Rives est un saxophoniste bien inspiré, qui n'hésite
pas à maltraiter son instrument pour lui prouver son amour.
Son album. solo, désarçonne: il ne sonne pas comme
un disque de saxo classique et Stéphane Rives s'inscrit ainsi
dans une tradition de détournement et de filtrage. Y pénétrer
est une affaire ardue: Larsen et Le Roseau #1 est un long
sifflement, autour duquel tournoient des bruits microscopiques.
Pendant près de neuf minutes, le saxophoniste module son
instrument qui siffle, se métamorphose doucement, vrille
la tête. Ce premier palier franchi, Granulations #1 et
#2 mettent en perspective d'autres modulations, des sonorités
concrètes, des bourdonnements, enregistrés à
faible volume. Fibres est ainsi un précis des possibilités
du saxophone, observé sous un microscope extrêmement
découvre ce disque sans les assurances d'usage que peuvent
donner un nom connu, la renommée d'un musicien, une appartenance
à un clan ou à une caste. Rien, si ce n'est le label
Potlatch et les autres noms qui s'y associent, certes pas des moindres
: Derek Bailey, Joëlle Léandre, Evan Parker, Keith Rowe,
Michel Doneda, Axel Dörner, Xavier Charles... engagés
dans l'improvisation internationale, cette déjà vieille
Histoire, devenue un idiome, mais peut-être toujours un espace
d'expérimentation, de ratages et d'accords parfaits. Aucune
biographie à laquelle s'accrocher pour entendre (pour comprendre
le mouvement d'un instrument vers le son qui se donne là).
Juste les titres, peu littéraires, comme : granulations,
larsen et le roseau, ébranlement. Quatre
mots qui contiennent en substance toute la musique de ce disque,
comme un retrait dans le son, ses propres histoires, leçons
d'acoustique et de météorologie.
Après s'il faut trouver une parenté, on ira du côté
d'un Tamio Shiraishi (ce son dans Ies aigus d'altitude et de souffrances
sonores) et des Jean-Luc Guionnet (l'organique et l'abstract sound),
John Butcher (sans le côté appliqué et brillant
de ce dernier), Bhob Rainey (une même interrogation des sonorités
électroniques sans le recours aux machines).
On comprendra que Stéphane Rives s'inscrit dans le courant
d'une improvisation des matières et des textures plus que
du jeu et des thèmes. Plus trivialement un putain de son
qui tarabuste le tympan et affole les marteaux, ouverture de gouffres
dans l'entendement. Doubles sons simultanés, high pitch dans
le splendide isolement des cimes et souffle proche de l'asthme,
proche du sinewave et du vent qui passe en force sous la porte.
Il en résulte une étrange abstraction presque inquiétante,
tant on n'entend plus un saxophone mais tout autre chose, sans pouvoir
pour autant nommer cette autre chose.
N'aIlez pas croire qu'il y a là une prouesse, que finalement
cela ne tiendrait qu'à de la technique, à un pouvoir
de dissimulation, ce serait peu de chose au regard de la musique
sur ce disque. Dans les granulations, on atteint une telle décomposition
de ce qui constitue pour les académies la musique, qu'on
est littéralement sonné, troué par cette vrille
sonique, ponceuse à métaux appliquée à
l'oreille humaine, sons tournants roboratifs arrachant des copeaux
de nos fondements culturels, incertitude de ce qui se joue et comment.
Fibres est un album bruitiste comme ceux de Merzbow pouvaient
l'être, sans l'hystérie et la dépense, encore
que j'imagine la torture que cela a dû être de se tenir
droit dans ce son plein d'aspérités, de granulations
métalliques. Gargarisme sonore pour laver les fondements
d'une improvisation besogneuse, dans l'écart et la monomanie
des obsédés du son absolu, du son sale parce que vivant,
foutrement vivant. Pas un corps d'humain soufflant, mais une pompe
à air embouchée aux poumons, souffles continus à
hauteur toujours égale prolongeant au-delà de l'humain,
coureur de fond d'une apocalypse bruitiste.
