Collecting Reverberations

Another two releases from the Canadian Small Scale Records label, once again sent to us by the good graces of Raphael Foisy of Montreal. Last heard from this intriguing micro-label with its free jazz leanings in October 2019.

Gebilde (SSM-023) is a solo record by Yannick Chayer, a Montreal artist who’s both a musician and a visual artist, and also finds time to operate his own label Rara Avis, a digital file-based affair intended to be a home for “deviant” creators whose work departs from historical genres and refuses to conform to current modes of making experimental music. Interestingly, a quick browse of the catalogue indicates a strong presence of minimal electronics, noise, glitch, and dark drones, including releases by his own glitch duo Chayer Lefebvre. Today’s Gebilde – the title is a German term meaning “construction”, chosen to emphasise the structure of the work – could be characterised as a saxophone-meets-electronics record, as Chayer blows the brass and manipulates his synth, sometimes adding percussion and effects. He describes each short piece as an “impulsive composition”, his way of talking about the improvisatory process, but evidently there’s a deal of thought and effort involved in turning these spontaneous outpourings into a finished piece. It’s a form of cross-way talking between the two instruments, the music taking shape from live samples, patterns, and semi-controlled musical accidents.

It would be simplistic to suggest there’s a basic dichotomy between the “freedom” represented by his atonal, squiggly sax sqwawkings and the structure suggested by the electronic / synth devices, as in reality both instruments are equally unfettered once he lets them off their respective leashes, and at its best Gebilde is capable of generating some truly exciting moments when the music appears to be its own free agent, beyond the control of the creator. What you may find “difficult” about this record is the general lack of a tonal or harmonic centre; Yannick Chayer is so focussed on liberating his expressive gestures, and intent on creating strange sounds, that his sax lines are rather hard to follow as they trip into the stratosphere, and his synthesizers are just plain odd and cranky. Without doubt he has succeeded in his aim to “develop a personal language without rigid formulas”, but this also means we have to work that bit harder to keep up with what he’s saying.

Free improviser / jazzer Yves Charuest has been playing since the 1980s, including a tour of duty with the Peter Kowald Trio, and is well-known to other Canadian players and indeed has an international reputation among his peers, and is not afraid of attempting collaborations with electro-acoustic composers and players. He has appeared on this label before in 2014 as part of small improvising groups, also on the labels Tour de Bras, Mondoj, and Astral Spirits. Le Territoire de l’anche (SSM-022) is his first solo record; the title translates into “The Reed Territory”, which lets us know he’s interested largely in the properties and qualities of the instrument he plays. As such, the whole record is a thorough exploration of mouth-reed interaction, and amounts to a catalogue of tones and effects. While he’s evidently very able and skilled in the areas of fingering, breathing, and blowing, it’s still the reed sound that dominates; it’s almost a microscopic view, detailing the grain of this part of the saxophone. We’re told he has a “sense of form” and engages with the “potentialities of the material he works with”, but I’m not really feeling this from today’s spin, which is largely a showcase for unusual sounds; while each piece is different, none of them are telling us anything and don’t appear to contain much content. However, the sonic properties are interesting and diverse, including unusual effects such as droning, repeated patterns, and intricate free-form melodies, all things in the Evan Parker mode.

Both the above from 15 June 2020.