Bryan Eubanks & Stéphane Rives

℗ 2015 Potlatch - P215


John Eyles - July 12, 2015

Although they have not previously recorded together, the pairing of Bryan Eubanks and Stéphane Rives makes perfect sense. French soprano saxophonist Rives is already a long-serving Potlatch veteran, with this being his fourth release on the label, following in the wake of his 2003 solo soprano album Fibres, the ground-breaking saxophone quartet Propagations (Potlatch, 2007) and his 2011 duo with the Paris-based Japanese percussionist Seijiro Murayama, Axiom for the Duration. As with the other saxophonists on Propagations, Rives has developed a personal, exploratory approach to his instrument, making him an ideal playing partner for Eubanks.

Crucially, although he is featured here on oscillators and feedback synthesiser, Oregon-born Eubanks is an experienced soprano saxophonist himself, as he demonstrated on Anamorphosis (Sacred Realism, 2014) with his fellow Berlin residents Johnny Chang and Catherine Lamb, and on Drums Saxophone Electronics (Intonema, 2014) with Jason Kahn (and also on the YouTube clip, below.) As on that album with Kahn, the minimal, lower-case titled fq effectively blurs the boundaries between electronic tones and real saxophone sounds; when the two overlap, they are often similar enough for one to blend into the other, a fact that Eubanks and Rives exploit to good effect here.

After they had played a couple of gigs together in Berlin, fq was studio-recorded there in September 2014. Although, the album's one track contains only just over half-an-hour of playing time, it is definitely well worth the price of admission. But it does raise the question of why recordings from those live gigs were not included on fq for comparison purposes.

The track that we do have begins with a single pure tone beneath which distant but incomprehensible voices can just be heard as well as breathy sax; gradually the tone modulates and pulses, becoming more complex, creating an effect akin to Morse code. If this were the opening to a movie, the audience would already be on the edges of their seats, drawn in and wanting to know more. The track has exactly the same effect, its opening promising much and creating the craving for more.

Although the piece does not have a plot per se, it contains as much drama, detail and mystery as any movie, being just as complex and satisfying. Altogether, the soundscape is impressively rich, deep and detailed, considering only two players were responsible for it. Across its duration, the track does not contain a dull moment or wasted phrase. Curiously, it seldom seems to last thirty minutes, sometimes seeming considerably longer, other times flashing by. Either way, it is extremely satisfying, handsomely repaying repeated listening.


Juillet 2015

Nous savons par expérience que l'association du saxophone et des instruments électroniques fait des merveilles ; l'amour de Guts of Darkness pour le travail d'un Ankersmit n'en est que le témoignage. Nous sommes invités ici par Stéphane Rives (ce saxophoniste que Guts of Darkness adore également, à la discographie aussi maigre que géniale) et Bryan Eubanks a poursuivre l'expérience. Annonçant d'emblée le minimalisme de l'ensemble, linéaire et monochrome (ce long sifflement strident de dix minutes), « fq » (comme fréquence ? Ça lui va bien) pêche par excès de retenue. Aux reliefs saisissants d'Ankersmit (son disque cousin, vous l'aviez compris) répond ici l'horizon sans fin des mers trop calme. L'arrière plan dépeint par Rives est plein de couleur, d'ondulations discrètes, mais les interventions d'Eubanks manquent cruellement d'audace. Eubanks semble se rattraper aux branches, avec sa machine à feedback, doublant les fréquences de Rives en attendant l'ouverture pour une classique saturation inoffensive. Le manque d'initiative fait clairement défaut, surtout pour un disque de trente minutes. On s'y ennuie assez clairement, à arpenter avec lenteur des chemins balisés au paysage terne et neutre. Pur plaisir de son (là dessus rien à redire, c'est parfait), pour ceux qui prennent le déroulement du spectre pour un film, fq a l'austérité de l'architecture soviétique et la monotonie des voyages sur autoroute. Anecdotique.


Michael Rosenstein - August 2015

With their ever-impressive catalog, the Potlatch label has been documenting some of the more interesting advances in reed playing with releases by Sergio Merce, Lucio Capece, Jean-Luc Guionnet, Bertrand Denzler, Dafne Vicente-Sandoval, and Stéphane Rives. Whether in solo settings or in collaboration with electronics, their recordings capture a grappling with defining a personal language that subsume the innate physicality and timbral palette of their instruments. For his fourth release on the label, Stéphane Rives has chosen Bryan Eubanks as a partner, here, featured on oscillators and “feedback synthesizer.” Eubanks’ background as a soprano sax player, electronic instrument builder, and composer makes him an ideal partner for Rives’ resolute approach to sonic exploration.

The single, 30-minute piece begins with quavering fluctuations of the difference beatings of reed overtones and electronics as they slowly separate themselves out and then merge back into coalesced scrims. The two musicians keenly tune pitch and undulations of their sounds to each other, assiduously introducing muted clicks and flutters to fill out the engulfing, shimmering harmonics. At about a third of the way in, they slash the flow with gritty textures and keening feedback which jumps into a section of scrabbled activity. Eubanks’ reverb-tinged electronics shudder and stutter, building to welling wails which Rives uses as a ground for split-toned skirls. The piece mounts with tension here, as the two push each other, teetering at the edge of excess with harsh, dive-bombed whorls of noisy exuberance. And then, they break with a pool of silence, emerging with pops and smears of soprano saxophone countered by muted striations of electronics which get stretched and morphed into pulsating waves. The duo builds on this, shifting and minutely tweaking the swells, and then letting the sounds settle, seeming to evaporate at the conclusion. Add this one as another winner to this impressive catalog.


