Wade Matthews/Stéphane Rives

Arethusa
Another Timbre at20

Jean-Marc Foussat/Sylvain Guérineau

Aliquid

Leo Records CD LR 551

Modulating the timbres produced by synthesizers and electronics with a saxophone’s authentic acoustic properties is the focus of these two CDs. Although superficially similar, the sometimes inchoate, sometimes illuminating, sonic results depend in great part on the initial conception behind the improvisations.

A sound designer and academic as well as a saxophonist, Madrid-based, French-born American Wade Matthews puts into practice theories on sound waves and sound reproduction he evolved over the years. French soprano saxophonist Stéphane Rives is one reedist experimenting with and redefining the textures associated with his horn. Recorded over a week’s time at Matthews’ Smiling Cow studio, the four untitled tracks here capture the strident extremes of the saxophonist’s textures further altered, expanded or contracted by Matthews’ synthesizer program, which includes sampled and manipulated field recordings. Despite – or perhaps because of – this prior-planning and technical expertise, there are frequent points where each player appears to be improvising in isolation. They may be in the same room or on the same track, but the division is almost palpable.

As concerned with granulation, flanged timbres and unexpected sonic lurches and reverb as Matthew/Rives, the presence of veteran Paris tenor saxophonist Sylvain Guérineau provides Aliquid’s melodic content. Reed patterns also supply needed warmth to the three improvisations, which otherwise are centred on oscillations and sound manipulation from the analog synthesizer of the saxophonist’s long-time partner, fellow Parisian, Jean-Marc Foussat. Recorded and processed over an eight-month period at Foussat’s Pyjama studio, the image of two men recording live off the floor and reacting to one another is almost visible. Foussat, who is a member of Marteau Rouge, with guitarist Jean-François Pauvros and drummer Makoto Sato, also engineers CDs for other musicians, most notably bassist Joëlle Léandre.

Here, ring modulator-like clanks and crashes, an undertow of bell-ringing patterns and hissing and twittering samples on “Après… La Visite” cause Guérineau to respond in kind with solos made up of key percussion, watery false register snorts and fortissimo overblowing. Despite Foussat’s electronics frequently doubling and synthesizing his reed lines, the saxophonist’s languid individualism is maintained. If electronically-extended samples of infant cries and gurgles are introduced as abrasive counterpoint to his lines for instance, Guérineau’s deliberate vibrato eventually pushes the pulsating and patched high pitches back into synch. Additional reed-biting slurs and resonations are there to counter the laptop-propelled slap and pops and move them towards quieter measures.

In contrast, post-Trane lyricism as well as extended techniques are part of the tenor saxophonist’s game plan on “Loin de la Pologne” when altissimo split tones alternate with smoother reed ripostes, many of which are electronically sampled and re-introduced as double or triple-tongued variations. Underscoring the horn parts are motor-driven flanges and undulations along with ripples and crackles. At points, assembly-line-like buzzes, echoing friction and purring loops predominate, but only until Guérineau’s uncomplicated flat-line trills come to the fore. The saxophonist’s single-minded attachment to a certain timbral sound personalizes the improvisations and allows his solos to unroll moderato, no matter how many times Foussat’s synthesizer creates space shuttle-like explosions, swelling oscillations or ring-modulator-like pumps. Finally the piece climaxes as the saxophonist’s airy, mid-range solo is backed not only by rustling loops, but also by samples of chirping and whistling birds.

Sampled bird sounds also appear on first track of Arethusa, but only as a coda and no louder than the largo and separated pitches that Rives gradually vibrates from his soprano saxophone. He too is forced to accelerate his volume and pitch to counter the strident timbres from the synth. On the other hand the two improvisers’ separation is emphasized throughout the final track, as seemingly incompatible under-his-breath mumbles from Matthews alternate with high-pitched shrills and tongue slaps from the saxophonist. While Rives’ part is extended with circular breathing, blurry, signal-processed loops plus intermittent oscillations and overdubbed secondary voice samples threaten to subsume it. Lowing chalumeau tones don’t help either, so that the track’s climax seems curiously unfulfilling.

The nearly 17½-minute “Arethusa 3” is better balanced, as the saxophonist’s initial tongue slaps and key percussion plus flat-line vibrato assert themselves. Yet by the time this adagio-paced piece concludes, Rives’ aural presence is nearly imperceptible. Instead the sound field is dominated by near cynosure resonating, abrasive samples of what could be hollow frame drum thumps, a cue smacking a billiard ball or machinegun fire.

Guérineau and Foussat plus Rives and Matthews have identified distinctive improvisational strategies for a saxophone and electronics. Each duo appears to be satisfied with its solution. But overall the first duo’s work seems better balanced between both participant’s than the latter’s.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Aliquid: 1. Loin de la Pologne 2. Après… La Visite 3. L'innocence des mammifères II

Personnel: Aliquid: Sylvain Guérineau (tenor saxophone) and Jean-Marc Foussat (VCS III analog synthesizer, trombone and voice)

Track Listing: Arethusa: 1. Arethusa 1 [8:50] 2. Arethusa 2 [8.17] 3. Arethusa 3 [17.23] 4. Arethusa 4 [11.58]

Personnel: Arethusa: Stéphane Rives (soprano saxophone) and Wade Matthews (software synthesis and manipulated field recordings)