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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


De souffles et de machines
Pierre Alexandre TREMBLAY (b.1975)
Les pâleurs de la lune (2014) [19:23]
Pedro RABELO (b. 1972)
Exposure 4.1 (2010) [9:25]
André HAMEL (b. 1955)
Brumes matinales et textures urbaines (2007) [18:21]
Wolf EDWARDS (b. 1972)
Outer Planes – Predator Drone MQ-1 (2013) [14:53]
Quasar Saxophone Quartet
rec. 28-30 January 2015, Studio 270, Montréal

I wouldn’t normally go for saxophone quartet recordings these days having fallen out of love with the sound somewhat through a mild overdose sometime in the dim and distant past, but this Quasar Saxophone Quartet disc is something different. Working with electronics, there are swathes of sound in these pieces that you probably wouldn’t guess are connected with saxophone, and this only goes to show what an extra bit of imagination can deliver.

Pierre Alexandre Tremblay’s Les pâleurs de la lune opens with sustained notes, punctuated by little bumps and ticks and organ-like filigrees, all of which develop as the intensity of the pedal-tone waxes and wanes. The title comes from a quote in Bertrand’s Les Fantaisies de Gaspard de la Nuit, and the composer adds that “So much beauty surrounds us, when we give it time! Often, it emerges from a simple meeting and goes unnoticed. At a second glance, it yields its deeper nature, replete with subtleties and richness. Such nuances appear to us when we allow ourselves to contemplate the moon!” This piece engages not only with the mystery and majesty of the moon, but also with wider nocturnal sounds – insects perhaps, and that surprisingly restless world that emerges after dark. Perhaps also the interference we encounter in viewing the moon from Earth – flickering atmospheric distortions and the like. Either way, the imagination has plenty on which to feed, and there are some impressively climactic moments from both the saxophones and the vast electronic canvas in this work.

Pedro Rebelo’s Exposure 4.1 “explores the space between determinacy and indeterminacy regarding the distribution of musical material among the four instruments.” There is therefore always a difference between performances, with the electronic part acting as a kind of encoding of the score, “maintaining an intimate, chamber music-like relationship to the instrumental part.” We are further left wondering as to the associations the composer might have with the actual music, but such an open field leaves us free to add our own interpretations. I hear wit in some of the inflections in the instrumental parts, with clear patterns of tension and intensity building and transforming, and surreal worlds emerging as the electronics merge and add their big, globular emphases to the lively, animal-like pen in which the saxophones run around and argue with each other.

André Hamel’s notes for Brumes matinales et textures urbaines are almost shorter than the piece’s title: “After a night of pleasures and sensual delights, they were forced from their morning languor, showered, dressed, had a cup of coffee, ate and, without saying a word, rushed into the daily whirlwind of human activity.” The ‘urban textures’ are illustrated by punchy rhythmic chords, murmuring crowd scenes and howling soprano saxophones – a variety of sonic layers that are echoed and overlaid to create an orchestral scale. The surprises are often in changes of perspective – gear changes or movements from one scene to another, in which the sound of the saxophones are thrown into an electronic pit of possibilities. A vast chasm opens up to be filled once again with the massed tumult of voices and soprano-sax sirens, and a gurgle of key-klicks becomes a field of office computers. The brumes of the opening return towards the end, leaving us in a grim and dystopian landscape.

Wolf Edwards’ piece has two titles “in order to consider it from multiple perspectives.” Outer Planes “is meant to be a musical example of the intangible and esoteric nature of non-material ideas.” Predator Drone MQ-1, referring to one of the CIA’s unmanned aerial vehicles, meets head-on with “modern politics and [an] overall rejection of current ideologies” and the civilian casualties incurred by drone strikes in distant and not-so distant lands. This is a piece which revolves around a single tone, the feeling of flight of one kind or another ever present. There is some violence in the saxophone writing, but the greater impression is one of abstract musical poetry, perhaps emphasised by wordless vocalising early on in the piece, as well as in the rhetorical nature of the material for saxophones.

If you are intrigued by the idea of saxophone quartet plus electronics then this is a very fertile place to investigate such territory. Recording production is very good, and the usual QB cardboard gatefold also has a compact and well-presented booklet with notes in French and English.

Dominy Clements



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