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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Michael Francis Duch – Tomba Emmanuelle (Sofa, 2014) ****

By Dan Sorrells

Large auditoriums create metainstruments. Or in this case, large mausoleums.

“In the sense that it, too, changes sound, we can consider the musical space of a concert hall to extension of the musical instruments played within it,” write Barry Blesser and Linda-Ruth Salter. “When listeners attend a concert hall, they are placing themselves inside the large resonant enclosure of metainstruments.” Michael Francis Duch’s second solo album, Tomba Emmanuelle, was recorded in the Emanuel Vigeland mausoleum in Oslo, a building famous for its incredible natural reverb. Here, it also becomes the expansive grotto of Duch’s meta-bass, the dark resonant cavity in which the musician sits, like a homunculus in an empty skull, or—to borrow from Stig Sæterbakken—Jonah inside the whale.

Tomba Emmanuelle essentially begins in a state of reverb—a drone that materializes with no attack, no apparent force setting it into motion. The piece was designed to be played by one or more basses (and indeed has previously been performed with as many as seven bassists), and according to the liner notes “explores different registers, timbres and acoustic effects of the instrument in the relation to the room it is being performed in”—or, to put it another way, showcases the unique timbre and capability of a protean and immense metainstrument.

As Duch methodically bows the strings, amazing trails of notes begin to chase each other across the room, creating complex, pulsing drones and microtonal oscillations in pitch. Listening through headphones, a panning effect develops as the drones increase in volume: huge volleys of sound reflecting back and forth in the room, colossal waves cascading off the darkened, frescoed walls and crashing across the microphone.

“A wonderful sense of being consumed,” Sæterbakken once wrote, “this is what the Vigeland mausoleum offers its unprepared first-time visitor. But the feeling does not fade with repetition.” Such is the sense for the listener, too, the thick blanket of Duch’s bass offering no respite from its sonic weight as its reverberations steadily proliferate. A little over halfway through, Duch switches to a more percussive use of the bow, bouncing it in skittering glances off the strings, creating a hypnotic rhythmic figure that glides over organic feedback, at times converging into tones nearly as pure as sine waves.

What’s most remarkable about Tomba Emmanuelle is that in its relentless exploration of the performance space, it actually transcends it. What begins as acoustic bass in a really reverberant room becomes so rich and complex that at times the influence of the room drops away entirely—your brain stops aurally mapping the contours of the space and begins to perceive only new, emergent timbres. In the final minutes, Duch wrests a few harmonics from the bass, and hearing how the tomb splays and twists them before they melt away is almost as revelatory as the overwhelmingly dense passages of the preceding half an hour.

Tomba Emmanuelle was heroically recorded by Thomas Hukkelberg. The complexity and depth of sound could easily have overwhelmed a lot of recording setups. It almost goes without saying that the music on Tomba Emmanuelle could easily overwhelm a lot of listeners, too. But as Sæterbakken mused: “isn’t that what drives us, repeatedly, toward art in any form, the dream of being overpowered…of becoming one with the object in question, melting into it?” Huddled in the belly of the very instrument itself, dissolving into sound, delighting in being devoured again and again.

Listen to the full second part of Tomba Emmanuelle here:


Akustica said...

Michael Duch - Tomba Emmanuelle is also available for purchase in FLAC, mp3 and m4a at store -