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at62x2   Antoine Beuger - Cantor Quartets

Jürg Frey - clarinet

Sarah Hughes - e-bow zither

Dominic Lash - double bass

Radu Malfatti - trombone

2 CDs, #1 77:56   #2  72:41

Recorded in Oxfordshire, June 2012

Youtube extract


Antoine Beuger composed his ‘Cantor Quartets’ in 2003.  There are 15 pages in the score, four of which are presented on this double CD. Each page contains four lines with seven notes each, all of which should be played gently and for a long or very long duration. Instrumentation is unspecified, and the notes can be played in any octave.

Formally the piece is constructed a bit like a round such as ‘Row, row, row your boat’, in that Player A plays the first line as a solo, then when he/she moves on to the second line, Player B starts the first line. Player C starts when Player B begins the second line and Player A starts the third, and so on.  The page finishes when Player A finishes the fourth line.  

So each page slowly becomes denser as it progresses, starting as a solo, becoming a duet, then a trio, and ending as a quartet.

This realisation was performed in the church in the village of Combe near Oxford. Each of the four pages was played just once without rehearsal. Various aircraft passed overhead during the course of the afternoon, and these sounds became part of the music.


“Listeners of free improvisation are well accustomed to the exploration of silence and subtly resonant gesture in the music, and to some of the compositional lineages which has shaped music once called “reductionist.” Considerable attention has been given, these last few years, to the Wandelweiser collective, whose leading representatives include flautist Antoine Beuger, clarinetist Jürg Frey, and guitarist Michael Pisaro. In their compositions, these musicians have not only been unafraid to explore near total silence and the limits (audible and technical) of their instruments, they have also unreservedly embraced tonality in places and blended idioms (as with the regular use of vocals).

If there is a sometimes glassy quality to Beuger’s music on the Dedalus disc on Potlatch, Beuger’s Cantor Quartets come across – despite a shared methodology of layering and lamination and extended silence – as more woolen. Beuger’s compositional instincts for timbre, resonation, and setting are audible on this two-disc set, documenting four pages of his lengthy 2003 composition. Recorded in an Oxfordshire church in Summer 2012, it features Frey (clarinet), Sarah Hughes (e-bow zither), Dominic Lash (bass), and Radu Malfatti (trombone). Unlike spare settings where each musician has a limited number of allotted notes per time period, or something, this one is about wellings up, dynamic arcs, and decay. It is very faint music, living in quiet oscillations, minor details that accrue significance as they make themselves known in their very suggestiveness and tendency to fade (a hint of tinnitus, a slowly lingering layer of which instruments one cannot tell, an audible fragment from a sonic painting of some sort). It takes its time in the first “page,” until at length there is an expansion, a deepening, as the music seems to find its own areas of tension, the layering now revealing semi-tones and half-tones between instruments (Malfatti’s low end is especially effective with Lash), and there is some tonal movement too. The second “page” resides in a space of more steady incandescence, with Hughes and Frey crucial in generating so many overtones. During the latter half of its forty minutes there are moments of real pause and suspension through intervals and differing oscillations, absolutely riveting stuff in the smallest of registers. The third “page” opens with a somewhat ragged low drone, mostly Lash for the opening sequences that concentrate in the lower and middle registers. There are long, but not achingly so, silences, an upwelling symphony of foghorns, and it’s particularly impressive how Beuger engages deliberately wrought timbral difference despite the continued presence of juxtaposition and overlap of instruments. There is also an unexpected and absolutely stunning sequence: a plane engine Doppler-ing away as high instruments join, forming a full tone field, as the piece entire just simply lifts in a single resonant chord. The final “page” retreats into almost total hush, with tiny particles in the upper register producing sine tone effects, super sinuous and restrained even compared to what’s come before. Following another unexpected event, the glorious foghorn chorus midway through, there is a long wind-down to an ominous thrum with deep resonance and spectral overtones. What bewitching music, almost like listening in to interstellar dust forming a proto-planet.”

