Brilliant Days
FOR 4 EARS CD 1446

Ba Kagpja
Sirr 014

Textures intertwined from the violin or viola and live electronics furnish the real-time origins of both these discs. Yet now that this sort of electro-acoustic collaboration have become commonplace, the five musicians involved pinpoint the different methods and techniques available to its practitioners.

Interestingly enough both CDs highlight cross-border encounters, with one-half of each paring Swiss. Veteran Portuguese violinist Carlos Zíngaro brings his formidable experience and methodology to a face off with Andy Guhl and Norbert Möslang, the Swiss duo known as Voice Crack who have partnered since 1972 and eschewed conventional instruments for what they call “cracked everyday electronics” since 1983. Over the years, Zíngaro has regularly played with French bassist Joëlle Léandre as well as a global village of others from French saxophonist Daunik Lazro to Canadian cellist Peggy Lee. Pioneers in the electronic field, Voice Crack, who dissolved the partnership this year, have worked with fellow Swiss drummer/electronics maven Günter Müller along with many others.

Recorded at a festival in Porto, Portugal, BA KAGPJA is a single-track souvenir of the trio’s live performance. BRILLIANT DAYS, on the other hand, mixes live and studio performances in Glasgow, Scotland and Bamberg, Germany, though neither musician involved is a native of either country. Violist Charlotte Hug, known for playing in unusual venues, and with musicians such as British reedist Evan Parker and American guitarist Elliott Sharp, divides her time between Zürich, Switzerland and London. A Montreal native, laptop player Chantale LaPlante, has been involved with radio art, contemporary composition and as a keyboard player in rock bands. She cites Claude Debussy and Morton Feldman as reference points, but neither the romanticism of the former nor the precise micro-tonalism of the later seems to be on display here.

Experimenting with different musical weaves in a sort of a laboratory of sounds is an ideal which LaPlante does share with the French and American composers, and you can hear the results throughout the CD’s five tracks. Not that she’s alone in this, though, Hug contributes her share.

Throughout the violist uses a shaking vibrato that creates harsh multiphonics to expand her sound at opportune times. Elsewhere, spiccato fiddling comes into play as she bounces the bow to produce grating tones. Although Hug reaches dog whistle territory at certain points, you never forget that the arpeggios and double stops are coming from an acoustic, wooden instrument. Her control of the bow is such, what’s more, that a pure flute-like tone floats through the piece when she desires it.

Laplante’s output is even less conventional, as you’d expect from someone improvising on a non-traditional instrument. At points her machine spews out overtones that could be the sound of breaking glass; other times the aural resemblance is to an assembly line of metal scraping against metal. As static and sine waves move through the backdrop, the most common timbres are mechanized and rasping — rumbles, pulses and thumps often met with exaggerated shuffle bowing from Hug.

Other times distorted reverb from the synth gets louder and more expansive before diminishing to near silence. Molten, dense space tones sometimes suggest that a flying saucer has landed and the two are attempting to make radio contact with it. A fluid fantasia of organ-like tones meets chirping tremolos from the fiddle, as the untraditional caprice ricochet across the instrument’s face for unique, resonating colors. Percussion as well as keyboard and string sources arise from the laptop, so that the sound a heavy bowling ball would make striking the walls of a small handball court appears.

Although the oscillating pulsations are definite laptop links, you shouldn’t be deluded into making an artificial acoustic/electronic division between the two instrumentalists. Hug’s viola has electronic attachments, which may help her create pulsating glissandi among other tricks, while the mimicking tendencies of the computer means that not infrequently it too expands viola textures.

Division is even less obvious during the almost 53 minutes of BA KAGPJA. As a matter of fact, almost 18 minutes elapse before you finally realize that the irregular slides and scrapes you’ve heard previously aren’t mechanized, but speedy glisses, caprices and stops from the violinist. Additionally, the faint rumble, steady machine-like buzz and tugboat whistle tones are the product of what Voice Crack has defined as acoustical waves, street rubbish and toy store finds.

The range of these cracked electronics makes a cornucopia of unusual sounds appear. Among them are that of a disembodied voice mumbling indistinctly through a primitive p.a. system, irregular percussive bumps, an electric razor buzz, wavering tones ping-ponging from one side of the space to the other, a hurdy gurdy timbre and the squeal of tapes run backwards.

Not to be outdone, Zíngaro evidentially applies extra bow pressure to introduce distorted fiddle tones and uses sweeps and spiccato to expand his string mass. His syncopated vibrato not only produces bird-like chirps, but also stuttering scrapes that irritate the strings enough to create shrill, brutal tones. Computer electronics allow him to overcome the violin’s traditional sweet disposition, not only wrenching out grating multiphonics from it, but exhibiting such a powerful pizzicato tug that you could be hearing the rhythm of a bolo bat.

Overall, the three reach such concordance of congruence that it become literally impossible to append one raspy texture to any one instrument — electronic or not.

Want to experience up-to-the minute electro-acoustic string playing? You don’t have to go any further than these CDs.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Brilliant: 1. Aujourd’hui, j’ai admiré le paysage 2. Matières agitées 3. Ciel 4. Zone of zest 5. Brilliant arch

Personnel: Brilliant: Charlotte Hug (viola and electronics); Chantale LaPlante (laptop)

Track Listing: Ba: 1. Prêt a Porto

Personnel: Ba: Carlos Zíngaro (violin and computer electronics); Andy Guhl and Norbert Möslang (cracked everyday electronics)