Another Timbre TimHarrisonbre
Sleevenotes by Wade Matthews:
“Perusing Ovis while translating a text on Rubens’ Vertumnus and Pomona, I came across the story of Arethusa, a metaphorical tale of flight and transformation that speaks to the identity of the musicians on the present CD, their artistic evolution and their way of making music. Arethusa - a Nereid nymph and virginal servant of the Greek goddess Artemis (Diana the Huntress to the Romans) - takes a dip in a stream, not knowing it belongs to the river god, Alpheus. Alpheus pursues her with carnal intent. Arethusa flees but is unable to outrun the libidinous river. She cries out to Artemis, who quickly envelops her in a dense cloud, successfully hiding Arethusa from the god. Fear and the exertion of running cause her to perspire so heavily that, hidden in the fog, she gradually turns into a stream. Alpheus is eager to mingle his waters with hers, but Artemis opens a subterranean channel that bears Arethusa’s stream to Ortygia in Sicily, where she becomes a fountain.
For two expatriate musicians, this story speaks of attitudes towards change, perception and identity. Arethusa is fleeing not Alpheus’ sexual aggression, but rather the change it would wreak. And therein lies the first paradox, for Arethusa’s escape is brought about by her transformation. It is unbidden metamorphosis - not the cloud - that actually saves her. While Alpheus contnues to search for her in the mist, Arethusa becomes water and flows away from him. But what has she escaped? And what has she lost? In her flight from change she is irredemiably transformed. From a forest-dwelling nymph at the service of Arteis, she metamorphoses into a Sicilian fountain. She has not escaped change at all.
And here we reach the second paradox. Not only has Arethusa changed; in her quest to remain herself, she has become exactly what she fled. The forest nymph’s contact with water is irremediable, her change ineluctable. First she takes a dip in the water, then she is pursued by a god in the formof a river. Artemis hides her in a cloud - yet another form of water - while she perspires until she herself becomes a stream, flowing until she becomes a fountain. Fleeing from a river she fears will rob her of all she holds dear, she becomes water herself.
Of course, change and identity are keys to any improviser’s praxis, for change is the only constant, and improvising calls for a carefully weighed mix of action and reaction. Action comes from within; reaction from a clear grasp of what is happening at every moment, that is, the capacity to perceive change and flow with it while remaining oneself. We generally associate perception with learning and thus with knowledge, yet its strongest ties to change and identity may lie in the attitude that accompanies the perceptual act. For improvisers, the most fecund may be that of acceptance. Improvisation is context-based art making and contexts are in constant change. Perceiving change is thus imperative, but it must be accompanied by acceptance, by the recognition that a perceived change has already happened. Acceptance of this is essential to the cognitive agility one needs in order to continue creating one’s music. The poles are Proteus and Procrustes and one hopes to be closer to the former than the latter.
Perhaps the story of Arethusa is an object lesson in the dangers of non-acceptance - a delicate point if we read it too superficially. I am not advocating Arethusa’s surrender to Alpheus, nor her mere acceptance of the obvious fact that change is inevitable, but rather that identity per se is inevitably linked not to immobility but to change. The question is how to use change to maintain identity, rather than to destroy it. Therein lies freedom. I think that is what this music is about.”
“Sometimes a beautiful idea gives birth to a beautiful work. That is the case here: the idea was to put Stéphane Rives (on soprano saxophone) face to face with Wade Matthews (on fields recordings and electronics). And the work in question is Arethusa.
On Arethusa a dialogue takes place not with words but with unusual sounds. Unusual to such a point that it’s difficult to define the sounds except by using comparisons: like the peaceful atmosphere of a corner of central Java, or like light being transcribed into musical notes which filter through to the deepest of underground spaces. Which is to say that the collaboration of Rives and Matthews is essentially a natural one, which plays with materials (wood especially ), three of the four elements (water, earth and air), and with numerous silences. A decrescendo, and the duo disappears.”
