Phill Niblock: Baobab

Quatuor Bozzini

«The Bozzinis excel at this kind of intricate, infinite music…»
— 5:4
«This recording […] testifies to their willingness to take on challenges to find new musical ground.»
— The WholeNote
«… inescapable and exhilarating, with tonal effects that sparkle and groan simultaneously, an impossibly thick, viscous drag that suddenly feels celebratory when the final notes disintegrate.»
— Bandcamp Daily
«Martin set out to create a fecund dialectic of sound and music with the piece, and in that he has succeeded. (cqb_1922). […] Both pieces are quintessential Niblock — thickly textured swarms of drones made up of microtones and moving timbres. Sustaining the requisite long tones undoubtedly is a challenge to the players’ physical stamina, but the sounds never falter. (cqb_1924)»
— Avant Music News
«This version of Disseminate stands among the mightiest episodes met over decades of acquaintance with Niblock’s material. Its character is extraordinarily “in your face”»
— Touching Extremes

Description

Deux œuvres de Phill Niblock écrites originalement pour orchestre, Disseminate (1998) et Baobab (2011), ont été arrangées par le compositeur spécifiquement pour le Quatuor Bozzini, ou plutôt pour une «multiplication» du Quatuor: vingt pistes d’enregistrement ont été produites pour chaque pièce — vingt instruments différents, l’équivalent de cinq quatuors à cordes. Essentiellement, la musique joue avec la nature changeante des partiels qui émanent des instruments acoustiques. Selon Robert Ashley, ces pièces s’inscrivent dans l’esthétique «drone hardcore» de la musique électronique américaine: «Niblock transporte l’orchestre dans le monde de l’électronique». La partition de Disseminate et Baobab présente différentes sélections d’intervalles microtonaux. Un certain ambitus est proposé autour des notes écrites, et ainsi à chaque coup d’archet les musiciens déterminent la hauteur des sons. Les vingt «instruments» sont ensuite enregistrés et mixés, amalgamant tous les microtons produits par «les cinq» Quatuor(s) Bozzini pour former une masse sonore extrêmement riche; un nuage de son qui bat, qui mute incessamment. Un tel signal sonore a besoin de temps pour se développer, et afin que ressurgissent les partielles, les musiciens doivent faire preuve d’une endurance digne d’un instrument électronique, et jouer de longs sons continus, totalement ininterrompus. En tant qu’auditeur, il est pratiquement impossible de percevoir les points de changements du matériau sonore. Notre sensation du temps est alors embrouillée, et notre écoute est attirée plus profondément vers les multiples textures des sonorités «drones hardcores».

Format
CD
Étiquette
Collection QB
Numéro de catalogue
CQB 1924

Dossier de presse

  • Review in 5:4 (RU)
    «The Bozzinis excel at this kind of intricate, infinite music…»
  • Review in The WholeNote (Canada)
    «This recording […] testifies to their willingness to take on challenges to find new musical ground.»
  • Best of Bandcamp Contemporary Classical: February 2019 in Bandcamp Daily (ÉU)
    «… inescapable and exhilarating, with tonal effects that sparkle and groan simultaneously, an impossibly thick, viscous drag that suddenly feels celebratory when the final notes disintegrate.»
  • Review in Avant Music News
    «Martin set out to create a fecund dialectic of sound and music with the piece, and in that he has succeeded. (cqb_1922). […] Both pieces are quintessential Niblock — thickly textured swarms of drones made up of microtones and moving timbres. Sustaining the requisite long tones undoubtedly is a challenge to the players’ physical stamina, but the sounds never falter. (cqb_1924)»
  • Review in Touching Extremes (Italie)
    «This version of Disseminate stands among the mightiest episodes met over decades of acquaintance with Niblock’s material. Its character is extraordinarily “in your face”»

Review

Par Simon Cummings in 5:4 (RU), 5 mars 2019
The Bozzinis excel at this kind of intricate, infinite music…

One of the more memorable events at last year’s Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival was the late night concert at Bates Mill given by Quatuor Bozzini, featuring music by Éliane Radigue and Phill Niblock. A few weeks ago, the Bozzinis released an album featuring two works by Niblock, including the one they played in Huddersfield, Disseminate as Five String Quartets. i have to admit that i was sceptical about the extent to which the experience could be adequately captured in a recording. Niblock’s endless waves of juddering pitch had made Bates Mill seem not simply filled but saturated, one minute feeling as though we were submerged in water, the next suffused with dazzling light. Either way, it was a veritable flood.

