The Canadian ensemble Quatuor Bozzini are really something special. I only recently came across them on Cassandra Miller’s Just So, which I loved. A quick internet search reveals that they have interpreted everyone from contemporary composers such as Miller and Linda Catlin Smith to John Cage (of course they did) to, now, Phil Niblock. And they do all of this with great aplomb and, even more impressively, refinement.
Phill Niblock — Baobab is no exception, though it is a very different beast than some of their other releases. (For you Niblock fans out there, you likely already know what to expect.) Originally penned for orchestra, the two tracks on this album — Disseminate and Baobab — have been chopped and reconfigured as 20 separate tracks, each consisting of a single instrument, performed by the quartet of Clemens Merkel, Alissa Cheung, Stéphanie Bozzini, and Isabelle Bozzini. The result, per the notes of Emanuelle Majeau-Bettez, is a sort of “hardcore drone” of microtonal layerings, albeit created by a chamber quartet. In that, it reminds me of a less wandering and less entangled take on Zeitkratzer’s Metal Machine Music recording. As seems fitting for such acoustic drone, these tracks are characterized by sonic modulations rather than melodic shifts or unpredictable sounds. In this sense, the music sounds deceptively mechanical, as if it were a series of digital loops. Of course, the acoustic nature of the music belies this. Apart from the brief fade-in and fade-out marking the beginning and end of each piece, these songs have no prescribed course. They simply and glacially fluctuate, as the listener’s ear wanders from tone to tone.
This is music to listen to closely. This is music to read to, to tune in and out of. This is music to mediate to and contemplate. If full, subtle, and loud new music is your thing (and, yes, this should be played loud), Baobab is well worth the listen. And, if you are not yet sure whether you enjoy this “hardcore drone,” this compounded, aggressive monotony dense with rich timbral subtleties, then this album is an excellent place to start.