SOFA 536

Appreciating the multiphonic timbral capacity produced by one tuba’s extended techniques is one thing. Multiplying the program among three bass beasts may be more challenging, even if one it pitched in F and the others in C. Yet this is precisely what the members of Microtub do on this CD. While definitely not background music, the sheer audacity of the program makes it mandatory listening for those concerned with the evolution of traditional instruments.

British-born, Berlin resident Robin Hayward is one of the most prominent of brass practitioners who realign and expand the standard tuba to create microtonal, pitch-bending and previously unknown sound tinctures. He has displayed his exchangeable valve system in improv ensembles such as Phosphor and solo with notated music specifically composed for him. Trondheim-native Martin Taxt is another committed improviser who often works with guitarists such as Kim Myhr and Tetuzi Akiyama. Most pop-oriented of the three is Kristoffer Lo, who besides playing with Swedish drummer Tomas Järmyr in an improv-drone duo, is part of Pelbo, along with vocalist Ine Hoem and drummer Trond Bersu.

Needless to say pop fans or anything seeking the next big trend won’t find it here. Instead Lo and Taxt blow their C tubas and Hayward manipulates his microtonal F tuba to produce tones that range from minimalist to maximalist and introduce the droning undulations usually associated with processed electronics to acoustic instruments. Replete with extended, frequently more-than-pregnant pauses, the single, over-32 minute track mostly involves individual low-bras tones bleeding into and bonding with one another. Making the sound picture dense and nearly opaque, the three tuba players create a chromatic, if somewhat discursive exposition. Often comparable to auditory grisaille, the trio frequently guffaws in tandem. At the same time, although the swollen brass’s guttural brays are solid, they’re permeable as well. Pointillist respirations give way to sequences that are as intermittent as they are guttural; at points highlighting lip jujitsu, mouthpiece pops, vocalized bussing, metal smacks and air is expelled in radung-like fashion, without the valves being depressed. Quivering grace notes can sometimes approximate a trombone’s range, while juddering wave forms can be surrounded by what in other circumstances could be reed textures.

Ultimately the variations reach a crescendo of pitch-sliding spit tones and swell into buzzing three-part harmony. As the multiphonic drone separates into segregated lines the finale is no less thick but as moderato as it linear.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Microtub

Personnel: Robin Hayward (microtonal F-tuba); Kristoffer Lo (C-tuba) and Martin Taxt (C-tuba)