Alvear-Bondi, d’incise etc.

Sunday 20 March 2022

I’ve been catching up on Insub’s recent releases. Guitarist Cristián Alvear with Cyril Bondi on percussion, mostly, have produced a trilogy of recordings of which I have heard the first two. So far, each has paired two works by different composers, most of whom I’m not familiar with at all. The exception is d’incise, whose 40-minute Sigh (carried away) adds electronic enhancements to Alvear’s guitar and Bondi playing four cymbals. The piece suits their patience and inner stillness, often alternating between the quickly dying tones of the guitar and the rustle of percussion. It spells out a flat, thin sonata made of metallic edges and sounds extended beyond their confortable zones, keeping you alert and wary while never raising its voice. Its companion piece, Santiago Astaburuaga’s grado de potencia #2, adds field recordings which seem to take up the foreground, the musicians introducing brief snatches of speech and sound that appear and disappear in alternation. Time passes in a dreamlike state, with no logical connection or momentum, and so will either soothe, frustrate or disturb you.

Percussion and electric guitar return for Nicolás Carrasco’s sin título #26, a study in stasis that progresses slowly while seemingly making no headway. Alvear plays obstinately reiterated notes that expand into obstinately reiterated chords, counterweighted by a series of recurring percussive noises. The juxtaposition keeps everything slow but taut. Anna-Kaisa Meklin’s Ground in Cis changes things up with the composer adding her viola da gamba to Bondi on harmonium and Alvear’s guitar, making a piece that seems almost rustic by comparison. The three play in harmony over each other before briefly, one by one, breaking into a more florid melody as though allowed to lapse into normal time. It’s all rather charming, particularly as the gentle electric guitar, homely harmonium and sweetly sonorous viola da gamba make such mismatched companions. These recordings were all made in Covid-straitened times last year, with Alvear in Chile added to the other musicians based in Switzerland.

Bondi and d’incise have collaborated on compositions a number of times over the years. The 45-minute Zgodność, made over 2020-2021, is written for a seven-piece ensemble with an accompanying tape part. It sounds a bit different from their earlier pieces, with this one less beholden to processes and with greater variability in its texture and mood over time. In its instrumentation of winds (trumpet, bass clarinet, accordion, harmonium) and strings (viola, cello, double-bass) and its ebbs and flows in texture and dynamics, from faded or frayed high sounds to tutti swells and lugibrious tessitura in the low registers, Zgodność comes across to the listener as a kind of pastoral symphony, in the margin. Stringently compressed in its range and its orchestration, the playing still sounds full and expressive. The tape may play a part, but it does not seem prominent. The seven live musicians are to the forefront throughout – the Blutwurst ensemble, based in Florence, are the orchestra here. Their prowess at interpreting a spare piece to the fullest can also be heard in Emmanuel Holterbach’s Ricercar nell’ombra, a 2018 collaboration which was released on Another Timbre. Holterbach was effusive when describing Blutwurst then, and this recording is further confirmation why.