Musique Pour Trompes et Ballons
Prele Record prl006

As time goes on, inventing new techniques or new types of sound has become almost commonplace, with sonic thinkers ranging from so-called New musicians to so-called avant-Rockers claiming to do one or both. But what about creating original, acoustic, non-computer non-software-based musical instruments? Hardly anyone has been part of that tiny group of inventors recently, at least until French trombonist Thierry Madiot started experimenting with his horn in the early part of this century.

Dismantling his instrument, plugging a roll of plastic and a rubber balloon into it, then blowing it in reverse via a constructing ring, he created a hybrid brass-reed called the ziph. Musique Pour Trompes et Ballons is that apparatus’ debut recording, with Madiot plus anywhere from another one to 11 other ziphists – or is it ziphers – demonstrating the contraption’s versatility on 13 tracks.

The balloon’s membrane is malleable enough to take on brass and reed qualities so that echoes of both instrumental families are audible in the performances. Additionally, by the juxtaposition of pitch-sliding timbres, crackling oscillations and spewing breaths alongside unmistakable acoustic tones, the ziph(s) take on sonic qualities usually associated with computer-assisted software. Sometimes here the drone from the cumulative ziphs sounds like the timbres of a church pipe organ; other times the broken-octave capillary friction takes on jet-engine-like suggestions. One of the few sequences within which there’s a recognizable brass bray occurs on “Phonographie d’intérieur”, and even here the congruent tones encompass the sort of squeals, buzzes and sighs that could come from wildlife animals or insects, approximating the work of Sheffield-based field recordist Chris Watson, the piece’s dedicatee. Ironically as well, although “Ontological Breathing”, made up of a collection of traverse breaths, glissandi and mouth slurs, swells to a miasma of watery textures, plus ricocheting inchoate whistles before dissolving, the piece is still much louder than anything played by the dedicatee, Austrian trombonist Radu Malfatti, one of the original microtonalists.

Putting aside honorees, the ensemble’s concentrated tone dislocations are better expressed on “Poème Pour Trompes Télescopiques” and “Sensor Acoustic Band”. On the latter each of the ziphists contributes to the broken-octave upsurge with rubato buzzing and fluttering respiration overlaid on tones that elsewhere would be motor-driven. As sharp air intakes from some of the participants rip apart the nearly opaque harmonies, the piece gradually opens up to a cornucopia of wider vibratos. As for “Poème Pour Trompes Télescopiques” or “poem for telescoped horns”, similarities to Tibetan radungs are created by rubbing and pumping the balloons’ fabric in such a way that low-pitched tones like those from the Asian ritual instrument arise. Not mere imitation though, the ziphs’ sonic properties vary the flat-line burr with spiky resonations, a crackling electronic-emulating line and what could be foolscap tearing.

The key to this introductory showcase for the ziph is probably the two “Dripping Tube” selections, which owe little to Flxus composer George Brecht’s themes on which they’re based. Instead one features the organizing of clanking and reverberating balloon tones into a broken-chord sequence. The first one, which evidentially involves no more than two ziphers – the apparatus’ Jay & Kai perhaps – divides the instrument’s vibrating membrane in such a way that tongue slaps are heard as the two players move from opposition to reflection than cooperation.

This CD is undoubtedly the best every made by ziph players – and likely the only one. On a serious note however, Madiot’s invention, and its use for experimental music with other players deserves more extensive outside investigation.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. I’m Blowing in a Tube 2. Breathing Gesture 3. Twelve 1 4. Poème Pour Trompes Télescopiques 5. Sensor Acoustic Band 6. Nasal Critical Band 7. Dripping Tube I 8. Laptop Imitation 9. Ontological Breathing 10. Balloon Synthesis 11. Stases Nuageuses 12. Phonographie d’intérieur 13. Dripping Tube II

Personnel: David Bausseron, Claude Colpaert, Vincent Debaets, Lune Grazilly, Patrick Guionnet, Jacques Leclercq, Thierry Madiot, Yanik Miossec, Aline Paligot, Michael Potier, Christian Pruvost and Li-Ping Ting (ziphes)