Nous aurions bien besoin d’un miracle pour nous sortir du marasme actuel. Pascal Battus et Michel Doneda tentent à leur manière de nous en proposer un, mais finalement, malgré toute la meilleure volonté du monde, dépeignent un immobilisme dont nous sommes à la fois les acteurs et les victimes. Et si rien ne bouge...
Aux « sur faces rotatives », Pascal Battus, aux saxophones soprano et sopranino, Michel Doneda, pour un disque enregistré par Lionel Marchetti et masterisé par Giuseppe lelasi. Car oui, on ne cite pas assez souvent ceux qui sont les acteurs de l’ombre de la qualité d’un disque, alors que, premier atout de ce disque : la pureté du son. Lorsque deux musiciens s’affairent à donner autant de détails dans les souffles, les creux, les vagues, et les lignes déviantes ou continues, la musique ne peut alors souffrir d'imprécision. Et de la précision, ce disque en regorge.
S’il débute par un Miracle en pointillé qui naît dans le silence et l’attente, le disque progresse à chacune de ses pièces. La musique du duo gronde, Pascal Battus entrelardant l’espace d’un bourdonnement ininterrompu mais ciselé de variations, alors que Michel Doneda s’applique à ne donner que son souffle au travers de ses instruments dont, pour l’heure, aucune note ne filtre. Faut-il y voir une métaphore de la bataille en ce monde agité, comme un débat pour survivre ? Et puis, ô miracle, les premiers signes de vie apparaissent. On hésite entre naissance et renaissance, mais depuis l’obscurité perle la lueur, et la musique déploie peu à peu des harmonies atonales. Les instruments ne sont plus murmurés, ils développent tout leur coffre. Michel Doneda joue alors de tout son souffle des notes qui pourraient accompagner l’éclosion d’une fleur tant il parvient à les maintenir en lévitation. C’est à se demander quand il respire, mais il peut s’appuyer sur Pascal Battus pour lui apporter tout son soutien. Les deux musiciens entremêlent leurs sonorités au point de ne plus faire qu’un, et à partir de son milieu, le disque devient Imprononçable. Qui fait quoi ? Difficile de le distinguer, mais cela n’a plus la moindre importance, il y a dorénavant une ouverture qui s’effectue à deux, chacun tenant sa paroi mais œuvrant pour le bien commun. Étrange glissement, la menace se dissipe et laisse place à une beauté à l’œil torve, qui toise l’auditeur pour en percevoir les réactions : le Miracle tourne au vinaigre, les étirements grondent désormais, la menace sortie par la porte entre par la fenêtre, et l’on finit par douter et se perdre. Si l’ouverture donnait sur une clairière que l’on aurait pu croire inondée par le soleil, il faut bien constater que la forêt se décharne à mesure que l’on s’y perd, et Herméneutique nous plante au milieu d’un paysage en souffrance, dénaturé, qui fait presque mal à admirer. Michel Doneda offre toute sa palette sonore, des notes les plus basses aux notes les plus hautes, les laissant échapper en cascade, comme dans un free-jazz émacié, pour faire un panoramique sur cet ensemble désolé, et les surfaces rotatives de Pascal Battus balaient ce qui reste à coups de dissonances.
Le bel artwork intérieur de cet excellent disque laissait espérer une ouverture sur un monde à la beauté sauvage et immaculée, loin des destructions massives que l’on connaît, mais la réalité a, semble-t-il, rattrapé les deux musiciens, qui nous emportent avec eux dans un monde où le froid et le vide dominent.
Laurent Nerzic l Revue & Corrigée l Mars 2022
A handy disc of improvisations for Michel Doneda's straight saxophones (soprano and sopranino) and Pascal Battus' rotating surfaces.
Miracle en Pointillé begins with a foghorn with wet cracklings underneath, and evolves over time into a rolling storm of hot tone and supple grind. Amazing how much sound power a couple of acoustic sources can generate. The saxophones here are mostly always recognizable as such, while Battus throws up a constantly shifting foil of gorgeous timbres and ephemeral grind. I hear voices and weird tonal arguments in the interplay between these two hard listening gents.
