Negotiation and Irresolution

David Brynjar Franzson
The Negotiation of Context
GERMANY WERGO WER 7313 2 CD (2014)

A stark and unyielding trio of bare-bones pieces for piano, pump organ and percussion, which make greater use of the percussive and tonal potential of the instruments than the melodic, not to mention the great expanses of awkward silence that intervene. If one is taken aback by such astringency, then a caveat offered by composer David Brynjar Franzson offers a way in: his explanatory notes exhort listeners to first understand the form and history of his music before claiming to ‘understand’ (or review) it. He draws attention to the piano’s short history in Iceland: just six residing in the country in the mid-nineteenth century, with not a single professional available to repair or retune them after a long and arduous journey across the Atlantic. The compositions thus come across as historical fiction: music that ‘could have been’. The rudimentary pump organ and modified bass drum that accompany the piano throughout effectively ‘parallel’ its reduced functionality, and it returns the compliment in its weary state.

Piano and pump organ maintain a cautious dialogue in the first ‘Negotiation of Context’, though one might also infer a mediatory presence in the cryogenic silence between steps in this procession of diagnostic thwacks, plucks and the pump organ’s (more) soothing sighs and wheezes. ‘Negotiation’ emerges from the musicians’ exploratory pattern of ‘mimicry and opposition’, which descends to an almost molecular level at times: tap for tap, texture for texture: lines between interlocutors blurred during the deeply self-analytical process. The format demands from us little less than the careful and deductive listening that produced the performances themselves, though it does enable us to witness an evolution to the point of mutual ‘extension’ between instruments in the final dialogue. With all the chill and scarcity in plain view, I’m reminded of Eliška Cílková’s performances on abandoned pianos found in Pripyat, Chernobyl, which offer similar capacities for personal reflection and historical relevance.


Pierre Alexandre Tremblay
La Marée
CANADA emprintes DIGITALes IMED 13123/124 2 x CD (2013)

For his fourth release on the ever-exemplary empreintes DIGITALes label, Pierre Alexandre Tremblay offers worthy company to label-mates and audio-vivisectionists such as Monique Jean and Manuella Blackburn, even if he is generally less incendiary across these five spacious pieces; forsaking cut n’paste conscientiousousness for the full preservation and processing of performances in real time, draping over these aching canyons only the most necessary effects, to ensure the listener very gradual and genuine gratification. The momentous opener ‘La Rupture Inéluctable‘ consists of a resonant bass clarinet solo from Heather Roche, whose aerodynamic curves and low-end descents – initially foregrounded by golden slivers adrift in a vacuum – gradually succumb to a spell of more pugilistic tendencies: fits of pummelling framed by showers of feedback and distortion: mood-swings between grace and gratuitous, which, while making a fine first impression, establish a precedent of radical dynamic exchange between performer and loudspeaker that verges on war-craft.

I’d not heard of the Baschet-Malbos Piano prior to hearing ‘Le Tombeau de Fondeurs’ (‘The Tomb of the Casters’), and it sounds nothing like what I’ve expected: a flower-headed, metal bouquet stemming from its seemingly unrelated namesake, producing sharp, undulating lines that devolve over time into pounding, dissonant clusters, which are buried alive by tolling bells and hammered metal, finally petering out in a slow, defeated descent. ‘Mono No Aware’ conveys greater restraint, visiting the ears in insect waves from the Babel Table (another new name to me) with the menace of approaching warplanes. ‘Still Again’ is a war of wills between fricative near-vituperation for Peyee Chen’s soprano vocals and the lurk of distortive electronics. However, the most cacophonous moments are reserved for the bipolar eruptions of piano in closer, ‘Un Clou, Son Marteau, Et Le Béton’ (‘A Nail, It’s Hammer and Concrete’), which draws more tightly the wire between the extremes of implied threat and weary indifference, heightening tension for the duration with brooding three-key ruminations alternating with petulant outbursts, a dichotomy ever averse to resolution.

Compiled very patiently across two discs, these five pieces demonstrate a different level of psychological control to the exhibitions of electroacoustic control that empreintes DIGITALes has presented thus far: the magic residing more in the frictional spontaneity of a theatre of operations than in the scientific perfection of detail, while providing some fascinating terrain for our continued exploration.