Here we have Bryan Eubanks with his trusty oscillators and feedback synthesiser; and Stéphane Rives on soprano saxophone. Eubanks has previously worked in collaboration with Catherine Lamb, Jason Kahn, Tetuzi Akiyama and Toshimaru Nakamura, while Rives was involved in the Propagations saxophone quartet album also on Potlatch and plays in duo with percussionist Seijiro Murayama. Of his own practice with the saxophone, Rives says: “…Once one adopts a way of thinking based on the sort of filtering any electronic musician does, one’s attention is drawn to the tiny micro-events that are barely audible in a traditional approach…” So based on this statement alone, a good match for Bryan Eubanks it would seem. This is from 2014 and as I’m a bit late getting my hands on it, you may be aware that it has been very well-received from certain quarters of the UK scene already.
Lots of high end frequency distress to begin with. Eubanks is not afraid to get his hands dirty with the synth feedback – some really brutal tones are being generated here. The feedback techniques Eubanks employs create explosions and glitch-chatter, fizzing emptiness and white-hot contusions rather than the high pitched drone effect that you might expect when the word “feedback” is bandied about. It does sound a bit like cheap-mic feedback at 15:20 though (one of my favourite noises – it may not be yours) before descending into utter madness/silence. Rives keeps his end of the bargain up; his sax multiphonics blend seamlessly into Eubanks’ output. An interesting characteristic of this music that I’ve noticed over repeated listens is that sounds occasionally appear to come from other parts of the room rather than from my hi-fi speakers. I’m not suggesting that some kind of surround or multi-channel processing is being used (there’s certainly no mention of such a thing happening anywhere that I can find), but perhaps there is some small level of perceptual disorientation at work by use of sounds extending outside of normal human hearing?
Amongst the crushing bouts of signal distortion, there are some interesting “beat” frequencies around 8-9 minutes and some tonally interesting work around 11 minutes, surrounded by flashes of squall and dither. At times, surprisingly similar results from the two different sources. Things move up and out of the range of human, or at least my, hearing around 24 minutes. It is impressive the way Rives can follow the electronics even into super-high frequency range. For fans of electronics in distress for sure. Alternately brutal but with a light touch.
As an interesting post-script to those of you of a train-spotterish nature, fq was recorded at Studio 8 in Berlin by Adam Asnan who you may know as one third of the excellent trio VA AA LR.
Paul Khimasia Morgan l The Sound Projector l July 2016
A short duet for oscillators/feedback synthesizer and soprano sax. From the very beginning there's a lot of playing with acoustical beating, that wonderful air flap that happens when two tones are very close together in pitch. Moving from almost square wave to smooth flow and out again. Somehow there are echoes of rusty swing sets and suggestions of heterodyning shortwave broadcasts. About 7 or so minutes in the synth turns monster and starts mutating and then both players start leaning into it. It's not exactly HNW, but it is kinda scary. A squelch and a short silence. Then more variety, a lot more. Instead of two reasonably distinct sources, we get several more, big ugly chords and rising washes of heat. Conjurers of speaker swinging and air raid memory, with fistfuls of sand tossed in for good measure. The rhythmic pulsing with metal horn resonance at 15:27 I find particularly nice. Bird imitations give way to grunge and then we reconfigure and straighten up for the sprint home. The squiggly bits work really well with the whine of my heater, which is always another way to listen to things.
This disc is extremely interesting in a quiet environment, and gains added facets when replayed against a noisy homescape.
Jeph Jerman l The Squid's Ear l March 2016
It's too tempting, writing this a day after the Paris attacks, two days after the bombings in Beirut and knowing of Rives' having lived for a long time in both cities, to draw some relationship between the horrors undergone in those cities and the extreme, keening sounds encountered here. Too facile, no doubt though Rives has long evinced deep political awareness; I'm sure Eubanks has as well although, in my experience, Rives has done so more publicly. It's an intense set, in any case, lasting only a half hour but filling that span well and, to its credit, uncomfortably.
The last time I saw Rives in Paris, playing solo at l'Église Saint-Merri, he seemed able to wrest as many as three distinct tones from his soprano and, in conversation afterward he said that this was the case, though he required reeds that were "damaged" in a certain manner to achieve this. Here, there's such a smooth blending with the sounds Eubanks conjures forth from his oscillators and feedback synthesizers that it's tough to tell but also, not so important. Depending on your volume setting, the beginning of fq could seem claustrophobic and oppressive. I turn it down a bit and hear all manner of things: high, quavering sine-like waves meld with equally high though grainier soprano lines, small, sputtering irregularities along for the ride with the latter; delicate interplay between them, thin weblike strands circling, catching, looping; what seem to be automotive sounds from outside also enter (though I suppose they could have been electronically generated) opening out the sonic space significantly, which space is treated with soft clicks and, throughout, Rives' super-subtle reed manipulation. There's a surge some eight minutes in, the wrenching electronics bringing things to a sudden stop, out of which a darker sensibility emerges for a while, transforming into an amazing birdcall-like section, dense and intense, arcing sounds whipping across the spectrum as though from some robotic jungle. Great stuff. A bit of a reverse arc ensues, the exterior sounds more prominent (though somehow also more "separate"), Rives in (or at least close to) that three-tome territory, the music gradually thinning, almost ending. There's a brief rearing up, however, Eubanks' oscillators matching those split tones and then some, setting one's inner ear to ringing and buzzing, eventually closing gently enough but with that fine sense of discomfort intact.
Strong, imaginative no-nonsense work, highly recommended.
Brian Olewnick l Just Outside l November 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.
Bill Meyer l Dusted in exile l November 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.
Josha Kim l Tone Glow l September 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.
Michael Rosenstein l Point of Departure l September 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.
John Eyles l All About Jazz l July 2015