- Pierre Cécile, Le Son du Grisli
“A fine amalgamation of software-generated synthetic sounds, treated field recordings and soprano saxophone that spells out its legitimacy over four tracks, each different in terms of sonority and, at the very least, engaging when not veritably transfixing. Such is the case of the opening segment, a painstaking vacillation of elevated pitches - some of them pretty smooth, other uneven – that initiates a series of natural glissandos and shrilling adjacencies whose near-incandescent vibrancy is essential for a thorough purging of the auricular conduits. The second track is adequate if a little more normal, rolling percussiveness of the wooden kind and stinging whistle mixing in various degrees of cohesiveness. Not groundbreaking, but nice. The third subdivision increases the distance between the events, also extending the brain’s faculty of anticipating a sonic occurrence while still remaining astounded by the glory of selected sudden appearances. It happens with imposingly resounding bumps and pulses, in turn eliciting subsonic ramifications amidst solid materials caressed by Rives’ extemporaneous sibilance, mystifying harmonics, bumblebee buzzes and aborted honks. A ceremonial aura permeates this section, intermittently turning it into a quasi-paranormal experience. The record is ended by a piece juxtaposing severe upper partials and whispered talking, the whole surrounded by less decipherable manifestations, grainy hissing and sub-quaking drones. I could have done without the vocal constituent; however, this remains a completely fitting conclusion for a frequently magnetizing release.” Massimo Ricci, Temporary Fault
“Arethusa is a nymph from Greek mythology whose name means "the waterer". Matthews (software synthesis, field recordings) and Rives (soprano) kind of produce music along the lines I expected, the former eliciting rumbles, sometimes percolating, the latter high-pitched, rough-edged keens but it works well for the most part. Part of it, again, is the space between sounds, a nice sense of depth achieved. There's also a fine relaxedness about it, not something one always associates with Rives' work, a slow, steady pace that sits well. Good recording.” - Brian Olewnick, Just Outside
“Two new, or at least less known names for me, in the world of improvised music. Wade Matthews is credited with software synthesis & manipulated field recordings and Stephane Rives is credited with soprano saxophone. He is playing the soprano saxophone in an unconventional way, of course, very minimal, sublime, mostly producing hissing sounds... At the same time, the electronic sounds of Wade Matthews are making rumbles that intervene with the saxophone, also sublime and precise, dissolving into a hypnotic kind of atmosphere, putting you into a trance kind of mood, a primary state of being... 'Arethusa' is music in a state of becoming, desintegrated even before it achieves it's full form... At the edge of existence... At the edge of presence... A sheer minimalistic beauty... I would definitely like to see and listen to the both of these musicians play this at a concert... Excellent album!” - Boban Ristevski, Outlands
“Something I really enjoy in improvised music is the simple contrast between two differing instrumental approaches when combined in duo formation. Quite often, the combination of acoustic and electronic sound works best for me, maximising the potential contrasts and combinations that can be made between two musicians working together. The album I have been listening to today, a recent release by Wade Matthews and Stephane Rives is a good example of this.
Аρέθουσα, or (Arethusa as I will type it from here on!) was recorded in Madrid, Spain in 2008. Matthews, who works with software synths here along with processed field recordings, is an American ex-pat who has been a resident of the Spanish capital for a good few years now. Rives, who plays soprano sax here is a Frenchman who, last I heard was living in the Lebanon. Matthews’ intelligently written sleeve notes allude to change, comparing the musicians’ displacement from their homelands to the flight of Arethusa in the classic Greek tale. Certainly it is interesting to stop and think about how the sounds recorded here came together, the chance occurrences, the coincidental decisions made, how these musicians happened to be in the same place at the same time to record this music. When you consider again how Matthews has evolved his work away from his origins as a clarinet player to his input to this album then the journey to this point becomes even more complex.
Of course though, none of this matters matters to the listener that puts the CD into his/her player and sits and listens to the music separated completely from its history does it? or does it? Certainly I find myself with this album thinking about the history of the sounds used, and the processes undertaken by both musicians to reach the area of sound they use on these pieces. As Matthews has changed instrumentation and found his own distinctive voice via a laptop, so Rives has also developed his own personal sound with the sax, working mainly with very high register notes and screams. Rives in fact holds his ground in a kind of minimal, highly focussed area for the length of the entire album. He works mainly with these piercing sustained notes presumably created in places using some kind of circular breathing. There is a rough, knife-edge feel to his sound, the notes he picks are rarely clean and clear. They are sharp and as high pitched as I have heard from a sax before but have a grainy undercurrent to them. His placement of sounds, and also the silences he leaves between them is exceptional.
Wade Matthews’ contributions to the four tracks here vary quite a bit from the slightly sci-fi, bird-like warblings of the opening piece, through the clatter and occasionally claustrophobic shuffling on the second and third through to the fast spoken treated whispering of the final track. There are sections of sound that remind me of Jeph Jerman’s percussion using found wooden instruments, tumbling, low-key bone-like clatter. Then there are areas where his synthetic output is clearly designed to blend with Rives’ sax, confusing the boundaries between the two. Most often though, as with the looming electronic clouds and throngs of overlaid insistent voices that close the album the electronic sound here is very different to the acoustic and the main interest I have in the album is in the contrast between the two.
