of creating something beautiful and, dare I say, almost conventional. There are actual melodies and rhythms to latch on to, rather than writhing layers of server instrumentation. It is a fitting end for such a delightfully deviant album.
At its core, Entièrement unanimes is an incredibly fun album. There is a conviction to the album that is inspiring. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but the playing is done with absolute seriousness. There is no messing about here. But this is part of the album’s charm. After a quarter to a century performing and recording Côté, Falaise and St-Onge know each other well. They can predict what they others will do and counterpoint it perfectly. After listening to Entièrement unanimes for longer than I should, I am unanimous in my decision that it is one of the finest albums of the past few years. This should be shouted from the rooftops. Entièrement unanimes should be on everyone’s end of the year list and if it isn’t then you need to take a hard look at yourself in a mirror.
Si l’art abstrait vous passionne, cet album est probablement pour vous. Les pièces de ce nouvel enregistrement du Quatuor Bozzini sont toutes du compositeur américain Alvin Lucier et ont toutes un concept simple et clair. La première pièce, Disappearances, consiste en un unison qui dure près de 17 minutes. Bien entendu, il y a des bifurcations, de petites excursions dans les quarts de tons, un unison pas toujours si uni. Si vous avez l’oreille fine, vous entendrez également les harmoniques. Mais ce qu’il faut souligner à grands traits c’est l’exécution de cette pièce dans une parfaite linéarité du son. Jamais on entendra un coup d’archet, jamais le son ne faibli ou ne s’amplifie. Une immense plage de son presque infinie, comme le serait une peinture en color field. On ne sait pas trop où ça commence, ni où ça finit. L’important réside dans l’expérience, le ressenti en écoutant ce champ de son vaste et plane de la même façon que la plus intéressante façon de voir une œuvre picturale abstraite est de se demander non pas ce qu’on comprend mais bien ce qu’on ressent.
Tout au long de cet album, les instrumentistes seront appelés à s’écarter sensiblement de leur technique habituelle pour devenir percussionnistes dans les deux Group Tapper. On tapote sur les instruments, on produit toutes sortes de bruits avec les archets et avec divers objets. Vers la fin du deuxième Group Tapper, on entend même un ballon rebondir. Les musiciens deviennent aussi chanteurs dans Unamuno. Ils chantent la note qu’ils jouent, créant du petits «accords» ou plutôt des grappes de quatre sons. Les sons tant à la voix qu’à l’instrument sont gardés jusqu’au début du prochain cluster. Très séduisante, cette œuvre brève rappelle vaguement les expérimentations de musiques ambiantes des années 80.
Le Quatuor Bozzini nous hypnotise et nous envoûte du début jusqu’à la fin de cet album. Un album qui devrait rayonner bien au-delà des publics habituels de la musique actuelle. L’œuvre d’Alvin Lucier est accessible, comme l’est par exemple celle de Steve Reich, et l’excellente interprétation qu’en fait le Quatuor Bozzini a tout ce qu’il faut pour devenir référentielle.
There is something primordial about Les lucioles by Chorale Joker. It’s a feeling you get deep down after listening to the album. The voices writhe, wail, and thrash about in an animalistic way. At times is it terrifying, but there is an order to the terror. But what did we expect? Joane Hétu, Jean Derome and Danielle Palardy Roger are leading the choir, which features 17 members of the Chorale Joker.
Portions of the album opener Premières lucioles; Haïku — errance feel like an alternative score to the primitive man sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey. As with that sequence, which ended in violence and destruction, Haïku — errance feels no different. Sucking, and squelching sounds are made around a banshee-like din. Is this a sacrifice after a meal, with the Gods approving or the other members of the tribe showing both respect and impatience, for their time to eat? Either way, it is a visceral way to start an album.
Chaleur des lucioles; Chant des lucioles.1 is probably the most captivating track on the album. It opens with a piece of piercing electronics. Under this breathy wind instruments are played. These are perforated by grunts and gasps. As Chaleur des lucioles; Chant des lucioles.1 progresses the vocalisations become more and more pronounced. Some of the full-on guttural shouts. Others are almost inaudible warbles. Around halfway, the voices come together and start to sound like a conventional choir. It’s striking and really helps hammer everything home. The song is loosely translated to Heat of the Fireflies; Song of the Fireflies.1. The voices sound like fireflies hovering in the night. They drift one way, then another before landing and remaining still and serene.
What Les lucioles really does is allow the listener to drift away from the shackles of conventional music, melodic hooks, chorus, rhythm, etc, etc and allow you to hear something that is pure ID. It is filled with drifting motifs and abstract instrumentation. The real key to the album is the interplay between those glorious voices in the choir. This is where all the dynamic fun happens. As they pull together and apart, we are invited to experience how these small insects interact with each other and their environment. It’s through this understanding that we get a better grasp of how and why we act as we do.