Jason Bivins, Point of Departure

“Dutch-born flautist Antoine Beuger was one of the founders of Wandelweiser back in 1992. Since then, his compositions and recordings have mainly been published by Editions Wandelweiser but this album plus Dedalus (Potlatch, 2013) and This Place / Is Love (Erstwhile, 2013)—recorded with his fellow Wandelweiser members Jürg Frey and Michael Pisaro, respectively—represent a surge of Beuger releases compared to his previously modest output. Yes, interest in Wandelweiser continues to grow...

Unlike on those other recent releases, Beuger himself does not play on Cantor Quartets, no great loss as the music here is produced by a first-rate quartet of players with extensive experience of Wandelweiser—in fact, all four had key roles on the epic six-CD set Wandelweiser Und So Weiter (Another Timbre, 2012), which is now reprinted and available again.

The combination of clarinet, trombone, double bass and zither was well chosen to render pages from Beuger's Cantor Quartets; that composition consists of fifteen pages (although only four of them are played here), each containing four lines of seven notes each, intended to be played gently and for a long or very long duration. Each page is played as a "round" with the second player beginning the first line as the first player begins the second line, so that each page starts as a solo then becomes a duo then a trio before ending as a quartet. The sounds of the four instruments are distinct enough for that structure to be clearly heard without any blurring of the boundaries between them. The music is on an epic scale, the renditions of the four pages taking just over two-and-a-half hours and filling two CD's. As so often with Wandelweiser pieces, the emphasis is on the instruments' sounds and there are frequent silences to frame those sounds. All four pieces here evolve slowly and deliberately with their own irrefutable logic and tranquility.”

John Eyles, All About Jazz

“Admirers of Beuger have had little to complain about recently, this fine release coming on the heels of the Pisaro/Beuger collaboration on Erstwhile and just preceding a new one on l'Innomable. An excess of evanescent riches.

You can see a description of the piece here as well as a copy of the score. As noted, four pages out of 15 are presented on two discs here, the performances taking between 34 and 40 minutes each, presented by the rather stellar quartet of Jürg Frey (clarinet), Sarah Hughes (e-bow zither), Dominic Lash (double bass) and Radu Malfatti (trombone). Even without the explanation, the music is extremely transparent, the long, soft notes, in unison or adjacent octaves, accreting gradually, with vast silences between, the sounds emerging and disappearing like 15 minutes of morning light patterns on a wall. (looking at the Dan Flavin installation at Dia Beacon last week, I was strangely reminded of Beuger's music, though mentally substituting--if this is conceivable--a range of whites instead of Flavin's candy tones) Even more so than with much of Beuger's music, or related work, the listener is virtually forced to consider surrounding environmental sounds; more often than not, I find them to be central, tinged by Beuger's. This morning, someone in an apartment on our street was playing what sounded like a Middle Eastern flute, perhaps a ney; it meshed beautifully, as do cars and street sweepers. I was often unaware when a disc had ended.

I can imagine that performing the work is an exacting affair. So odd, and wonderful, that listening to it is the opposite.”

Brian Olewnick, Just Outside

“Ce disque n'est pas forcément arrivé au bon moment pour moi. A plusieurs écoutes, il m'a ennuyé, voire irrité. Et puis par moments, je le trouvais captivant. Cela vient en partie de moi qui ne suis pas forcément apte à écouter ces dernières semaines ce genre de pièces, mais aussi du fait que les cantor quartets sont quatre pièces longues, linéaires, monotones, et qui réclament une attention totale. Et je dois avouer que les quelques fois où j'ai pu leur accorder cette attention, où j'ai su m'immerger complètement dans cette musique, elle m'a vraiment absorbé et captivé.

Pour le présenter rapidement, ce double disque est l'interprétation de quatre pages des Cantor Quartets composés par Antoine Beuger, quatre pages jouées par Radu Malfatti (trombone), Jürg Frey (clarinette), Sarah Hughes (cithare) et Dominic Lash (contrebasse). Chaque page est structurée de la même manière, un canon de sept notes et de quatre lignes. Le premier musicien joue seul les sept premières notes et passe à la seconde ligne, le second commence alors la première ligne, et ainsi de suite jusqu'à ce que le premier ait joué les 28 notes. Chaque musicien ne joue qu'une note à la fois, une note longue, faible, calme, et laisse bien sûr de grands silences entre chacune. On se retrouve alors avec quatre lignes jouées sur près de quarante minutes à chaque fois. Voilà ce qui paraît long et monotone, et peut facilement irrité.