Assurément l'un des plus beaux disques sortis sur Potlatch
avec celui du trio Butcher/Charles/Dörner, un certain cousinage,
l'élégance en moins, la dépense en plus.
l Décembre 2003
brings together seven circular-breathing soprano saxophone solos,
grouped by Rives into three categories. The two tracks classified
as Larsen et le roseau feature a stream of breathy emissions
underlying a separate continuous high-pitched line shifting in frequency
and intensity as a result of what appear to be both controlled modulations
and the inevitable irregularities in the demanding process of simultaneously
breathing in and blowing out. In the three Granulations
the high-pitched line is dispensed with in favour of an exclusive
focus on the microscopic world of unpitched respiratory flows through
the interior of the saxophone. The final group of two tracks that
bear the title Ébranlement (harsh) are rather more
difficult to describe, and perhaps the siren-like Ébranlement
#1 and the stridulous Ébranlement #2 ultimately
share little more than a certain quality of harshness. However that
may be, Rives’ work across the CD is uniformly excellent.
Recordings of experimental solo saxophone run the risk of degenerating
into quasi-scientific reports of isolated sonic effects divorced
from any interesting musical application, but Fibres fortunately
avoids such sterility, not least because of its incorporation of
frequent, subtle and engaging shifts of pitch, volume and texture
within each track. I was particularly taken with the Granulations,
a set of almost aquatic coursings and undulations that seem to represent
a signal advance in the peculiar poetry of percolating phlegm that
a small band of advanced reeds and brass players have been developing
over the last decade. This is without doubt difficult and demanding
music that demands repeated close listening in favorable circumstances
and may well prove wholly inaccessible to many, but it is well worth
expending some time and attention on, for it holds out to the sympathetic
listener a rewarding intricacy of improvised passages with which
It seems like only yesterday that Franz Hautzinger made Gomberg,
Dörner released Trumpet on A Bruit Secret, and Bill
Dixon compiled Odyssey - documents of each man's work with
trumpet sound, stark and singular, evocative first of breathing,
second as industry's inevitable appearance as applications ofbreathing
(vacuums, kettles, car washes, hoses). Stéphane Rives's Fibres
CD (Potlatch) likewise opposes crafted lines against rich harmonic
backdrops and the disparate feels scrapbooked on Chain of Accidents.
Rives's soprano sax-playing might not owe anything to Hautzinger
and Dörner in terms ofinspiration or information, but they
are researching and working with the same set of sounds and sound-concems.
A painterly minimalism informs Fibres, bringing to mind
Seth Koen's white oil paint skid on plain canvas seen on the cover
of the Fetish record Object (less so the music, though
it too is related in its mission.) Both are concerned not with the
big picture but a protracted stare at the little one: the drama
of non-linear micro-textures in oil against the somewhat regular
texture of the canvas; exaltation of the "stuff:' the smallest
constituents of sound; a look at tone through a microscope; an extremeIy
narrow focus where pitch, tempo, volume, and harmonic variation
aren't the issue.
Fibres shares Trumpet's single long flow, which
can be punitive at times, delivering on its self-proclaimed interest
in "shaking up the listener's psychological security:"
While this is done in part via sound, the notion that one day we
might call this world of micro-variation and monomaniacal pursuit
of the minute "home" is also rather alarming. Because
of the work's austerity, one welcomes a saxophone quartet with Jean-Luc
Guionnet, Bertrand Denzler and Marc Baron if for no other reason
than to hear Rives in the company of others (Iikely to be sympathetic
to his aesthetic); the shift in musical priorities within a pronounced
musical demographic is plain to hear.
Fibres is an artifact from the outer reaches of the saxophone
in the year 2004. To those ends, vote for and congratulations to
Rives for going this way and this far with his music. Breaking down
the saxophone, reevaluating it, pushing into the new, into the not-yet-ruined-by-capitalism
- just as Dixon, Hautzinger, and Dörner have done with the
trumpet - is a revolutionary, selfless act, in a culture as hostile
as our, an economically suicidal one.
Stanley Zappa l
This album of solo soprano saxophone improvisations could easily
be audio discharge from an industrial combine factory. I mean that
in the most positive sense. Rives' explorations of the farther reaches
of the saxophone have a scientific feel on these seven tracks, as
if they were found recordings of abandoned machinery or aural documents
of a chemistry lab in the midst of equipment tests.
The most prevalent sound is a thin, high-pitched whistling: everything
you ever wanted to know about shrill. Larsen et le roseau #1
and Larsen et le roseau #2 account for 27 minutes of the
disc, and both explore the minute variations to be found in clear,
unwavering lines of shrill soprano emissions. What's remarkable
is how engaging it becomes once you give yourself up to the experience
of long intervals exploring tightly focused instrumental effects.
