Marc Lardon Solo
Mörder In der Pulvermühle
SWITZERLAND DESZPOT #001 CD (2012)
Murderers? Snakes?? People Of The Night??? I hope my translations aren’t too wide of the mark, but this looks like a darkly appealing project worthy of mine and your attention.
Here is a new label, Deszpot, making a very strong start. Visually striking; a cut out in the mono-printed sleeve – designed by Miriam Affolter – in the shape of a forward slash (subsequent Deszpot sleeves also appear to have this design feature), reveals a small portion of a mysterious green and black inner sleeve. Closer inspection reveals very few clues as to the identity of the person or thing illustrated (someone’s ribs? Possibly those of Marc Lardon himself?), but on the rear of the glossily printed inner we have some production detail in German, with the Deszpot logo nicely rendered in dark grey on the black background.
So what we have here is an album of solo bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet music that is both vital and challenging. And in my opinion, essential listening. If you are not already a fan of bass clarinet or contra-bass clarinet improv, or indeed Marc Lardon himself, take it from me – you should be.
These pieces are heavier than a five year-old loose in a chocolate factory. The track titles are mostly diaphanous although the third track is called “Nachtvolk” or Night People in my very limited German understanding, which posits Lardon’s social interests, possibly.
The Deszpot website informs us that the six pieces that make up Mörder In der Pulvermühle are “…so precise that they often remind the listener of detailed composed and written music”. Well, ahem, I’d prefer to make my own mind up about what I’m being reminded of, thanks all the same, but it is true that you could mistake Lardon’s improvised playing, processing and electronic matter from this session for a composed piece. Happily, video evidence of the recording process exists on the website to substantiate the album’s improv credentials.
Improvising contra bass clarinettists are, if not actually thin on the ground, then certainly somewhat under-represented compared to other instrumentalists. Of course there are high profile examples such as Herbie Mann, Eric Dolphy, Bennie Maupin (who played on Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and with Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi), Don Van Vliet, even Mick Karn (in particular I’m thinking of his playing on the Rain Tree Crow track “New Moon At Red Deer Wallow”), and more recently Harry Sparnaay (under whom Lardon studied), Jason Alder of Sonido 13 and Frantisek Sic who appears on several albums by The Vitamin B12, (Euphonious Murmur Blend on Fusetron, Badges on TipTop are two fine examples).
The opener, “Monsieur Verdoux”, sets the tone with cyclical runs augmented by processing on the instrument and tones generated electronically. Quite what the nature of Lardon’s electronic set-up is not explained on the sleeve notes of the album nor on the Deszpot website and the few photographs of Lardon recording at Gestle-Areal Hall in Chur, Switzerland (an “…ancient industrial space…” according to Deszpot), leave me none the wiser. To my ears there are certainly pitch effects being used, and some kind of loop capture and playback device/s, but beyond that I’m not sure what tech is being employed. However, the results are impressive, make no mistake. This piece develops in interesting, non-linear yet structured ways and is quite musical; all the better for leading us deeper into Lardon’s abstract sound world. Named after a respected 16th Century samurai handy with a spear, apparently, “Hattori Hanzo” is more staccato and minimal; for the first few minutes of this, Lardon utilises a dense reverb (possibly the sound of the natural reverberation in the huge space Lardon performs in), on the bass clarinet before a heavy pitch modulation is brought in gradually and before doubling and repeated playback processes become apparent. Electronics come more to the fore on “Nachtvolk” where what sounds to me like a monosynth of some kind is employed to set up a frenetic pattern to accompany a rolling and chaotic clarinet burst. As a self-contained, compact minimalist opera soundtrack for psychologically damaged meteorologists, “Traum” succeeds admirably.
“Black Mamba” (the second longest venomous snake in the world), sets up the kind of physical sensations of anxiety and panic you may find yourself subject to should you find yourself in the unfortunate position of an encounter with this particular serpent – it is particularly aggressive when cornered – Lardon’s snake is twelve minutes of the kind of alarm only imminent peril can instil in one’s heart. By the end, even the clarinet itself sounds petrified. “Epilog” is just that – a chance to reflect and begin to digest this new breed of sonic worry that Marc Lardon has so kindly brought to us for assimilation into. His ability, imagination, technique and ingenuity are by no means under question, Mörder In der Pulvermühle presents us with a sonic horror tableau of quite exceptional delight sourced from possibly the most sinister sounding of all the woodwinds. Highly recommended by this scaredy-cat. Also available on vinyl, this cd is released in an edition of 150 only.