Mais au-delà de cette forme, il se passe quand même des trucs captivants. D'une part, il y a ces silences : des silences qui ne sont ni pleins ni vides, où il ne se passe quasiment rien sauf un avion qui passe de temps à autres, des évènements très sporadiques qui prennent d'autant plus de force. Et le quartet joue avec ce trafic aérien. Mais le plus intéressant n'est pas dans ce dialogue assez anecdotique avec l'extérieur. Ce qui rend ce double disque captivant, ce sont les couples instrumentaux, les divisions du quartet. Bon déjà, on le voit tout de suite, il y a deux instruments à cordes, et deux instruments à vent (deux générations de musiciens aussi), deux instruments qui jouent dans les registres graves, et deux dans les aigus (mais qui n'appartiennent pas à la même famille). Et aussi, on a d'un côté Radu Malfatti qui a su au fil des années acquérir un son d'une neutralité complète, un son d'une stabilité et d'une indifférence hallucinantes, avec à ses côtés Sarah Hughes qui n'utilise sa cithare qu'avec un e-bow, ce qui lui donne des airs de sinusoïdes ; et on a de l'autre côté un couple opposé aux phrasés tremblants et incertains de Jürg Frey et Dominic Lash, qui varient toujours la colonne d'air et la pression de l'archet.

Des graves et des aigus, des cordes et des vents, des interventions propres et sures et des interventions tremblantes au bord de l'évanouissement. Autant d'éléments qui parfois se  croisent, parfois s'opposent ou se confondent, parfois dialoguent et parfois s'ignorent. Mais ce sont ces couples d'oppositions et de similarités qui font bien toute la richesse de cette session - autant voire plus que les différences entre les pages jouées, ou les différences d'ordre d'entrée des musiciens. Et puis bien sûr, il y a la structure de ces pages qui font de chaque pièce une œuvre qui prend de plus en plus de densité, qui devient de plus en plus riche et complexe au fur et mesure des entrées.  Après voilà, je l'ai déjà dit, ce disque est très long, et demande beaucoup beaucoup d'attention, il y a un moment où l'on décroche - mais rien n'oblige de tout écouter d'un coup après. Il y a quelque chose qui relève du défi lancé à l'auditeur dans la longueur et la monotonie, mais quand on le relève, un bon nombre de surprises nous attendent.”

Julien Héraud, Improv-Sphere

“No listener could forget Antoine Beuger’s Calme Etendue (Spinoza), in which the 17th century philosopher’s Ethics was intoned slowly and monotonically across 180 hours. (The recording fortunately offered only a taster.) Beuger co-founded the Wandelweiser group in 1992, with its Cageian aesthetic that “[integrates] silence(s) rather than an ongoing carpet of never-ending sound”. Radu malfatti’s words aptly describe Beuger’s Cantor Quartets (2003), four pages of which are performed by Jurg Frey (clarinet), Malfatti (trombone), Sarah Hughes (E-bow zither) and Dominic Lash (bass) – unlike on other recent releases, Beuger himself does not play on this one.

Each page has four lines with seven notes each, played in any octave, gently and for a long duration. The result is like a round – B starts when A begins the second line, C starts when B begins the second line, and so on – but so attenuated that traditional associations disappear. Cantor Quartets were recorded unrehearsed, in single takes, in the village church at Combe, near Oxford, and a few passing aircraft entered the mix too. The four pages take just over two and a half hours and fill two CDs. Sounds and framing silences are in slow but seemingly inexorable evolution – especially on disc two, beating or interference patterns between the instruments are prominent. Conceptual, narrowly focused and somewhat obsessive, Cantor Quartets is a fine example of the compositional end of Another Timbre’s catalogue.”

Andy Hamilton, The Wire

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