This recording goes a long way to living up to that mesmeric live encounter. Both works, in fact, inhabit this same soundworld, both starting life as orchestral pieces that Niblock reworked for a live string quartet plus four additional prerecorded quartets. Disseminate as Five String Quartets sets out with only the implication of stability, harmonically complex from the outset with something that may or may not be dronal at its core. This develops into a conflict where apparent stasis (the piece, after all, is built upon slow moving, drawn-out pitches) is continually undermined by strange undulations and shifts in its tonal makeup. Often, one becomes aware of something only after it’s actually been present for some time, and it’s similarly difficult to track the evolution of the work’s harmony, which from around halfway through has become seriously smeared, still dronal but tonally clusterfucked.

By contrast, Baobab begins in the utter clarity of octave unisons, which gradually shift out of alignment, allowing other notes (at first, only fifths) to encroach. Due to the proximity of the near-unisons in the first third of the piece, the combined texture resembles a vast squadron of planes, or perhaps the aural sensation of sitting at the dead centre of a hive of bees. Alien pitches in this context seem all the more jarring, threads out of alignment in an otherwise perfect weave, leading to a lengthy central episode where the opening octaves could hardly seem more distant. All the same, Baobab doesn’t explore the same range of harmonic complexity as Disseminate, instead playing more actively with how stable the music seems, on one occasion dropping out the lower register notes to give a brief illusion of balance.

With both pieces it’s more than usually the case that how one perceives them is going to be entirely unique. This is not merely due to individual perception, but the way and the specific locations (harmonic locations, i mean) where one focuses attention, which can be radically shifted by the slightest turn or tilt of the head, drastically altering the apparent pitch-content and pitch-emphasis of the music. It’s perhaps never been more true that multiple listens to the same recording result in completely different experiences.

The Bozzinis excel at this kind of intricate, infinite music — what we might call ‘upper case’ ambient — and it’s no hyperbole to say this recording really is almost as good as having them there in the room with you. Apropos: i’d recommend not listening to this album through headphones, which for me had the effect of making the textures sound reduced and diminished, even somewhat deadened. To get the desired effect, be sure to play through speakers — loud! — and thereby be overwhelmed by Niblock’s endless, extraordinary flood.

Review

Par Stuart Broomer in The WholeNote #24:6 (Canada), 1 mars 2019

Best of Bandcamp Contemporary Classical: February 2019

Par Peter Margasak in Bandcamp Daily (ÉU), 28 février 2019
… inescapable and exhilarating, with tonal effects that sparkle and groan simultaneously, an impossibly thick, viscous drag that suddenly feels celebratory when the final notes disintegrate.

Montréal’s peerless Quatour Bozzini uses overdubbing to adapt two typically intense works by Phill Niblock, originally scored for orchestra, illuminating the inherent psychoacoustic effects with breathtaking power. Disseminate was written in 1988 for Petr Kotik’s S.E.M. Ensemble; it opens with a crushing, buzzing unison, as the stacked microtonal intervals suggest a chorus of bagpipes blaring through a wall of Marshall amps. Dazzling beating and machine-like throbs surround the listener, but the unison begins to fall apart almost immediately, with painstakingly slow shifts. Like so much of the composer’s music, you don’t notice the change until you’ve reached the next location. Still, there are moments when some tonal shifts are greater and there’s no missing the stark developments, as when a few strings emit a wonderfully glassy screech around 20 minutes in. The title piece was composed for the Janacek Symphony Orchestra with the Ostrava banda in 2011. It begins with what sounds like a conventional chord spiked with dissonance, and its lengthy descent to B-flat begins with a mixture of B-sharps and C-sharps. The downward motion is inescapable and exhilarating, with tonal effects that sparkle and groan simultaneously, an impossibly thick, viscous drag that suddenly feels celebratory when the final notes disintegrate.

