Alessandra Novaga

La Chambre des Jeux Sonores
Setola di Maiale SM2690

Flo Stoffner

Norman

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Creating novel performance strategies for the world’s most popular instrument – the electric guitar – is somewhat akin to discovering new ways to walk. Unique strategies may be theoretically motivating, but if too many liberties are taken, movement will be sideways or backwards instead of forward. Each of these European efforts though takes on the doubly difficult task of constructing a matchless performance with no other instrument present to mask any limitations. Both depend on out-of-the-ordinary tunings plus the introduction of electronics. While the results are correspondedly beguiling, the methodologies are almost completely contrary.

Interpreting five pieces expressly composed for her that utilized graphic notation and wide swathes of improvisation. Milan-based guitarist Alessandra Novaga, who has collaborated with the likes of Elliott Sharp, creates singular tracks which demonstrate how the electric guitar can be maneuvered in diverse ways. Swiss guitarist Flo Stoffner on the other hand, who has works in the bands of Manuel Mengis and Harald Haerter among others, instant composed studies which shred and grate expected guitar timbres so that the instrument sounds like anything but its six-string configuration.

Overall the most noteworthy tracks on La Chambre des Jeux Sonores are those which go past the technical expansions of slurred fingering that produces oscillating buzzes and rhythmic clanks to those which insinuate unprecedented textures. For instance the grounded “In Memoria” repeatedly matches string thumping with other actions that resemble processional piano chording at the top and near-church-organ swelling at the end. Based around electromagnetic interference, the whirring “Collaborating Objects” isolates singular tones, then uses reverb and shivering distortion to regularize the interface. Its telling climax shapes shrills and scrubs into a persuasive formula that maintains chromatic motion while vibraharp-like shimmies enliven the narrative.

Perhaps the most compelling and audacious track however is “Untitled, January”. Here Novaga creates what could be the sonic equivalent of two high-speed trains travelling at warp-speed on parallel tracks. Raw power emanates from the unvarying, dense drones, but there’s enough dramatic string-shakes and squeezes to differentiate one tone from another.

Notwithstanding the pedal, knob and fingering distortions which introduce these tracks and her use of ancillary sound allusions ranging from human voice to tornado-like explosions, it’s still evident that Novaga is playing an electric guitar. Zürich-based Stoffner could be termed a guitar-deconstructionist, since Norman is designed to showcase certain instrumental properties divorced from others or which characterize certain guitar textures.

“Schabrackenfuchs” may be the exception that proves the rule though. An exciting track that could be termed Hubert Sumlin in Space, it features expressive bottleneck-style strokes sharpened to the nth degree and ends with a bomb-like detonation. On the other hand, some of the shorter improvisations suffer from single-mindedness. Once the guitarist demonstrates that he can produce a constant bell-like tone, a dissolving flange or pulsing reverb, he appears willing to not develop the concept further.

Enough to make up for these lapses are creations such as “Swamp”, “Mother” and “Bold Act”. The first unites reverb and what sounds like re-processed thematic material whose contrapuntal shakes give additional weight to a single-note exposition. Meanwhile organ-like reverberations and spring-loaded vibrations are present throughout. These dual-keyboard-resembling cascades also figure on “Bold Act.” However Stoffner manages to evoke not only a continuous drone but also melodic tremolo tones. Appropriately enough, “Mother” is the culmination of these guitar experimentations. Before a synthesized crescendo disintegrates into altissimo squeals and buzzes, asides that suggest cello strokes and church organ tremolos are heard on the track.

By creating unique patterns for the guitar, Novaga and Stoffner deserve admiration and praise. Never to be confused with easy listening, these discs demand attention for those who want to consider the standard six-string’s sonic future.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Chambre: 1. International Hash Ring 2. In Memoria 3. Collaborating Objects 4. Erosive Raindrops 5. Untitled, January

Personnel: Chambre: Alessandra Novaga (electric guitar and effects)

Track Listing: Norman: 1. Hurry-Curry 2. To Cast Out 3. Swamp 4. Mother 5. Abu Markub 6. Bold Act 7. Schabrackenfuchs 8. Bold Act

Personnel: Norman: Flo Stoffner (electric guitar)