Much remains to be heard

Stéphane Rives saxophone solo

℗ 2008 Al Maslakh - MSLKH 09


Massimo Ricci - april 2009

Exclusively blowing into a soprano saxophone, Stéphane Rives signs the second solo album recorded at his name following 2003’s Fibers on Potlatch. By defining this music “neither an improvisation, nor a composition”, Rives delivers the reviewer from the burden of an apparently inevitable classification, at the same time opening a whole assortment of interpretations to something that, purely and simply, appears like a meshing of physical and metaphysical, a subtle line separating a charged hush from the extreme tension that a bodily contraption generates, and that gets reflected in the shape of prolonged insufflations, or in the wavering piercing buzzing of adjacent harmonics. It’s not an undemanding task.

By continuously holding on a rough pitch – listen to the saxophonist sucking the air in during the circular breathing process, necessary for maintaining the sound uninterrupted – the artist throws out a crucial warning sign of life, symbolizing a presence that’s as basic as a newborn child’s cry, the urge of expressing a concept of “I’m right here, in this space, and this is my voice”. After a while the evolution begins: the note starts breaking up in minuscule shards, struggling to find position and definition in the room yet already powerful enough to let us foresee a development. This is exactly what happens halfway through the piece, when Rives decides that the moment has come to increase the thickness of the emission. What rubs the ears at that point is a kind of extremely uneven tremor rarely audible in normal circumstances, probably causing a panicky reaction to those who believe that the brain should be lulled in order to be enhanced. Instead, this French gentleman slashes the listener with ruthless textures and stabbing high frequencies until we’re ready to brawl, he himself fighting a battle against the inconsequentiality of cuteness. The quiet segments amplify the gist of what comes after – which, as time passes by, becomes more “fleshy” and timbrally delineated, but not painless. The variations in the shades of an introverted tone produce a stunning effect of entrancement, particularly evident around the 40th plus minutes; this section is the one that definitively elevates this CD to the highest spheres of essential analysis of a sonic phenomenon. Yet when the timbres begin to be finally accepted by our systems, silence falls again. The same goes to the end, which is preceded by another series of incredible, inhuman-sounding shuddering purrs. Incandescent lights of sensitivity define this release as a milestone of explorative nothingness. To fully comprehend the magnitude of Much Remains To Be Heard we should perhaps forget about talking for a couple of months as we realize that there’s no need of contact whatsoever, such is the huge quantity of galvanizing energies that the record transmits. It contains everything that sheer being should mean and use – absolute stillness and advanced pulsation – in a hour or so. Alternatively, you can still play a part in community rituals based on made-up blathering about doing something important for the world at large, then go home and realize that you’re feeling as good as dead instead.


Bill Meyer

Soprano saxophonist Stéphane Rives's second solo CD is as radical and more severe. Five years ago Fibres (Potlatch) applied severe reduction to the straight horn's potential materials, concentrating on single tones at the edge of hearing in ways that eliminated the player's personality from the played sound. It was all about unsettling the listener's experience of listening. Much Remains To Be Heard is even more challenging. The last shreds of saxophonishness are gone, leaving mainly wavering tones and degraded buzzes that sound more like something Toshimaru Nakamura might get out of his no-input mixing board than any product of breath, reeds, and metal tubing. The CD presents an hour-long house performance unbroken, the better to preserve the stretches of silence that isolate and frame each discrete sound exposition. This isn't really music, it's sound creation as a means of inquiry into its own nature and the effect it has upon the listener. Get it for the trip, not the destination.


Soprano saxophonist Stephane Rives produces the musical equivalent to literary author Cormac McCarthy's best selling novel The Road. Written in such sparse prose, readers are required to utilize their imaginations and fill in the landscape of this post-apocalyptic novel. Rives' one hour solo doesn't conjure the visual, but its spartan approach does start the imagination machine in your head. Rives purposely places large gaps of silence in this lengthy piece, focusing the mind on the music and, truthfully, allows outside sounds to enter the listening experience. His sometimes shrill saxophone pauses, and you hear the mail carrier at your front door, or maybe the refrigerator is accompanying Rives with a mechanical hum. The saxophonist invites the outside in. He dictates the pace of your listening, and each individual's consciousness counts for the outcome. The experience of this recording varies whether you listen while meditating, eating, dreaming or on the metro.


Rewind 2008 Addendum: The Office Dissonance

A technically extraordinary disc on the excellent Lebanese based Al Maslakh label. Like Seymour Wright, Stéphane Rives's solo saxophone experiments can make John Butcher sound like Lester Young. The high pitched, sustained, one hour track on Much Remains To Be Heard is right at the upper threshold of hearing. With all the hum and bustle of an office, amid the buzz of printers and computers, locating such precise tones is impossible.