Sonic tangled barbed wire, explosive dark vibes
Lea Bertucci & Leila Bordreuil
The NYC-based improvising duo of bass clarinetist Lea Bertucci and cellist Leila Bordreuil play with the capricious tones of speaker feedback and its possibilities on the new album L’Onde Souterraine, roughly translated as “The Wave Underground.”
The live improvisations were recorded in a church hall with the spirit of electro-acoustic music evident, where sound manipulation is essential as its own type of instrument and the manner in which sound is reproduced in a certain environment is also key.
While such non-genre-based improvisations would be severely difficult to notate and reproduce, the ingredient of feedback—pretty much a third musician in this case—makes the proceedings practically impossible to replicate, with an element of chance somewhat guiding and prodding.
On “Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain,” the harmonies provided by the feedback notes are not reined in, with the sustained squeals looming as a otherworldly force, like a set of eyes watching and judging—it is piercing yet oddly ethereal.
The feedback serves many purposes here; it can be a palate cleanser during rests between certain moments, or the cello and bass clarinet can also seamlessly blend in with it during a few rare moments of unity. Bertucci generates an intense rhythm by violently pressing her keys, and for the swell and peak of the piece, Bordreuil turbulently creates unnerving squeaks on her cello.
The duo revels in extended techniques for their instruments, with Bordreuil seemingly capturing the entire frequency range of human hearing with frantic bowing and grinding, and Bertucci can aurally bend her clarinet, causing it to create sounds like brass instruments or even what sounds like the noise of an astronaut entering an air lock chamber, in “Stag with Lightning in its Glare.”
Bordreuil is unafraid to play aggressively, using heavy bow pressure to create sonic tangled barbed wire. Then at the end of the album of engaging and audacious improvisations, the players and ghostly feedback simply dissipate, leaving as mysteriously as they entered.
(Trouble In Mind)
Sometimes it’s easier and more effective to describe music by the thoughts it inspires rather than the nuts and bolts of the arrangements of sound.
In the case of Matchess—the solo project of Chicago musician Whitney Johnson, also of the psychedelic Krautrock/kosmische-inflected group Verma —the second home-recorded album Somnaphoria somehow roused the story of rocket scientist Jack Parsons from this writer’s memory.
To be more specific, it brought to mind one of the more outlandish explanations regarding his death by homemade explosives: according to the theory, inspired by the occult, he accidentally blew himself up during his home experiments attempting to create his own “homunculus”—or, a tiny man.
With organic-sounding electronics, classical string touches and supernatural vocal harmonies, Johnson conjures her own blend of spooky, basement mysticism; its hazy proceedings bring to mind perhaps a slightly less bleak Grouper mixed with the Residents at their spookiest and electronic pioneer Bruce Haack’s circuit-tinker sorcery.
Somnaphoria is best absorbed as a whole, stepping into Johnson’s secret world of synthetic storms and haunting, distorted singing, over beatbox pitter-patter rhythms and a dark majesty.
“Sinister Prophecies of Coming Catastrophe” unleashes a string ensemble riff that could come from a foreboding Philip Glass piece, and while it’s not as oppressive as this writer might be conveying, there is a sense of unease pervading the album.
The synth timbres and unyielding phaser effect of “Mortification of the Flesh” bring to mind early ’80s horror film soundtracks, with Johnson singing and speaking her barely comprehensible words that apparently were inspired by French poets Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Baudelaire and Paul Verlaine.
Johnson is successful in generating her own dark vibe without an explosive misstep, although having a more articulated and understandable set of lyrics would take her to the next level (or world).