Contest of Pleasures

The Albi Days
Potlatch P205

By Ken Waxman

Just as members of the European Union are gradually adopting shared principals, so the members of Contest of Pleasures (COP) – from different countries –subordinate individual techniques to a group style. Comfortable utilizing the acoustics of a performance space, multiple mics and post-performance editing to shape and blend reductionist improvisations, the three have produce a memorable aural soundscape.

A step forward from COP’s first CD in 2000, The Albi Days illuminates how French clarinetist Xavier Charles, German trumpeter Axel Dörner and British soprano and tenor saxophonist John Butcher use wave form modulations and extended techniques as a matter of course. Encompassing pressured staccato timbres plus elongated rumbles and slurs, the five layered, all-acoustic improvisations take on quasi-electronic timbres, especially when hissing flutters and video-game-like fusillade is heard. Very occasionally the three unite for triple counterpoint, three part harmony or startlingly – in Dörner’s or Butcher’s case – let loose with easily identifiable brassy grace notes or reedy tongue slaps.

Most of the time, however, the instruments are exfoliated sound sources manipulated so that pitches could come from anywhere – or nowhere. Blocked valve techniques and pure air forced through the lead pipe characterize the trumpeter’s contribution along with steady mouthpiece osculation. As for the reedists, watery whistles, key percussion and snorted vibrato, plus concentrated overblowing are just the beginning of their techniques.

Invariably not only are notes sounded, but so are their ancillary metallic reverberations. Creating their own versions of sequenced feedback with tremolo slurs, the trio also exposes digging-animal scratches, floor-to-ceiling echoing buzzes, the sound of a tennis ball being battered back-and-forth and stretched rubber hitting a solid surface.

Most dramatic are the passages that conclude “Winter Squash” where focused reed growls and blocked valve output build to shattering crescendo then shrivel into nearly inaudible tongue slaps and bell squeaks. Careful listening to the CD’s gradually unrolling textures repeatedly reveal further unique sequences.

In MusicWorks Issue #98