A cynic might say that the four pieces here just place different sounds up against Rives’ trademark sounds to see what happens each time, but there is something more subtle here. Both musicians seem to adapt their approaches for each track, perhaps starting in one place and them moving either closer to their companion or finding a space that compliments the contributions of the other. the four tracks can be slit evenly into those that see the two musicians creeping together, and those that highlight the differences in chosen sounds. the exercise undertaken as a listener, comparing, considering the sonic gap between the musicians is a fun and interesting one to undertake. I don’t always like Matthews’ contributions, preferring his use of treated source material more than his improvised digital synthesis, but my fascination in this music comes not from the particular features of each sound, but in the spaces between them, the negative shapes thrown up in the gaps and the way they shift and change as the music progresses.
Arethusa is an interesting release that provides a rewarding listen then. It doesn’t leave any hairs standing on end, or cause me to flinch in surprise at any of its twists and turns, but it is one of those discs that makes you stop and think about how it was made, and the enjoyment in the listening (for me at least) comes from the unravelling of these processes as the music moves along. A fine, engaging listen.” - Richard Pinnell, The Watchful Ear
“In ancient Greek mythology the story about Arethusa is about flight and transformation - you look it up somewhere, but the story is also quoted on the cover, as there is a parallel to the musicians Wade Matthews (software synthesis and manipulated field recordings) and Stephane Rives (soprano saxophone). They recorded this work in Madrid in 2008 and it’s all about transformation too. It’s not, as one would expect on a label of improvised music, a work that was recorded in concert but recorded over an eight day period in a studio. The liner notes, which draws various parallels to Greek mythology, doesn't say in which way the improvised music was altered or mixed after it was recorded, but I think it was quite a bit. Rives plays sine wave like sounds on his saxophone, below which Matthews weaves together a closed range of gentle software based changes of field recordings, of which the origins can no longer be recognized. The result, in four pieces, is great. Meditative improvised music. Soft at times, but quite outspoken at other times.” - Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly
“Frenchman Stephane Rives plays soprano saxophone, or at least one register of his instrument - the super-high register, from which he harvests an impressively varied palette of muffled rumbles, overblown screams and pure high notes, all delivered with a tone like acid, to sustain himself over the 45 minutes it takes to play this album. Wade Matthews accompanies Rives’s wall of sonics armed with a laptop and manipulated filed recordings that sometimes sound generic - like the domino effect of falling wood that appears during the first piece; an empty gesture considering Rives’s already objectified saxophone - but he pulls off bona fide magic during the last track, interweaving whispering, barely audible Leonard Cohen-like patterns against dispersing saxophone textures.” - Philip Clark, The Wire
“You could be excused for thinking Wade Matthews lives in Athens, not Madrid: what
with this and the Chrysakis trio reviewed above, it looks like Greek titles are the
rage this month. This is not the first time the French-born American reed player
and laptopper (he leaves the horns in their cases on this outing, concentrating on
software synthesis and manipulated field recordings) has recorded with soprano saxophonist
Stéphane Rives – but their last outing together half a decade ago wasn't a duo, but
a quartet also featuring Ingar Zach and Quentin Dubost (Dining Room Music, Creative
The tale of Arethusa, the Nereid nymph who turns into a brook while trying to escape the river god Alpheus and who, as a result, to quote Matthews' liner notes, "in her quest to remain herself [..] has become exactly what she fled", is for the musician "an object lesson in the dangers of non-acceptance [..]. The question is how to use change to maintain identity, rather than to destroy it." As far as identity goes, his playing partner here is pretty easy to spot. A decade or so ago, Stéphane Rives was just another improvising saxophonist searching for his voice. On the highly acclaimed 2003 solo album on Potlatch, Fibres, he found it: while other reed players were still busy exploring the flutters and splutters, Rives headed for the stratosphere and concentrated his attention on sustained high notes, the result sounding more like Sachiko M's empty sampler than a soprano sax. In the world of extreme solo wind instrument improv albums, Fibres takes some beating – but its sheer austerity has made it a hard act to follow. On last year's follow up solo on Al Maslakh, Much Remains To Be Heard, Rives tried to go further down the same road before realising he'd already reached the end of it on the earlier album; and on his collaborative ventures since the Potlatch debut, including a saxophone quartet on the same label and the CS release mentioned above, his playing partners have had agendas of their own, and haven't always seemed that eager to follow Rives to the ends of the earth.
Arethusa works better than the abovementioned discs, precisely because, instead of trying either to compete with or complement his playing partner (though he does give those high frequencies a thorough going over in the first of the album's four tracks), Matthews concentrates on his own laptop work, and it's impeccable, with its gloomy gongs, stochastic splattering marimbas and treated field recordings, strange windows opening inwards to dusty attics of sound in which Rives cheeps and peeps like a baby bird abandoned in a nest. The result is arresting and memorable, another fine addition to Matthews' small but excellent discography, and perhaps Rives' most successful outing since Fibres.”
