Inexhaustible x3: Nick Ashwood, Ferran Fages, TRUSS

Thursday 21 January 2021

Thanks to my habit of neglecting to read the sleeve notes, I only just realised that all three albums here are from Inexhaustible Editions. Also thanks to this habit, I was completely unprepared for Nick Ashwood’s solo release Unfolding​/​Overlay. I glanced over it, saw ‘acoustic guitars’ and figured we’d get to hear a solo approach as heard on his group improvised efforts, so my first listening was spent mostly getting over the shock of how it sounded. A steely tambura drone opens the album-length piece, which I figured was going to be the groundwork for some trancey guitar noodling until it gradually dawned on me that this was the trancey guitar stuff. Ashwood’s made this piece from two long, unedited takes of bowing on an acoustic guitar and then superimposing them. As performance, it’s a meditative experience, at once introspective yet open-minded, with the slow but purposeful drifting that comes from bringing the mind to an alert passivity through concentrated action. As a composition, the listener hears the constant weaving of bowed chords as a single, braided strand, with illusory harmonies and timbres and breathing pulses that can become either strong or frail, simple or complex, always evolving into something new of its own accord.

Just a small spoiler: the first fifteen seconds of Ferran Fages’ From Grey To Blue are silent. You might want to keep that in mind before cranking the volume. Not that the piece is loud, but it is clearly present: a forty-minute work for a full and closely-miked piano, played by Lluïsa Espigolé. Thinking back to Fages’ Un lloc entre dos records, a work for solo guitar and sine tones, and remembered that it was difficult to get a grip on: “The mind struggles to reconcile the parts into a whole”. Fages pushes the unresolved shapes of his music even further here, perhaps past breaking point. The piece falls into three parts, but in each the phrases are brief and widely separated by silences. Fages and Espigolé have collaborated over a couple of years and her playing, although described in the notes as “without emotion”, captures something tentative, even reluctant to proceed. At least there’s no sentimentality, even though the gently paced combinations of single tones and minor chords (rarely more than dyads) could lend themselves to drama. In the central section, the sounds themselves seem to thin out; when more chords return in part three everything happens more slowly. It’s described as a study in resonances and the spaces between sounds, but I’m usually pretty skeptical of pieces which make a virtue of reticence. With each successive listening, however, the sounds start to feel more tied together and playing it loud reveals the piano mechanism at work and the voids start to fill in as though they’re making some sort of connection; but as to what those connections might be, I’m not sure.

Fages is also part of the group TRUSS, playing acoustic guitar and feedback with Alejandro Rojas-Marcos on clavichord and Bárbara Sela on recorders. Todos los animales se reúnen en un gran gemido is a set of seven tracks recorded on one day in late 2019. They are apparently group improvisations but I keep hearing Fages’ methods at work. There are sustained high, keening passages as heard in his earlier piece Radi d’Or and, as the album progresses, the sounds start to break up into irresolute fragments. It’s stupid to attribute this to one musician when there are three at work. It sounds like Rojas-Marcos is using various extended techniques on his instrument, complicating the picture of who plays what when paired with Fage’s guitar. Sela’s recorder can either lead or shadow the high-pitched bowing and feedback, or otherwise derail and obstruct the continuity, forcing new approaches. The way the tracks are sequenced, the early sections are distinct and sometimes busy in that conventional group improv way, but around halfway through things become more fraught, with the music never quite succumbing to silence but always on the verge of breaking up, all the same. It’s not a comfortable experience, but it asks more questions of the listener than I originally bargained for.

Solos: Félicie Bazelaire, Ferran Fages

Tuesday 26 March 2019

I’ve been listening to some new releases by d’incises, working in collaboration with various composers and musicians. (This is the guy who’s part of the Insub Meta Orchestra.) L’épaisseur innombrable is described as a “double bass solo by Félicie Bazelaire, based on a composition by d’incise”, which suggests a more esoteric process of transformation than a simple transcription or arrangement. (The packaging tells us nothing more than the above quote.) A thirty-six minute double-bass solo, L’épaisseur innombrable maintains a consistent level of activity throughout, inviting comparisons to Stefano Scodanibbio’s solo pieces or Hanne Darboven’s Opus 17a. Unlike these two examples, Bazelaire does not give us constant, motoric activity. Much of the piece maintains a steady alternation of long and short, like a heartbeat. On one level, it’s soothing; paying closer attention unmasks darker undercurrents, the alternating harmonies by turns wistful and portentous. Later, the pace broadens out further into sustained tones, a glacial rallentando. Bazelaire’s realisation of this piece creates the skeletal outline from some long-lost slow movement from the late romantic era.

I got some exciting new releases from Another Timbre but I first have to give some time to Ferran Fages’ CD from the end of last year, Un lloc entre dos records. Fages plays his own composition for solo acoustic guitar and sine tones. It took me a while to come around to this one. I’ve heard a few great recordings in recent years by Cristián Alvear and Clara de Asís, playing severe, restrictive compositions for the guitar. Perhaps keeping those in mind a little too much made this piece seem to not quite gel for a while. Unlike, say, a piece by Alvin Lucier, guitar and sine tones are kept separate – no psychoacoustic trickery to enjoy here. After an opening section of widely spaced dissonances (semitones displaced across octaves à la late Feldman) a long passage of sustained sine tones reduces the harmonic and timbral palette to almost nothing. The guitar resumes, with strummed, dense, unresolved chords. The mind struggles to reconcile the parts into a whole. This piece is part of a trilogy exploring different guitar tunings, and Fages refers to Feldman in his other pieces in the series. Feldman worked in a subjective way that resisted an overall logic, but his audience has now become accustomed to his way of listening. Un lloc entre dos records suggests a new type of listening at play and, despite the Feldman references, Fages’ piece suddenly became more sympathetic when recognising the connections to the type of wandering aesthetic heard in some of Jürg Frey’s solo pieces such as guitarist, alone. Fages approach comes from the inside, as a guitarist, with a more forthright harmonic language made from the retuning of open strings.