Urs Leimgruber & Jean-Marc Foussat

Face to Face
Fou Records FR CD 32/33

Two adept sound sculptors meet for the first time in concert one-on-one for a two CD set of enlightened improvisations where the unfolding extended process is as crucial as the consequence. Old hands at this sort of situation, Frenchman Jean Marc Foussat who uses an AKS synthesizer and his processed voice, and Swiss soprano and tenor saxophonist Urs Leimgruber, have been involved in equivalent textural configuration with many other players, most notably Joëlle Léandre. During the individual 40-minute-plus creations which make up Face to Face it doesn’t much matter that one set of instruments is electronic and the other acoustic. If anything Leimgruber’s fluency with usual techniques is as profound as his partners’ synthesized wave form originality.

Moving from immerse silence to ear-splitting reed squeaks and split tones plus a vibrating computer undercurrent on “Rive de réves” the two set out their tonal parameters that presently encompasses spindly buzzes and looping crackles from the machinery plus altissimo angry bird-like cries and flutter tonguing. Meanwhile Foussat synthesizes his voice to the extent that the resulting blurry, layered harmonies start to resemble those from a non-specific Gregorian chant chorale. With the saxophonist adept at creating circular-breathed nasal vibrations from his soprano, tongue-stopping tenor saxophone honks and brays that could be pushed through a long rubber hose, his output appears no less human than the vocal chorus approximations. Sound loops turn watery as the piece descends in its final section. As Foussat’s continuum moves between a synthesis of bellicose space-invader-like explosions and more restrained pulsating loops, lower-pitched individual reed tones make common cause with ring modular-like gongs and deconstructed vocals that advance and fade.

“Luxerna”, on the second CD, is slightly lengthier, but closely related to the other disc’s performance, with the chief contrast additional technical demonstrations on Leimgruber’s part. As synthesized loops judder, whoosh and sway, the saxophonist puffs and peeps to a tougher interface when he extends his split tones into bagpipe-like whines and more surprisingly into a near-mainstream contralto, even despite the vocal chorus-like yodels that surround him. During the track’s development the AKS’ patches expand into flanging whooshes and shuddering video-game-like noises as Leimgruber’s reed intensity translates into a monumental display of circular breathing that shoves the vocal chorale into descending, guttural tones, then creating hocketing and cascading textures. By the finale, intermittent reed peeps are succeeded by moderated pitches as the synthesizer’s conveyer-belt-like granular synthesis shudders to the end.

These are inspiring and fascinating connections, just as long as the listener is prepared to follow the flow and not expect a defining narrative.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: CD 1: 1. Rive de réves CD2: 1. Luxerna

Personnel: Urs Leimgruber (soprano and tenor saxophones) and Jean-Marc Foussat (AKS synthesizer and voice)