When the sound palette is so small, the deviations are that much
more intense - pauses are like earthquake alarms. Though the sounds
themselves resemble something like magnified mechanical consequences
of manufacturing, something overwhelmingly human and fragile emerges
from the minor shifts of articulation and breath over such long
Granulations #1 and Granulations #2 move the spotlight
over to wet, spluttery sounds: sucking up the last bubbling bits
of iced juice through a straw, Rives' music ebbs trom a screaming
cauldron of spit to a fizzle. A solid goose-like honk pervades Ébranlement
#1. Again, Rives doesn't run his fingers up and down the keypads
of the saxophone; instead, he makes a sound and holds it, letting
it bend and wiggle in small trembling variations over time.
This album requires and inspires a level of patience that even my
veteran ears are not accustomed to, but it keeps luring me back,
rewarding repeated listenings.
Andrew Choate l
By now, the advanced sound-world of the soprano saxophone seems
like a weil trodden path. Improvisers Evan Parker, John Butcher,
Michel Doneda, and a younger generation of players like Bhob Rainey
and Alessandro Bosetti ought to have pretty weil tapped out the
possibilities for sonic surprise.
But then this solo release by French soprano player Stéphane
Rives cornes along and forces listeners to reassess their assumptions.
Not that Rives is exactly working in entirely unexplored territory.
There is the use of extended breathing techniques, microtones and
pad pops, skirling sheets and sections of hushed micro-gestures.
But these seven solos quickly prove that he has developed a unique
and personal way of structuring these elemental sonic materials
with intensely focused deliberation.
Similar to the way that John Butcher's recent Fringes recording,
Rives divides the recording between a handful of strategies. The
Larsen et le roseau series extends high-pitched, circularly-breathed
multiphonics with slightIy fluttering oscillations, sounding at
times almost like electronic feedback. The two Ébranlement
pieces take a similar approach, but instead blare tones that quaver
with the faintest of modulations, playing games with a sense of
sonic placement. The Granulations series is all about pitted
and scrubbed textures, amplifying gurgles and breathes with the
subtlest shifts and pops of the keys of the hom.
And while the technique itself is nothing new, the hyper-concentration
elicits images of sonics beamed in from the inside of a solar storm.
This is one of those releases that command careful listening. Based
on this impressive solo outing, add Rives to the list of improvisers
to keep an eye on.
Michael Rosenstein l
Signal To Noise
labels have strived for, and achieved, a signature sound of their
own. Whether through production or selective signing, certain imprints
have given listeners a good idea of what they'll hear with every
new release, and they've done it with mixed results. There's something
to be said for a label striving to keep some form of coherence,
though doing so by releasing all like-minded artists can be a quick
way of painting oneself in the corner, and ensuring that the artists
on said label will be quickly pigeonholed. Some have been able to
succeed with this mode of operation, though it's not an easy task.
Paris' Potlatch Records is one such label. Concentrating (mostly)
on European improvisers, the label deals mainly in the quieter side
of improv. Whether the artists are solo performers or members of
groups of five, six, or even eight, Potlatch's releases feature
a subtle, restrained sound, albeit one that's explored in numerous
different ways. Stéphane Rives' Fibres is a solo
soprano saxophone recording that fits in well with the rest of the
Potlatch roster, though it's muted sounds are only so in volume.
The disc contains seven tracks, though they each fit into a series
of studies on one of three themes. Larsen et le Roseau #1
is eight minutes of high-pitched whistle with only tiny bits of
breath action rolling underneath. Like the distorted feedback of
a hearing aid, the track can be hard to endure, though shifts in
pitch and the inherent frailty in the track brought on by Rives'
occasional need to inhale offer variety, if not respite, to those
in need. The second track under this moniker is more of the same,
though it spans eighteen minutes. Rives' Granulations of
which there are three, are expectedly gritty affairs, the sound
of a coffeemaker whose liquid contents have been augmented by gravel
or an extended mix of the world's most infamous everyday bodily
functions together as one. Ebranlement #1 contains more
of Rives' droning qualities, though, this time, his lightly oscillating
tone is of a deeper, richer sort.
Fibres is a challenging and singular statement, and a fine
addition to the Potlatch catalogue. Hopefully, it's only the beginning
of future work with the label, as Rives would be interesting to
hear within the context of a larger improvisational group, especially
with some of the other purveyors of extended soprano saxophone technique
that have found their way on to earlier Potlatch releases.
