Tuesday, July 03, 2018



Matt Sargent - Ghost Music (Weighter Recordings) 

'Ghost Music' is a work for solo percussion, lasting about an hour, performed by Bill Solomon. Though not listed on the release or elsewhere that I could find, for the first half of the work, Solomon is playing an instrument that gives forth high, metallic sounds--I take it a celesta or glockenspiel, something in that family. It's largely struck (with what sounds like thin rods or sticks) but there's also sustained tones that sometimes sound bowed.

That first 30-odd minutes is comprised of sets of struck tones, often in small groups, with patterns like 3-3-5-5 or 2-2-6-5, later in short melodic sequences. I've no idea whether it's score or intuitive. The tonality at the start reminds me very much of that used  by Karl Berger (on vibes) on Don Cherry's 'Eternal Rhythm', which I believe was based on Balinese or Javanese intervals. Whatever, it's dreamlike, unearthly and gorgeous, the tones themselves silvery and ephemeral, their lingering hums...well, ghostly. There's something of a Feldmanesque irregularity in play, patterns that seem to form only to dissolve before apprehension. I also get a time-stretch effect; I think I've been listening an hour and it's only 20 minutes. This is a good thing.

About halfway through the work the sound-world shifts rather abruptly, announced by a steady rhythm of slightly deeper-pitched metals augmented by the odd single strike. Whereas earlier, the arrangement of patterns occupied a reasonably defined area, Sargent (or Solomon? not sure how much, if any, leeway is provided) now presents multiple episodes of varied approaches and attacks, often using metals of a less precisely defined pitch, perhaps bells of different types. There's more open space, more tone range, many different attacks in general, though everything remains embedded in that large space of the contemplative and observant. It'd every bit as fascinating as the first half even if (or because) the listener's footing is less assured. 'Ghost Music' closes with a return to the original instrument, now heard in a steady rhythm with accent strikes here and there and ultimately a quicker, lighter beat atop.

A wonderful work and one of the more substantive pieces for solo percussion I've heard in ages.

Prune Bécheau - Stries ton, tripes et poils (Weighter Recordings)

Like the above, also a solo recording, this time on Baroque violin, an instrument which differs from a standard violin in certain ways far over my pay grade to comprehend (but see here to understand more), played by the French violinist Prune Bécheau. Admittedly, coming into this recording (as with many solo ventures on "classic" instruments), I was hoping for any innovation, should it occur, to be more structural than having to do with extended techniques. Well, there's a bit of both here.

There are eight pieces and each demonstrates a different instrumental attack. The first, "introduction", probably carries the greatest allusion to a "traditional" sound, as a kind of melody--very lovely--circles around some grainy overtones. I should mention that the disc's title translates into "tone streaks, guts and hair, so you have a good picture of what's coming. In 'tlelel etl', Bécheau circles, arco, around a high pitch, generating a mosquito-like whine which she rapidly elaborates on within fairly narrow parameters, forming an impressive web that retains a plaintive air. Sometimes, as in "geqze tulilu", she manages to elicit a breathy sound more saxophonic than violin; if heard "blindfolded" I might have guess Michel Doneda. As mentioned earlier, part of me would like to hear this kind of approach used in service of a larger form, a more overall idea, but it's quite impressive on its own. Four shorter pieces investigate overtone manipulation that reminds me of some forms of Central African singing, a jaunty venture on a (near) single tone, a harsher, rubbery melodic line put through the wringer and a finely worried low string summoning images of North Africa. Bécheau concludes with the most complex work, 'zzffk zzffk', a swirling piece with buzzes, clicks, a certain rubbed attack that almost sounds like a chicken cluck and much more. It's an intense work, one I'd love to see performed live. As is, there's an abundance of fine material and deep, concentrated thought on display here. It's my first time hearing her work and eagerly look forward to more.

Weighter Recordings

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