Arethusa

Wade Matthews & Stéphane Rives

℗ 2009 Another Timbre - at20

THE SQUID’S EAR

Kurt Gottschalk - october 21010


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.




MASSIMO RICCI

june 2010


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.




OUTLANDS

Boban Ristevski


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 its 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!




LE SON DU GRISLI

Pierre Cécile


Il arrive que d’une belle idée naisse une belle œuvre. C’est le cas ici : l’idée a été de mettre face à face Stéphane Rives (au saxophone soprano) et Wade Matthews (aux fields recordings et electronics). Quant à l’œuvre en question, c’est Arethusa.


Sur Arethusa, le dialogue se passe de mots mais surtout pas de sons inhabituels. A tel point qu’il est difficile de les définir d’une autre manière qu’en utilisant des comparaisons : avec l’atmosphère tranquille d’un coin de Central Java ou la lumière transcrite en notes filtrant jusqu’au plus profond des souterrains. C’est dire que la collaboration de Rives et de Matthews est d’essence naturelle même si l'extrait que l'on trouve ci-dessous me fait mentir. Elle joue avec les matériaux (le bois, notamment), trois des quatre éléments (eau, terre, air) et avec de nombreux silences. Decrescendo : le duo a disparu.




THE WATCHFUL EAR

Richard Pinnell


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 on Another Timbre 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 then.




PARISTRANSATLANTIC

Dan Warburton


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 Sources).


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.




THE WIRE

Philip Clark - march 2010


Frenchman Stephane Rives plays soprano saxophone, or at least one register of his instrument - the super-high regoster, 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 field 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 vocal patterns against dispersing saxophone textures.




JUST OUTSIDE

Brian Olewnick


"Arethusa" to the rest of us, 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 (in retrospect, perhaps something that gnawed at me about the Capece/Patterson, that is, the lack of same), 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.