Adam Strohm l
The saxophone as an aeolian harp; the saxophonist as the wind --
that, in a nutshell, is Stéphane Rives' approach on Fibres
("Fibers"). There is no attempt to be musical or to organize
sound into composed or instinctive or even emotive structures. Rives'
intention is to let the soprano saxophone change the sound of his
circular breathing as if it were an audio filter. Each piece consists
of a single long breath, an uninterrupted flow of wind passing through
the embouchure of the instrument and running inside its body. Rives
manages to keep the sound within the range of the barely audible
(brilliantly captured by recording engineer Nicolas Guérin),
on the threshold of lush multiphonics and awful squeak. Some pieces
whine like a sine wave ensemble, others gurgle and bubble like an
abstract piece of musique concrète or laptop sound art. The
sounds are in constant flux, as they are natural and breath is never
truly even and fingers cannot remain motionless in a half-open key
position -- and yet the music is tightly controlled. So Fibres
offers a very intriguing listen, one of the most puzzling of late,
extremely difficult as it stubbornly refuses to provide the listener
with any anchor point (there is not even a word of explanation on
the inlay card). One can only wonder "how he does it"
and marvel over the fact that the very existence of these pieces
illustrates a unique kind of virtuosity. If Rives' approach is opposed
to Evan Parker's own extended techniques (stillness versus perpetual
motion), other improvisers have explored his path. But neither John
Butcher nor Alessandro Bosetti -- no one! -- has taken microsonics
this far before.
who have digested those bold revisions and extensions of saxophone
language made by the likes of Evan Parker, John Butcher, Michel
Doneda and Bhob Rainey will find further food for thought on Stéphane
Rives's solo soprano sax recording, Fibres.
The two Larsen et le roseau pieces make a virtue of shrillness,
issuing in continuous piercing, needle-thin strands, occasionally
fraying but held together at length through circular breathing.
The three Granulations tracks appear to force air through
heavy spittle or some other contaminant moisture, sounding the horn
as a bubbling pipe. Amplified by close recording, the soprano turns
into a chamber of crackles, squeals and raw noise, unwanted stuff
used as the music's main matter.
The two Ébranlement tracks offer sonic disturbances,
as that title suggests. Sustained, urgent multiphonic drones agitate
the air and the psyche with penetrating, confrontational edginess.
The best solo wind-instrument improv is rather like a Houdini show:
there are moments when you're genuinely worried if the performer
will be quite all right. Listening to Fibres - an hour
of fascinating, grisly soprano-sax improvisations – you have
to wonder whether by the session's end Rives was stretched out on
the floor hyperventilating. Its seven tracks explore three different
technical/musical areas at length; each involves a single, overwhelming
sound Rives unpacks systematically, as well as fleeting ghost tones
and other half-audible layers of activity. The centrepiece of Larsen
et Le Roseau (presented in two versions) is an atrocious high-pitched
wail which on part 1 he pushes to migraine intensity; part 2, though
double the length, is on the whole less harrowing. The three Granulations
form a three-movement symphony of spit. Part 1 is thirteen minutes
of controlled gargling, part 2 offers six minutes of what sounds
more like sucking than blowing (so intimately recorded as to suggest
a dentist's vacuum), while part 3 gets a deeper, ickier kind of
clogged-drain bubbliness. In the context of this disc Ébranlement
1 is a bit of a reprieve (a throbbing drone that's by no means
unpleasant to listen to), but listeners had better not lower their
guard, as Ébranlement 2 turns out to be the harshest
thing on the disc - four minutes of godawful jet-take-off screech.
I recommend Fibres highly: not only is it a remarkable
album - anyone who's a keen follower of solo improv ought to check
it out pronto - but it's also handy to have around in case you need
to clear a room.
we lurch forward into the 21st century, aficionados of improvised
music might well wonder if there is any possible further development
in the world of extended instrumental techniques. When guitars have
been atomized à la Rowe, saxophones deconstructed à
la Butcher, and drums liquefied like Beins, where do we go? Well,
Stéphane Rives – a young French soprano saxophone specialist
– has surprised me quite a bit in coming up with a recording
of solo pieces that sounds new.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “he really gets inside
the horn.” Usually, this phrase refers to a player whose knowledge
of and facility with a saxophone is consummate. That may be so with
Rives, although his saxophonic language is so far removed from “conventional”
playing that such assessments may be moot, but if we were to apply
the phrase to Fibres, its literal accuracy might reveal
something of what’s new in Rives’ approach. In these
intensely focused improvisations, most of which concentrate on a
single aspect of the instruments sonic capabilities, you can hear
the horn’s metal, its varying resonances and vibrations, and
its meeting with the player’s breath. As the label’s
promotion aptly indicates, Rives’ “musical expression
is close to an ‘acoustic-concrète’ approach to
the instrument,” which focuses on the grain and the texture
of sound itself rather than line or harmony.
What, then, separates Rives from similarly-obsessed sopranists like
John Butcher, Bhob Rainey, and Michel Doneda? I would say first
that the similarities are there and they should stand as a commendation
of Rives abilities (in addition to which, Rives claims some of these
players – along with Evan Parker and French trombonist Thierry
Madiot – as inspiration). But I would also note that what
distinguishes him is the way in which he personally transforms these
shared elements into his own private, sometimes densely coded language.
There are no squawking staccato runs here, no skirling tapestries
of Parker-like sound, no duck calls or abstracted lyricism. Just
sound: granular, laminal, and, yes, fibrous.
From the opening Larsen et le Roseau #1 (the compositions
are apparently named for sonic areas Rives is currently exploring,
and he returns to each at least once throughout the hour-long record),
the insanely high-pitched continuous tone will startle you. Even
someone who listens to just a ton of improvised music can’t
help but be impressed by the intensity of holding this single tone
over the course of several minutes – it could actually fool
some people into thinking they were listening to a Sachiko M or
Toshimaru Nakamura record! – and then, very slowly, transforming
it into a rawer, rising sound that abruptly ceases. Occasionally
he is able to summon a ghostly saxophonic double (I kept thinking
that over-dubbing was involved, but apparently this is not so) by
producing a shadow tone in the low register, producing a sympathetic
vibration in the horn, or using keypads to create a weird counterline.
Elsewhere on the recording, Rives shows a facility for drone material,
creating a huge shower of sound on his Ébranlements,
and for seemingly pulverizing his saxophone and reducing it to a
gurgling, wet wreck on Granulations. This is extremely
rich, rewarding music which succeeds at the difficult task of expanding
the language of the soprano saxophone while helping to establish
the personal language of its practitioner, M. Rives. And, fascinatingly,
Rives claims to have “no strictly musical intention”
but seeks instead “to create new ways of shaking up [the]
listener’s psychological security.” These improvisations
can lance through the sunlight hours of your day, or surround you
with eerie nighttime shadow. Listen to this one.
Among free reed improvisers, the soprano sax seems to garner more
attention than its relatives, especially among the post-Evan Parker
contingent. You have Butcher, Doneda, Rainey, Bosetti, all excellent
musicians, all apparently drawn to the extremes afforded by the
instrument, perhaps due to the comparatively anonymous, non-personal
sound that's possible to evoke from that smaller horn. While all
reed players have a baggage issue to come to grips with, pity the
poor young soprano player trying to carve out his own niche in this
heavily trodden territory. There are several potential avenues of
escape. One might simply play melodically, using lessons learned
from the highly abstracted music of one's forebears to fashion a
new sort of "traditional" music; that road is all too
rarely followed. Another is obsessiveness, honing in on small slices
of one's sound world, worrying them no end, hopefully transfiguring
them into something wonderful. This latter is the approach taken
by French saxophonist Stéphane Rives and it's a pretty successful
one. Similar in this regard to another young European reed player,
Thomas Ankersmit, Rives chooses one precise area to explore per
piece then delves into it with single-minded purpose and abandon.
There's something of a tradition in this strategy, dating back to
Anthony Braxton's solo work which was often a catalog of saxophonic
attacks: a buzz piece, a trill piece, one imitating dog howls, etc.
Here, Rives displays three separate mini-genres, each examined two
or three times.
Larsen et le Roseau, played in two variations, takes Parker-like
arabesques and pushes them out a bit further into a banshee screech
zipping in and out of multiphonics. The first time through, Rives
contrasts ultra-high whistling with a grainy substratum, occasionally
skidding into multiphonics. His second take is lengthier and adds
a couple of new elements including key tapping and a ghostly, hollow
tone midway between high and low. The Granulations series,
as the title implies, investigates a quiet realm that integrates
breath tones with bubbling action occasioned by spittle. It's a
surprisingly fascinating, even pretty soundscape that, after several
minutes, becomes quite immersive. Each subsequent variation adds
another sound, first a kind of windswept roar and finally an echoic
percolation as though the saxophone is drifting down an underground
stream. The two Ebranlements investigate drones, the first
staying in the lowest ranges of the instrument and casting forth
immense slabs of sound. The second is an extremely intense though
short piece that contrasts a harsh, high overblowing with equally
harsh breath tones.
The closest comparison is probably Michel Doneda who shares an intensity
of focus with Rives but this younger player has raised the bar just
a bit, venturing into fresh territory and keeping the discoveries
viscerally and emotionally interesting enough to result in far more
than a science experiment. Fibres is a very fine disc and
Rives is clearly someone to keep a close ear on.