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Review

Michael Anton Parker, Downtown Music Gallery, 16 juin 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!

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