Click here to [close]

Friday, March 19, 2021

The Resonant Minimalism of Ferran Fages and Àlex Reviriego

By Eyal Hareuveni

The Catalan, Barcelona-based guitarist-sound artist-composer Ferran Fages and double bass player Àlex Reviriego have played together hundreds of times as a duo, trio or quartet and have spent uncountable times driving together between gigs. Both have developed a delicate, minimalist language, as reviewed in the following albums, but their sonic universes also encompass noisier and more brutal elements.

Phicus - Liquid (Tripticks Tapes, 2021) ****

The Phicus trio -guitarist Fages, double bass player Reviriego and drummer Vasco Trilla, proved already that it can make some brutal noise – literally – in its first albums, alone or with Swedish sax player Martin Küchen and Russian sax player Ilia Belorukov, with its very own recipe of guitar feedback, down-tuned double bass bowings and sulfurous drumming. But Liquid, recorded a day after the explosive Solid (Astral Spirits, 2020), and at the same studio, Rosazul Studio in Barcelona in April 2019, suggests another side of Phicus. The other side is as essential as the wild and the aggressive one, but totally different, meditative and static. Phicus was once described as “Keiji Haino meets AMM”, and accordingly, if Solid represented the Haino’s yin side, then Liquid is the AMM’s yang side in Phicus universe.

Liquid is the fifth album of Phicus and offers two pieces. The 38-minutes of “Hg” is a highly reserved and quiet but quite unsettling drone, corresponding with the opening pieces of Solid, “HgO”, and flirting with the sonic territory of SUNN O))). Phicus relies on this brooding, contemplative piece on the subtle distorted and resonant, long guitar lines of Fages, the ethereal multiphonics and gentle harmonics of Reviriego’s arco playing and the metallic growl of Trilla’s cymbals. Mid-piece, the tension intensifies methodically but never reaches a grandiose, meltdown peak as on previous efforts of Phicus, and subsides later on. The second, shorter “Br” suggests more bright colors and reserved playfulness within the quiet and subtle framework. Phicus emphasizes here different elements of its mission: to speculate with silence, pull the noise out of joint, rearrange the timbre, scrap the tradition to explore its very own harmonic universe forged of the energy of a blazing forest into flame, where solely simple, lanceolate, obverse-shining leaves remain alive. And does it brilliantly.

Ràdium / Ràdium Trio - Segment + Circumferens (Remote Resonator + Sirulita, 2020) ***½ / ****½


Ràdium began as the duo of Fages, focusing here only on an acoustic turntable and resonant and feedback objects, and Reviriego, still on the double bass. The duo recorded its debut album Segment at La Isla in Barcelona in December 2019. The eight “Segment” drones are sound-oriented and attempt to extend the sonic spectrum of the deep-toned and highly resonant arco playing of Reviriego, with his extended bowing techniques, with the hissing sounds and feedback noises of the mechanical turntables. The slow and methodical work of both Fages and Reviriego, as well as their inventive approaches, charge these minimalist and austere pieces with an aroma of mysterious ambiance. As these pieces continue you may find it difficult to know who of these sonic alchemists produced these elastic sounds and how they did it.

Ràdium’s second album, Circumferens, now a trio with master pianist Agustí Fernández, was recorded seven months later at Estudi Les Orenetes in Barcelona. Ràdium still commits to its minimalist approach of sonic ambiguity, and as Reviriego indicate in his poetic liner notes, the trio drew inspiration from minimalism pioneer La Monte Young words: drawing a straight line and following it. But with Ràdium Trio this straight line becomes a circle, as the title of this album suggests or, ellipses, an endless circle of ideas, or a circular trip as Reviriego notes. The addition of Fernández, who plays the piano keys as well as inside the piano, adds depth, fleeting veins of tenderness and lyricism and triggers subtle rhythmic patterns into the patient and highly resonant sonic explorations. The five “circumferens” and “élleipsis” pieces are longer and more spacious compared to the Segment pieces, but still enigmatic in spirit. But the careful and elusive sonic puzzles of Circumferens also color these pieces with imaginative and poetic sensibility and strange beauty. Just follow Reviriego’s advice and imagine yourself “falling asleep totally drunk on a bus seat. Close your eyes. Time passes. Open your eyes and realize you are on the very same station, but on your way back. Terrible hangover. Future chasing the past. A circle”.

Entre cérvols llauradors - trist desert en mans de febre (Self-produced, 2021) ****

Entre cérvols llauradors (Among the plower deer in Catalan) is Fages alone, playing the electric guitar and focusing here on developing a delicate synthesis of chamber rock, post-guitar minimalism and melodies hidden away in monolithic blocks. The debut album of this project, trist desert en mans de febre (sad desert in the hands of fever) was enhanced by subtle touches of keyboards player Clara Lai, Reviriego and drummer Oriol Roca (who plays with Fages in the Tàlveg trio), and recorded at V20 studios in Barcelona in May 2020.

The six short pieces offer layers of spacious and, again, resonant ambient soundscapes, with occasional glitch interference. The minimalist yet weird melodic guitar lines float into deep space and keep reverberating until the reverberating overtones become the very essence of these hypnotic and poetic pieces. trist desert en mans de febre suggests an alternative or parallel sonic reality, one that lurks and vibrates in the shadows of any musical activity.

Ferran Fages - From Grey To Blue (Inexhaustible Editions, 2020) ****½

From Grey To Blue was written by Fages for fellow-Catalan, contemporary experimental pianist Lluïsa Espigolé, known for her work with contemporary composers like Helmut Lachenmann and Peter Ablinger. This composition was inspired by a short quote by Catalan author Carles Camps Mundó: “Barely anything: deformities of silence”. This composition was conceived in a collaborative process between Fages and Espigolé between 2016 and 2018 and recorded at Rosazu in Barcelona in September 2019.

As on other works from Fages, the focus here is on the resonant qualities of sounds, including the silent spaces between sounds. The sounds in this minimalist and extremely slow composition are suspended in time and space, almost without any movement, and intentionally devoid of emotion or drama but reaching their most expressive statements in the third and last part. This composition challenges Espigolé to find meaning and even dialog with this kind of almost static sounds, in and within the single tones and in relation to the piano.

Espigolé does so brilliantly. The sonic and emotional emptiness becomes the very essence of this meditative journey. There is nothing more than the suchness of the resonant sounds. And Espigolé lets these sounds suggest elusive dimensions and courses of time, tricks our listening sensibilities into believing that these sounds can last forever, and weaves these sounds in the unknown, arresting spaces, with shifting, delicate angles of light and shadow.

Àlex Reviriego - Fred Astaire (Self Produced, 2021) ***½

Fred Astaire is the first of a series of solo EPs dedicated to Reviriego’s heroes and celebrates the actor-dancer Fred Astaire. Astaire’s super supernatural talent, moves and elegant phrases influenced Reviriego enormously during his formative years. Reviriego recorded on this EP his version of the jazz standard “Cheek to Cheek”, written by Irving Berlin for the Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie Top Hat (1935), but promises that most likely this is the last time that he would record a standard.

The six pieces were recorded at Reviriego’s home during the winter of 2020. I assume that Astaire, or his cinematic and real-life inheritors, would find it quite challenging to find the right dance moves for the four urgent and unsettling variations of “Fred Astaire”. Reviriego’s arco and pizzicato work probes methodically the dark, wooden tones and overtones of the bull fiddle and create compelling multiphonics. He deconstructs the jazz standard into stripped to its bare, rhythmic skeleton, first as a slow, meditative piece, and then again, at an even slower pace.