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Friday, May 5, 2023

Pascal Niggenkemper - beat the odds (Subran Musiques Aventureuses, 2023)

By Nick Ostrum

Here is the publicity sheet’s description of beat the odds, Pascal Niggenkemper’s project with two cellists (Elisabeth Coudoux and Ricardo Jacinto) and an additional double-bassist (Félicie Bazelaire): “Music for two cellos and two contrabasses whose strings are hit by a lever (sort of propeller). The variable speed motor is controlled by a foot pedal. Pulsating organisms (beats), sustained sounds (drones) and the personal musical language of each of the four musicians create a fascinating world of sound.” In terms of staging: the four musicians sit across from each other, each on the corner of a 3-meter-by-3-meter square. Behind each lies and amplifier. The crowd surrounds the musicians. Speakers sit behind the crowd, similarly on the corner of a larger 13-meter-by-13-meter square.

Those descriptions may make beat the odds sound rigid, but the result is more contingent and human than that. Or, to build off an observation Eyal Hareuveni makes about Niggenkemper’s companion release la vallée de l'étrange, maybe it flirts with that disturbing space between the machine and the human, between free choice and sterile coincidence, between actual intentionality and the listener’s arbitrary assignation of structure onto mechanical outputs. The music is heavy on strings (obviously), especially low tones, which are complemented by incessant thrumming (motors) and a steady almost metronymic pounding (lever) in addition to some pizzicato and arco work. Between the acoustic sounds and the instrumentalized amplifiers, they are also remarkably textured and surprisingly diverse. Musicians pull from extended techniques, EAI clatter, layered drones, gusty and crackly ambient and synthesized/mimicked field sounds (Caldas da Rainha). Tracks are heavy at times, as in the oddly and unevenly rhythmic Découverte or the artfully foreboding St. Helena. Always, they are layered and cumulative. Each piece sounds constructed in real-time, often looping from disparate solitary lines and notes into much denser weavings. Most importantly, the music is unwaveringly entrancing.

beat the odds is available as a CD (single or box-set) or download via Bandcamp: