For his fourth release on the ever-exemplary empreintes DIGITALes label, Pierre Alexandre Tremblay offers worthy company to label-mates and audio-vivisectionists such as Monique Jean and Manuella Blackburn, even if he is generally less incendiary across these five spacious pieces; forsaking cut ’n’ paste conscientiousousness for the full preservation and processing of performances in real time, draping over these aching canyons only the most necessary effects, to ensure the listener very gradual and genuine gratification. The momentous opener La rupture inéluctable consists of a resonant bass clarinet solo from Heather Roche, whose aerodynamic curves and low-end descents — initially foregrounded by golden slivers adrift in a vacuum — gradually succumb to a spell of more pugilistic tendencies: fits of pummelling framed by showers of feedback and distortion: mood-swings between grace and gratuitous, which, while making a fine first impression, establish a precedent of radical dynamic exchange between performer and loudspeaker that verges on war-craft.
I’d not heard of the Baschet-Malbos Piano prior to hearing Le tombeau de fondeurs (‘The Tomb of the Casters’), and it sounds nothing like what I’ve expected: a flower-headed, metal bouquet stemming from its seemingly unrelated namesake, producing sharp, undulating lines that devolve over time into pounding, dissonant clusters, which are buried alive by tolling bells and hammered metal, finally petering out in a slow, defeated descent. Mono no aware conveys greater restraint, visiting the ears in insect waves from the Babel Table (another new name to me) with the menace of approaching warplanes. Still, Again is a war of wills between fricative near-vituperation for Peyee Chen’s soprano vocals and the lurk of distortive electronics. However, the most cacophonous moments are reserved for the bipolar eruptions of piano in closer, Un clou, son marteau, et le béton (‘A Nail, Its Hammer and Concrete’), which draws more tightly the wire between the extremes of implied threat and weary indifference, heightening tension for the duration with brooding three-key ruminations alternating with petulant outbursts, a dichotomy ever averse to resolution.
Compiled very patiently across two discs, these five pieces demonstrate a different level of psychological control to the exhibitions of electroacoustic control that empreintes DIGITALes has presented thus far: the magic residing more in the frictional spontaneity of a theatre of operations than in the scientific perfection of detail, while providing some fascinating terrain for our continued exploration.