If you read the biographies for this release or about Carla
Rees in general, you will see that she is described as an alto
and bass flute specialist. You may then wonder why this release
has been recorded entirely on C flute - that’s concert
flute in C, just in case there was anyone who reads the ‘C’
as Contralto, which would be a G flute. This is not just any
C flute, but one made heavy with the additional riches of extra
keys which deliver notes in between the ones on your average
piano keyboard, hence the ‘quartertone’ description.
One of the main reasons Carla is not playing alto or bass on
this recording is that her apartment building plus its uniquely
valuable contents - and I don’t mean just instruments
- was reduced to ashes during the riots in 2011. This kind of
tragic misfortune would kick most of us into limbo, but Carla
is having her flutes re-made, and this recording is a defiant
testament and an example to all of us who have far more mundane
things with which to cope.
These pieces are also representative of a continuing and fruitful
artistic collaboration, and the results are very much on an
equal footing. The flute has its solo role, but Scott Miller’s
virtuoso electronic sounds are decisive to the atmosphere of
the disc as a whole. Carla’s cover photo suggests clockworks
and machinery. There are mechanistic elements in some of the
musical effects, but I perceive much of this soundscape as having
its basis in nature. Working alongside and with the flute as
a sonic medium, it is right and natural that the sounds should
have some relationship to that simplest of instruments. All
flautists will admit, even without a few drinks, that all they
are really doing is blowing a bit of perforated sawn-off tube
- one of the most basically natural music sounds there is. The
beauty is in the artist doing the blowing.
bending reed is a good starting place to appreciate this
point. It’s one of the tracks in which flute and electronics
come closest in terms of synergy. Overtones and double-stopping
effects from the flute are taken over and re-formed, extended
and stretched. The harmonics of the flute are later on tracked
by an effect which seems to create its own bass difference-tones.
It is as if Carla was being shadowed by a darkly menacing bass-recorder
player. Live electronics continue with Seriously, This is
a Commitment, the flute being joined in a multi-vocal duet
which will delight fans of WALL●E. This is a track which
builds up quite a head of steam as the layers of sound develop
- a strange confluence of driving urgency and poetic utterance.
Having started halfway through we might as well take a look
at haiku, interrupted. This is one of the most haunting
pieces in the programme, with alien voices coming at us in chorus
and singly. There are moments which suggest aboriginal ritual,
nocturnal and mysterious. This is as far removed from Classical
convention as you could imagine and all the more fascinating
for it. The whole thing ends with the longest fade-out ever.
You can just tell can’t you? I’m the type of reviewer
who puts the CD on and starts writing, so the music only starts
receiving attention by the time the intro has been concluded.
So, it’s back to track one, Anterior/Interior,
the revolving electronic whirligigs of which remind me a little
of bits in Stockhausen’s Kontakte. There are some
very high pitched moments in this to which your ears may have
an aversion through less than top-flight buds. Beauty is
Eternity Gazing in a Mirror explores lower registers, the
lack of bass flutes substituted by electronic responses which
lower the pitch and create a whole family of strange flutes
- including a remarkable virtuoso piccolo. These flute reflections
transform into egocentric sine-wave shadows which weave their
own complex tapestry, but over which the flute rules in its
own confiding and restrained manner. It brings the sines into
line and has the last word as is its feminine right.
As its title suggests, Omaggio a 1961 will remind electronic
aficionados of period work by the likes of Stockhausen or the
early Philips studios, which had people like Varese as their
figurehead. There are deep electronic booms and bumps, little
choirs of insects, birds or angels which pop up or fly past.
This is a festival of angular atonal gesture over which I feel
the solo flute might have had a more unrestrained and pro-active
improvisatory freedom. This is still a fascinating and at times
disturbing musical narrative, with a desolate ending like abandoned
housing, materials flapping in an uncaring wind. It runs directly
into the vast distances which open bending reed.
Writing reviews of releases by people you know - however distantly
- can be troublingly burdensome. I would always return a disc
rather than have to be negative. If I do have any criticism
it would be that, in general, this is a set of pieces which
takes itself perhaps a tad too seriously. I like a bit of tongue-in-cheek
with this kind of thing, even just a glimmer or subtle suggestion
relating to a more direct sense of entertainment, but that’s
just my taste. Here there is in fact no need for strife and
conflict, and this is a remarkable and excellent production.
Yes, to a degree this is a ‘specialist’ album, but
I’m always fighting the corner of contemporary musical
language and expression, and would argue this has as much a
right to be on your shelf as Scarlatti or Scriabin - certainly
as much as any pop act you’re likely to see on the Graham
Norton show. It has a different function: not for dancing or
candle-lit dinners perhaps, but if these musicians can create
such things can’t you think of a place in your
life it might prove stimulating? Go on, make the effort.
See also review by Byzantion