September 26, 2015

As soon as fq begins, Stéphane Rives' soprano saxophone readily unites with the high-frequency tones of Bryan Eubanks' oscillator. It's immediately clear that both musicians are elevating the severity of their respective performances through uniformity. Compare this with Axiom for the Duration, Rives' collaborative release with Seijiro Murayama. There, the contrast in tone and timbre between the instruments was easily identifiable and allowed for a relatively balanced sound palette. Most of what we hear on this album, however, is high-pitched. And across its thirty minutes, it's this effective confluence of all these sounds that makes fq so satisfying.

Through speakers, the additive quality of Eubanks and Rives' instruments is incredibly clear. The components are frequently hard to separate and its only with repeated listens, especially with headphones, that one starts to get a grasp on how well both musicians play off each other. At times, one musician will disappear and the effect it has is noticeable. This first occurs a couple minutes in: a tone fluctuates between both channels, perhaps signaling the listener to note Rives' absence, and when he returns we can easily recognize how he contributes to the piece. This proves strategic as one can more fully appreciate the interplay between the two as Eubanks' feedback synthesizer begins to a play a prominent role in the album's middle section. Its jagged textures are slightly more animated than those on The Bornholmer Suite. And in conjunction with Rives' breathy squawks, this portion of fq finds the duo at their most delightfully raucous.

Earlier in the recording, one could faintly hear the passing of automobiles and people talking underneath Eubanks and Rives. But in the second half of fq, these 'extramusical' sounds are more audible. We hear more conversing and what is presumably a cart being wheeled around. As they get louder and closer, the musicians react and play as if guided by them. But most interesting is how this passage highlights how crucial the mixing is on this record. Around 19:30, a tone pans right and Rives softly returns but with these sounds accompanying him. A minute later, a tone pans right again but is soon counterbalanced with one in the left channel. This allows for the entrance of the aforementioned cart to be highlighted as it's situated directly between these two tones. This conscientious arranging of sounds exists throughout fq and lends to its effective pacing, making for a constantly engaging listen.

Elements of fq can feel familiar to those who have heard previous records from Eubanks and Rives. For one, Eubanks explored the acoustic properties of a cistern in Fort Warden State Park on his previous solo record and a continued interest in psychoacoustic phenomena is present here. Similarly, Rives has been an adventurous saxophone player for more than a decade and his style of playing here echoes that of Much Remains to be Heard and Fibres. Nevertheless, fq sounds like nothing in either artist's discographies, and the elegant marriage of styles here highlights the immense talent of both Eubanks and Rives.


Guillaume Belhomme - Octobre 2015

Le premier signal est aigu, qu’émettent Bryan Eubanks (oscillateurs et feedback de synthétiseur) et Stéphane Rives (saxophone soprano). Et ses strates, déjà fragiles, sont altérées par les fréquences provoquées ici et là par leurs rapprochements.

Mais les premiers sifflements – une dizaine de minutes, en et hors circuit – « menuisent » seulement : l’ouvrage électroacoustique tout juste dessiné est encore à venir. Dans une deuxième séquence, un grave perce et le soprano calque l’électronique, quelques reliefs se lèvent. C’est maintenant une conversation chantante qui projette ses expressions saillantes, saturées, tremblantes…, avant de les cristalliser.

A des instruments différents ayant su ne faire qu’un, les musiciens peuvent jouer enfin de rivalités : désormais, le soprano jabote, opposant sa découpe facétieuse à d’autres aigus persistants – qui ne provoquent jamais mais pénètrent plutôt – et le charme opère. C’est ainsi qu’en trois temps, Bryan Eubanks et Stéphane Rives ont fait de leur exploration des oscillations un bel ouvrage en dentelle de fréquences.


Bill Meyer - november 4, 2015

Some folks like things strong and elemental — their coffee black, their whiskey neat. Stéphane Rives has applied such priorities to the soprano saxophone, using restricted note selection and a refined circular breathing technique to play long notes at the high end of audibility. His solo records present the horn as a tone generator, sounding more like Michael Pisaro’s sine waves or Toshimaru Nakamura’s no-input mixing board than anything played by his brethren of breath. There’s nothing extra, and certainly no sweeter, just high, elongated tones and minimal variations in timbre.

This CD, which comprises a single 30:31 track recorded in a Berlin studio, pairs him with Oregon-born, Berlin-based Bryan Eubanks. Eubanks is an especially apt partner. While he plays oscillators and synthesizer here, he’s also a saxophonist, so you could say that he has some inside knowledge on Rives’ technique. But his understanding of Rives goes beyond shared experience of metal, reeds, and respiration; the two men also share an appreciation for the way high frequencies focus attention, the better to perceive their interaction. This strategy works especially well in duets between musicians who understand restraint, such as Nakamura’s with Keith Rowe and Jason Kahn, perhaps because thin bright lines can stand out upon a field of empty space. Eubanks and Rives make this realm their domain throughout fq.

The piece starts with Rives playing softer than Eubanks, so that you don’t so much hear his horn as much as you hear its influence on the electronic tone, turning a constant tone into a beating one. Rives goes on to test that tone with various tiny interventions, but the synthetic sounds aren’t a stationary target. Eubanks gradually modulates them, adjusting pitch and volume in order to provoke reaction as well as action. Rives modifies his playing in ways similar to what he does to Eubanks’ sounds, introducing tiny stutters and coarsening of tone into his sound stream.

Since higher, purer tones lack the common signifiers of a personal instrumental sound, the music rises above self and instrument into a zone of frequency relationships, but it doesn’t stay there. Some hard twists of the knob attract static, and the sudden fuzz provokes Rives into multi-phonic territory. Within its chosen realm, this is still music of change, and charting its transformations adds immeasurably to its stinging intrigue.