François Houle

Drip Audio Max 21552

By Ken Waxman

Bravura in conception and execution, Aerials is Vancouver-based clarinetist François Houle’s all-out exploration of the acoustic clarinet’s timbral frontiers. Using no overdubbing or external sound source except the insides of a prepared piano on two occasions, these 18 tracks highlight his deft versatility.

At points somewhat formalistic, reflecting his extensive classical training, the reed man doesn’t let his at-times perfect intonation prevent him from also utilizing advanced improvisational effects such as split tones and circular breathing. While melodious recorder-like cadences locate several miniatures within the song tradition, bursts of chalumeau rumbles, lightly vibrated coloratura and overblowing honor by name earlier reed standard bearers like Sidney Bechet and Jimmy Giuffre on certain tracks and by split-tone inference Evan Parker. One tune, called “Siffler” or “To Wheeze” is even constructed out of the clarinet’s ultra-high pitches.

There’s also great variety of effects displayed among false register swells and the whorls of extended multiphonics. Compare for instance the aptly titled “Song” and “Circulaire”. Indolent and melodious, the former works breath pauses and pitch vibratos into a chalumeau tapestry that narrows to tongue-stopping squeaks. On the later, an altered embouchure culminates in circular-breathed patterns after side-slipping cadenzas are layered on top of one another as echoes from the body tube vibrate notes back onto themselves.

“Méandre” features a percussive base from inside piano string-stopping, giving Houle room to meander orally, likely using two clarinets simultaneously, introducing fragile, pan-flute-like lines and thicker, horizontal patterns.

Part of a projected solo clarinet trilogy, Houle’s command of the material here raises high expectations for the next chapters.

— Ken Waxman

In MusicWorks Issue #98