- Dan Warburton, Paris Transatlantic
“Just where it is the sounds on Wade Matthews and Stéphane Rives's Arethusa reside is never quite clear. It's a nomadic album, wandering, homeless maybe, elusive to be sure. From the first tone, which is either Rives' soprano sax or Matthews's electronics or a combination of both, there's a profound feeling of not being in on the proceedings. The tone starts to stutter, then doubles, then circles and slurs and at some point some soft whirs and purrs came in unnoticed.
Key to Arethusa as a listening experience, in other words, is that it goes by unnoticed, but not unheard. The record is very present in the ears, but it's cryptic enough that the listener has to keep on task, for it's not a sonic environment that should be dismissed too quickly. And in that regard, for its first half hour or so, it's fascinating. The soft intoning of the opening nine-minute track gives way quite easily to a more percussive second track (all are untitled), seemingly built from fingered percussion on the sax but, again, it's unclear. Matthews is credited with "software synthesis & manipulated field recordings," which means, or suggests anyway, that the sounds could literally have emerged from anywhere in the natural or cyber world.
With the third track (at 17 minutes the longest of the four) — which is dominated by breathy exhalations, gongs and birds, all seemingly lost in a cloud — the recording slowly starts to gain a foothold, a sense of place if still murky, only to give way to a persistent but sputtering buzzing. The overriding sense of displacement could be unnerving here, but it doesn't have to be. At least not until the final track. The album resolves itself with a 12-minute piece that weaves prerecorded voices into the mix, spoken segments that seem to be have been arbitrarily edited so that not only is following the conversation (is it a conversation?) impossible, but even deciphering the language is difficult. Bits of English ultimately slip through, but catching enough of a phrase to hang on to is still difficult. Sound without meaning can usually, or sometimes anyway, be absorbed without trouble. But spoken language robbed of syntax is worrisome. Why is this voice whispering? And is it saying something we need to know? It creates a nice element of danger, and a captivating final act.” - Kurt Gottschalk, Squid’s Ear
“Britské vydavatelství Another Timbre zosnoval zvukař Simon Reynell teprve na sklonku roku 2006 de facto s úmyslem zprostředkovat posluchačům to, co by se většinou nikdo jiný vydat neodvážil. Nešlo ovšem o žádné nestravitelné experimenty per se, ale o vysoce náročnou hudbu oscilující mezi současnou kompozicí a svobodnou improvizací. Tento zdánlivě donquiotský počin měl však až nečekaný úspěch a setkal se s nadšením nejen u odborné kritiky, ale i s relativně značným ohlasem u laických příznivců neotřelých hudebních výbojů. Díky tomu tento label i přes veškeré těžkosti, které s sebou podobné nadšenecké podnikání nutně provází, docela vzkvétá a například jen v prosinci roku 2009 spatřily světlo světa hned čtyři pozoruhodné tituly, které dokazují, že sheffielsdský rodák Reynell není jen lokálním patriotem, ale jde mu jednoznačně o podstatu věci bez ohledu na národnost či danou místo vzniku svébytného díla.
Původem Američan, specialista na softwarové hračičkářství a upravované terénní nahrávky Wade Matthews a francouzský sopransaxofonista Stéphane Rives se potkali ve svém současném působišti, španělské metropoli Madridu a rozhodli se po svém zvukově ztvárnit antickou báji o nymfě Arethuse, která jim byla blízká právě pro svou touhu po svobodě, jež ji přivedla k daleké pouti a následné metamorfóze v pramen, potažmo ve fontánu. Tento komplikovaný, různě variovaný příběh s mnoha metaforickými rovinami inspiroval v průběhu mnoha staletí celou řadu umělců v různých odvětvích a do značné míry odrážel právě zkušenosti těchto dvou světoběžníků, kteří díky svým putováním sami procházejí leckdy i určitými dobrovolnými i nedobrovolným proměnami, ale jejich cílem zůstává si zachovat svou – byť modifikovanou – identitu. Je to vlastně další příklad, že globalizace a postmodernismus mají své kořeny v dávné historii. Spojení elektroniky a živého nástroje tu představuje víc než dokonalou symbiózu. Dramatický děj je vyjádřen za pomoci nerepetitivního minimalismu a odráží spíše jemné záhyby duševních pochodů nežli thrillerovou podstatu, s jakou by se s největší pravděpodobností z(mermo)mocnili honitbě machistického říčního boha na křehkou a přesto silnou bytost hollywoodští tvůrci či jejich nohsledi. “ - Petr Slaby, Raw
Anyone who can provide a translation of the Czech review above, please get in touch.
Wade Matthews software synthesis & manipulated field recordings
Stéphane Rives soprano saxophone
recorded in Madrid, July 2008