Imprononçable sounds like a chorus of reeds until it all falls apart and we're given a spate of massed sirens, bent and bending. Long sections of held tones which morph into sour bugle-like minutia and then scramble around in the gravel while a bag full of angry bees threatens to open up. Rude plasticity, goose honks and metallic sheen cohabit a seemingly vast space which occasionally narrows to a thin slice of dual whine.
Natte conjurs for me images of tiny devices protesting their slow death, while Doneda tries to match their plaintive tones and simultaneously play them a requiem. Door creaks and faucets left on. Bird song against sputtering and dry ice squeal. Frog and rainforest humming announce the final piece, Herméneutique, before the weather changes and gail force winds wrap around a sad monologue. Wheezing bagpipes? Flatulence and there's that bugler again. Let's try to sing together, shall we?
Jeph Jerman l Squid's Ear l May 2022
French sound artist, improviser and composer Pascal Battus has spent the last two decades refining his approach what he refers to as “sonic gestures” utilizing sound sources including activated surfaces and percussion amplified with guitar pickups and contact microphones. This often includes the use of a setup he has dubbed “rotating surfaces” where the vibrations of various resonators placed on the mechanisms of old Walkmans are picked up and transformed into layered reverberant waves of variegated textures and timbres. Battus has often worked with reed players including Christine Sehnaoui Abdelnour, Bertrand Gauguet and Dafne Vicente-Sandoval, mining the interactions of the microtonalities and overtones of the reed instruments with his resonant objects. This release on Potlatch adds French reed player Michel Doneda to that list, a natural match as Doneda has been an ardent explorer of the use of the saxophone as elemental sound source in collaborative settings since his initial releases in the early 1980s, particularly in collaboration with percussionist Lê Quan Ninh.
Battus first performed as a duo with French reed player Michel Doneda in 2016 and the two played a few times after that. On the performance captured here, masterfully recorded by Lionel Marchetti, the duo traverses their way across five sonic investigations ranging in length from six and a half to over 13 minutes long. From the first strains of the opening improvisation, Miracle En Pointillé one is struck by the way that the sounds accrue with keen focus. Doneda’s breathiness imbues his soprano and sopranino sax playing, coalescing with the shimmer and resonance of Battus’s surfaces into an inextricable whole. Each are masters at coaxing subtle shades of overtones and micro-harmonics from their respective instruments and that mastery extends to their attentive strategies.
The improvisations move with a slow deliberation, letting sounds gather, shudder against each other and modulate in quavering waves of textures and difference tones, collectively locking in to the way that the timbres and oscillations play off of each other. On En Dérive Battus favors lower frequencies as Doneda’s multiphonics intertwine with sparks of upper register tones glimmering through. Imprononçable and Natte feed in to each other, beginning with a strident edge as skirling reeds and pulsating resonance of activated surfaces build variegated striations. The duo’s playing is more active here as the improvisations opens up, allowing the individual voices to emerge. Natte in particular, is rife with reed pops, overblowing, abraded reverberations and clattering metallic timbres. On the closing Herméneutique the two steer the improvisation in and out of pools of amassed sound interjected with bursts of dynamic activity. Pascal Battus’s probing sonic explorations are always worth searching out and here, with Doneda, he’s found another worthy collaborator.
Michael Rosenstein l Dusted l April 2022
Severity rules on this French collection of layered improvisations for rotating surfaces and straight horns. While Pascal Battus sets any number of items atop his liberated Walkman motors, the sounds he obtains from them don’t change drastically from moment to moment. Michel Doneda on soprano and sopranino saxophones matches his counterpart’s attack by playing multiphonic stabs of varying lenghts, so that the music often feels like an exposition of two streams of drawn out sounds running nearly parallel to each other. And yet there’s plenty of productive friction in their juxtapositions of elongated and stuttering textures, especially when the distances between their raw pitches gradually narrow, until a collision suddenly seems inevitable, but never actually occurs.
Bill Meyer l The Wire l March 2022
The French improviser Pascal Battus seems like the ideal representative for the unique catalogue of Potlatch. Always experimenting, he has been focusing for many years now on building percussive environments (now, this might be a neologism), utilizing rotating surfaces with whatever has in his hands. From prepared guitars, percussion instruments up to any kind of small electronic device. You should definitely check his work with Bertrand Gauget and Eric La Casa, Ichnites (again on Potlatch) with Christine Abdelnour, plus Froid Solaire, with Magali Sanheira, which came out around the same time as Miracle.