Review

Par Daniel Barbiero in Avant Music News, 28 février 2019
Martin set out to create a fecund dialectic of sound and music with the piece, and in that he has succeeded. (cqb_1922). […] Both pieces are quintessential Niblock — thickly textured swarms of drones made up of microtones and moving timbres. Sustaining the requisite long tones undoubtedly is a challenge to the players’ physical stamina, but the sounds never falter. (cqb_1924)

For Musique d’art, a five-movement, hour-long work for string quintet by Martin (b. 1981), the quartet — which in addition to the Bozzini sisters includes violinists Alissa Cheung and Clemens Merkel — is joined by double bassist Pierre-Alexandre Maranda. Like Niblock’s two pieces, Musique d’art is centered on the development elongated chords, but with more variability of density, dynamics and rates of harmonic change. Pitches drop out and fade in; discordant tones come and go as the intervals between notes widen and narrow; bow articulations shift to introduce changes to timbre and to add complexity to the stacked overtones. Not all of this is about pitch relationships: while at times the quintet sounds like a robust, tuned and detuned tamboura, at other times their collective sound dissolves into harsh, grey noise and rough, unpitched textures. Martin set out to create a fecund dialectic of sound and music with the piece, and in that he has succeeded.

Founded by the Bozzini sisters, cellist Isabelle and violinist Stéphanie, the eponymous Montréal-based string quartet has been a significant presence in Canadian new music since the early 2000s. The Bozzini’s two CDs, one each of works by US composer Phill Niblock and Québec’s Simon Martin, are the latest additions to a substantial catalogue of recordings of sound — and concept-based contemporary music.

Baobab presents two large-scale works by Niblock (b. 1933). Both pieces — Baobab, originally composed in 2011, and Disseminate, composed in 1998 — were first written for orchestra and appear here as revised in 2017. By means of multi-track layering, they’ve been rearranged for string quartet multiplied times five. Both pieces are quintessential Niblock — thickly textured swarms of drones made up of microtones and moving timbres. Sustaining the requisite long tones undoubtedly is a challenge to the players’ physical stamina, but the sounds never falter.

Review

Par Massimo Ricci in Touching Extremes (Italie), 23 janvier 2019
This version of Disseminate stands among the mightiest episodes met over decades of acquaintance with Niblock’s material. Its character is extraordinarily “in your face”

This record comprises the performances of two Phill Niblock scores, Disseminate from 1998 and the title track, first conceived in 2011. For the occasion, the composer worked with Quatuor Bozzini (Clemens Merkel, Alissa Cheung, Stéphanie Bozzini, Isabelle Bozzini) with the aim of multiplying the string quartet’s voices and overall muscle. The procedure is synthetically explained in the liner notes, so I won’t bother repeating it here; moreover, Niblock’s ways of assembling his cascading microtonal drones are (hopefully) well known to the readers of this blog. Let me just remind the brightness of a man who, armed with a mere laptop, still manages to produce unlikely levels of psychophysical correspondence with the invisible forces of our environment.

This version of Disseminate stands among the mightiest episodes met over decades of acquaintance with Niblock’s material. Its character is extraordinarily “in your face”; the self is symbolically invited to get out of the way, an army of shifting pitches developing a totality of quivering intensities striving to reach the perfection of an all-encompassing embrace. Baobab starts with a quasi-tonal affirmation, its enormous strength actually giving a chance to believe we’re hearing a steady chord. With the passage of time, the congenital jarring features start breaking through: right there the fun begins, internal rhythms and oscillations projecting a sense of cerebral and spiritual completion that no spoken or written word will ever be able to equal. The whole appears at once imperial and utterly instructive.

Aside from the usual advice — namely, playing this music loud for an improved functionality of the adjacent upper partials — one can only dream about the average brain finally learning to decode and accept the complexity of a mass of contiguous tones, regardless of someone’s dictations on “consonance” and “dissonance”. As the initiator himself said, it is what it is; the spaces may be completely filled by the sounds, but the ultimate outcome is the silence of the mind. Kudos then to Quatuor Bozzini, who finely rendered an essential concept of Niblock’s vision: the instrumentalist — a fundamental injector of sonic fluids — is nevertheless a means to an awesome end.