A discussion was held around the time of this disc’s release, a discussion that has been held over other releases in the past, ,about whether the external, accidental, incidental sounds that creep into the recording should be welcomed or not. This lovely little CD, by the French quartet Ensemble Dedalus, (Didier Aschour, guitar, Cyprien Busolini, alto, Stéphane Garin, percussion and vibraphone and Thierry Madiot, trombone) alongside the composers of the music performed, Antoine Beuger (flute) and Jürg Frey (clarinet) captures three pieces from two nights of live concerts in Paris, 2012. The recording quality is good enough- the sounds we hear from the musicians are clear and warm, but we also hear a fair amount of other sounds- audience coughs, passing cars, revving motorbikes, rainfall and the like. The impact of these external events isn’t overwhelming, they take place alongside rather than over the top of the musicians’ output, and everything mingles together, to my ears at least, very nicely indeed, but for some these sounds are a problem.
The interesting thing to me personally, is how my personal thoughts on this kind of thing swing about wildly from release to release, and certainly from sound to sound. The music being played, of course, dictates how I feel about any further additions to the sonic environment. Concert recordings get considered differently to studio or quai-studio recordings for instance- have attempts been made to keep external sounds out of the recording or have they deliberately been allowed in? These considerations seem to affect how I listen to music. So listening here to this new release I tend to switch into my “concert listening” mode- a kind of alert way of listening that expects the unexpected, knows that a misplaced cough could appear, that a mobile phone could go off. I don’t tend to listen this way normally when I put on a CD. With a disc playing you half expect the anomalies to be edited out, smoothed over- its all about “the music”. So hearing an album like this, letting the random crashes and the honking car horns become part of what I am listening to transports me to a venue I might know, (in this case, actually the correct venue- Instants Chavires in Paris) and I listen like I would in the space itself, conscious even of my own sounds- hearing them, enjoying how they meld into the overall experience, but listening closely all the same.
All of this has the potential to distract you from the music itself- but then would the composers in this case not approve of that to some degree? Live concerts are events, moments in time, in which quite frankly just about any sounds could permeate into. The three pieces performed here, two written by Beuger and one by Frey are works that are soft, slow, and welcome in their surrounding environment. To bring up Cage again in this context is always going to be tedious, we should have moved on by now, but certainly much of my enjoyment of these pieces is enhanced by what Cage “taught” us, just as attending many years of concerts of this kind of music has taught me to listen in a particular, forgiving and accepting manner. What will be will be once the record button is pressed and the first page of the score is turned. All that matters later, once the experience of the event has been enjoyed by those lucky enough to have been there, is whether the resulting recording is something worth hearing on its own, and in the case of this release it certainly is, coughs and all.
The third track on this CD is actually a very familiar piece of music to me. Antoine Beuger’s Lieux de Passage is his clarinet concerto, written specifically for Frey, and, in my opinion, the standout centrepiece of Another Timbre’s Wandelweiser box set from last year, a recording I was present for. So hearing it again here, with Frey’s astonishingly beautiful playing as good as it was on the AT recording, but with a completely different set of accompanying sounds formed by different instrumentation and the composer himself present. This version doesn’t quite have the same sensation of perfection- of romantic lyricism matched with perfectly weighted backdrop as that immaculate recording, but its still a wonderful work I have listened to here and taken so much from countless times. The other Beuger piece is a great balancing work to “Lieux”, the equally, mournfully beautiful Méditations poétiques sur quelque chose d’autre which sets little fragments of melody, not that dissimilar to the clarinet concerto in some ways, against murmured, whispered readings from philosophical texts. The way the voices are nearly inaudible, blending into everything only serves to further enhance the beauty of the occasion, the moment in time when deliberate action and incidental intrusions come together. The Frey piece that sits between the two Beugers, an equally soft, melodically focussed, only partly defined structure named Canones Incerti almost seems to blend into the two works that bookend it, the combination of music so complimentary and yet subtly different.
Some Wandelweiser music is not quiet, some of it would be hard to describe as beautiful, and some of it sounds nothing like this, but in many ways this release captures several parts of the essence of Wandelweiser’s current core- playfulness with compositional structure, allowing in a degree of chance, or musician’s input, alongside a deeply romantic sense of a musical palette. This disc however, does what I don’t think that many CDs of the music have achieved before in that it goes some way to capturing how it feels to be part of a live performance of this music- and ultimately the music is written with live performance, rather than CD releases in mind. Really beautiful, enchanting music anyway.