Xavier Charles

12 Clarinets in a Fridge
Unsounds 44u

By Ken Waxman

Less rarified and warmer sounding than the title indicates, French clarinetist Xavier Charles mixes mutated reed timbres and aleatoric slabs of musique concrete to craft five highly distinctive improvisations. Despite impressions, Charles, who is also part of the minimalist Dans les Arbes trio and other formations, doesn’t shove his instrument into household appliances. Instead he painstakingly reworks sounds from these machines to extend, challenge or transform clarinet tones.

Sometimes, as on “10 Clarinets in a Washing-machine”, basic reed tone(s) predominate, at least at first, with the multiple clarinet samples initially outputting a jaunty theme. Blurry, signal-processed murmurs soon intersect with the acoustic line(s) however, transforming the ringing and squeaking tones into something akin to white noise. Other pieces, such as the title track, concentrate on the clarinet’s woody chalumeau lowing, producing a sound that’s appropriately dense and rough edged, but which never loses its linear flow.

Centrepiece of the session is the over 14-minute “Hétérogène”. Assembled from sound scraps the clarinetist has preserved over the years, the noise collage is thickened with dial-twisting squeaks, plus resonating reverb which at points oozes into every spatial crevice. Stentorian or near-silent at different junctures, the resulting tone block is seasoned with watery grinds, scraps of captured conversations and animalistic yelps and growls. At the same time tongue slaps and reed bites confirm the actual clarinet’s constant presence, with the climax occurring as distinctive reed tones triumphantly splinter the formerly near-solid resonating drone.

Not an aural pas de deux between man and machine with each scrambling for supremacy, instead with this CD, by expressively altering its sound, Charles confirms the clarinet’s continued potential in advanced music.

—For MusicWorks #121 Spring 2015