As for saxophonist (here on sopranino and soprano) Michel Doneda what there is to say, that hasn’t been said? I consider him one of the few sax innovators of the past three decades. He has been experimenting within, but mostly out f the jazz boundaries, definitely expanding the instrument’s vocabulary.
On Miracle both artists work in unison, using a method I would call something like concentrated playing together. The listener cannot tell if someone leads the way, if they have any kind of predetermined ideas. I strongly believe they have not. Neither voice stands out from the other. You feel total commitment, a denial of the ego. Their aim seems a dual one. First is to create an a-rhythmic atmosphere. The timbre of the saxes play an integral part in the droneish feeling of the recordings, in all five tracks (clocking just over fifty minutes) of the cd. The rotating surfaces of the instruments Battus is utilizing add up to that non rhythmic feeling. Battus doesn’t resort to the convenience of making them sound “percussive” or producing any kind of rhythm with and by them.
Quite the contrary. He tries to create an atmosphere by them, escalating the audio results track by track. Do not get me wrong though. This is not a noisy recording (it could easily be one) that saturates the listener. Apart from the last track, where the tension rises like they are climaxing, they build their sonic environments little by little. Their plan, if there’s one, was to concentrate with audacity on any non-intimidating element of the music, producing a humble, fragile outcome. It could be called electro-acoustic experimentation, but take it only as a guideline and nothing more. Miracle is just adventurous sound-making.
Fotis Nikolakopoulos l The Free Jazz Collective l January 2022
Instrumental identities blur. Rotating surfaces sound the period of a wave with each revolution and pulse like saxophones’ shrill trills and quavering vibrato. Gyral wobbling like microtonal warbling. Turntablesque skipping like insectoid chirruping more than the bird chirping most often associated with saxophones. Surfaces’ frictional textures mirror saxophones’ piercing whistling, airy roars and rough wheezing, metal-on-metal screech. Together they foray some from the threshold of silence for their sounds, mousy, prodding, sometimes harmonizing in scintillating beatings. Instrumental identities blur but for the limit of breath that the saxophone cannot shake.
Keith Prosk l harmonic series l December 2021
Following hard on the heels of Sillons -Reflets by Patricia Bosshard, Onceim and CoÔ, the first album from the Potlatch label since its lone release in 2019, it is a pleasure to welcome the label's second release of 2021, Miracle by the duo of Pascal Battus and Michel Doneda. Each of them has a long history with Potlatch; Doneda first recorded for the label in 1998 on the solo soprano saxophone album Anatomie Des Clefs, and before this one his most recent Potlatch album was Strom in 2004, a quartet album with Doneda alongside the Italian soprano saxophonist Alessandro Bosetti; in contrast, Battus first recorded for Potlatch in 2001 in the four-guitar quartet Misere et Cordes, on the album Au Ni Kita; he last appeared on the label in 2016, on the double album Pascal Battus-Dafne Vicente-Sandoval, where he was credited with "rotating surfaces" in a duo with the bassoonist of the title.
Despite such connections, Battus and Doneda only performed together as a duo for the first time in December 2016; after that they played together a couple of times before this recording was made in July 2020. While Battus has history as a guitarist, here he is again credited with "rotating surfaces"; apparently, these are generally mechanisms from old Walkmans (remember those?) which are made up of small plates put in motion by electric motors, on which vibrators and resonators (sheets of paper, plastic, metal, wood styrofoam et cetera) come to react. Doneda has undergone no major changes to what and how he plays; his instruments are the straight soprano saxophone and its smaller cousin the sopranino saxophone; he is totally committed to improvisation. Across five tracks, ranging in length from six-and-a-half to over thirteen minutes, a total of fifty-one minutes, Battus and Doneda sound as if they have played together for far longer than five years; the sounds they make fit together well, combining into an integrated soundscape which feels like one entity rather than different sounds juxtaposed—as good a combination of instruments with electronic sounds as we are likely to hear.
As a listening experience, the album richly rewards the time invested in it and reveals ever more with repeated listening. It is in complete contrast to the compositions heard on Sillons -Reflets, which demonstrates the breadth and variety of the Potlatch catalogue.
John Eyles l All About Jazz l December 2021