Chamaeleo Vulgaris

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Acheulian Handaxe aha 1003

Fred Lonberg-Holm/Nick Stephens

Attic Antics

Loose Toque LT 023

Organizing notable string duets can be a challenging affair, what with the necessity of producing all sonic coloration from vibrating wires. The task is made doubly risky when the players involved eschew time keeping and melodies for experimental sessions. Luckily both CDs here neatly avoid that conundrum.

The Paris-based improvisers who operate as Chamaeleo Vulgaris overcome the string section drawbacks, by first of all using the electric versions of their instruments: electric guitar in the case of Jean-Sébastien Mariage and electric bass for Frederick Galiay. Also as card-carrying microtonalists – Mariage is a members of the French-Swiss quintet Hubbub and Galiay has played with different Hubbubers as well as German saxophonist Daniel Erdmann and Belgian trumpeter Bart Marris – both use their string sets for sound processing a lot more than producing narratives. American cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and British bassist Nick Stephens are less experimental in their duets – you always know that a string instrument is playing for instance – but no less skilled in creating a common strategy. Experience helps. Stephens has regularly played with everyone from the late British drummer John Stevens to Norwegian saxophonist Frode Gjerstad, while Lonberg-Holm’s associates include American reed man Joe McPhee plus German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann.

During the course of the three extended tracks which make up Attic Antics, while both stretch and vibrate many strings, the bassist usually plays pizzicato and the cellist arco. What usually transpires as in the sonorous pulsations which define “Tantric Ants”, Lonberg-Holm’s lines are sharper and more spiccato while Stevens’ sweeps are more magisterial and relaxed with his double stopping frequently working in tandem with the cellist’s col legno bounces.

On the nearly 19-minute title track the bassist’s tremolo pops and rubs contrast markedly with Lonberg-Holm’s narrowed and abrasive staccato lines. The piece moves along in sequences as timbres from each string player move from foreground to background and vice versa as both try out different phrasing. For example the bassist may emphasize a series of foreshortened pitch-slides which are soon joined by agitated high-pitched stroking from the cellist. Other times the sonic differences are lessened as subtle string stretches turn to harmonic convergence and suggestions of lyricism. The one-on-one remains comprehensive however since the match-up is contrapuntal not bonding. Lonberg-Holm continues his strident shrilling with angled bow work to the finale as Stevens more measured plucks encompass twangs and strums.

Textural variance is also on the menu of the two Parisians’ Chamaeleo Vulgaris. Although parceled out among 11 tracks, the pieces actually run right into each other as they would in a club situation, with barely a pause between tunes. Mariage’s and Galiay’s aural dance takes in many arrangements from tones that are circumspect, blurry and barely-there to gargantuan, near-cinematic explosions offering conspicuous quivers from each instrument, processed and amplified with electronics.

Two related tracks such as “Remez” and “Chod” unroll with wavering pulses and drones making up the backdrop with the bassist creating descending, thickening strums and the guitarist string-snapping chord formations that lead him into Derek Bailey territory. Verbalized nonsense syllables lead to dual broken-octave textures that seems to have been created by Mariage strumming his strings forcefully with his amp turned off and pedantic resonations from the bass strings which are likely hand-heel smacked. When both stop pitch-sliding the drone from Galiay’s create a background ostinato upon which narrowed guitar picking is illuminated.

More quick-thinking team work is evident on the affiliated “Pshat” and “Boo Murgel” as the multiphonic outpouring take on acoustic and electronic properties. While oscillated clatter and buzz appears pushed by motor drives and circular angled tones, Mariage ferociously hammers on his strings at the same time as angled tremolo pulses come from Galiay’s. Climaxing with a sequence that mates guttural slides against unyielding material, reverberating hinge creaks wrapped in flanges and friction, the second piece dissolves into pregnant silence, but not before the grinds have been intercut with slurred fingering from the guitarist and foreshortened bowing on the top of the bass strings.

String synthesis can make a memorable impression as these discs demonstrate, with the proviso than this creativity exhibited can be expressed acoustically, electronically or with a combination of the two methods.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Attic; 1. Attic Antics 2. Antique Addicts 3. Tantric Ants

Personnel: Attic: Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello) and Nick Stephens (bass)

Track Listing: Chamaeleo: 1. Pūjā 2. Skhêma 3. Pshat 4. Boo Murgel 5. Sod 6. Yoni 7. Lingam 8. Remez 9. Chod 10. Tabula Rasa 11. Drash

Personnel: Chamaeleo: Jean-Sébastien Mariage (guitar) and Frederick Galiay (bass)