February 26, 2019
cinder: ember: ashes
Umlaut Records Umfr CD 28
Devoting an entire CD to solo clarinet explorations is not something attempted by the faint-hearted. Luckily both Australian Aviva Endean and Joris Rühl from France have the requisite amount of technical smarts and musical experience in varied musical forms to pull off these singular recitals.
Fittingly, each establishes a unique path for the compositions and improvisations that take place on each disc. A sonic researcher as well as a musician, the elaboration of which has included playing with the likes Eve Risser and Michel Doneda, Rühl sticks to the standard clarinet on Toile Étoile while utilizing numerous types of mouth, throat and finger distortions to produce ingenious sounds. In contrast, Endean, who is a member of the Australian Art Orchestra among other ensembles, segments her strategies among clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, Umtshingo or South African flute, whistles, tympani, pocket amplifier, effects pedals and voice, using each on one of the CD’s seven tracks.
Because of this malleability while her regular clarinet musings can galvanize with woody buzzes and textural echoes, when wrapped in warm or snarky repetative phrasing, her individuality and skill is particularly obvious in more uncommon configurations. At points interactions with tympani coverings result not only in reverberations, but complementary lines which are as important for narrative extension as the original blowing. More crucially the segmented breaths which move forward when Umtshingo and effects pedal are couples on “undulations: behind” for instance are in the form of a lower case textures. Subsequent reed-biting and air expelling create unexpected vocalized textures whose near-primitivist gargles relate to both folk and formal tune-making. Strangely though, “distant song: afar’, the only official vocal track seem to move in another fashion. With harmonic textures connected to bel canto purity, elsewhere the result would be applied to a rustic ballad.
Most illuminatingly, coupling the clarinet with effects on “vapour: between” exposes a collection of mellow chirps and nasal trills that manage to reflect both Arabic flutter tones and extended technique intonation. Double and tripled-tongued in execution, the multiphonic performance confirms her command of various oral idioms, but is presented moderately and subtly.
More connected to European experimental sounds, Rühl’s four “étoile” improvisations establish that the tonal and timbral extension he researched and experimented with to compose “toile” can be productively used in a free music situation. While the other tracks somehow appear to be exercises in rugged pops, whistles and sudden explosions of cumulative fortissimo air expansions, the sliding dissonance and concentrated ratcheting on “étoile 3” suggests some form of descriptive narrative. This concept is brought out in greater detail on “toile” where the introduction of a simple unwavering reed line soon embarks on many speeds and on several spectacular detours as it moves along the notated sound superhighway. The horizontal evolution makes space for wiggling stops and slurs, hissing and inflated vibrations so that often two separate sounds in double counterpoint suggest that two instruments are actually being played at the same time. Finally, after a fortissimo explosion that almost physically shakes the narration, a high-pitched squall first joins with the equivalent of motor-driven note repetition and finally blends with a vibrating single tone that ends the piece with near-static pure air expelling.
Rühl’s ruminations will be most welcomed by those interested in liberating the technical restrictions of standard clarinet playing. Endean’s CD deals with this challenge as well, yet also operates on a larger canvas to offer more sonic solutions for additional reed instruments. Both discs illuminate more paths to investigate and to be opportunely followed.
Tracks Listing: cinder: 1. burst in black: under 2. apparition: above 3. vapour: between 4. distant song: afar 5. smoulder: beneath 6. undulations: behind 7. ashes for viv: before
Personnel: cinder: Aviva Endean (clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, voice, whistles, tympani, pocket amplifier. Umtshingo, effects pedals)
Tracks Listing: Toile: 1, toile 2. étoile 1 3. étoile 2 4. étoile 3 5. étoile 4
Personnel: Toile: Joris Rühl (clarinet)