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Friday, May 5, 2023

Pascal Niggenkemper - have you ever wondered (Subran Musiques Aventureuses, 2023)

By Paul Acquaro

have you ever wondered is an ear-catching set of music that makes use of the sonic environment of the bell tower of the lovely Notre-Dame de la Drèche in France, a Catholic church in the French countryside dating from the 14th century. As composer and bassist Pascal Niggenkemper explains, the album is "chamber music for carillon, trumpet, voice, electronics & double bass," and the recording's 11 tracks take the listener on an unexpected musical journey.

Images in the booklet shows cornetist, electronics manipulator and singer Ben LaMar Gay playing his cornet partially inside a giant bell, surely generating a unique sounding reverb. Indeed, the interplay between the churches bells and the assorted instruments reveal many layers and unexpected combinations of sound. The bells themselves are the carillon, which to borrow from Wikipedia, "is a pitched percussion instrument that is played with a keyboard and consists of at least 23 bells. The bells are cast in bronze, hung in fixed suspension, and tuned in chromatic order so that they can be sounded harmoniously together." The carillon here, which Niggenkemper develops his chamber pieces around, is played by Corinne Salles and made up of 37 bells.

The recording begins with the track entitled ' 44ºC,' referring to the extreme temperature on the day that the recording was created (this is 111 Fahrenheit - I don't think making music would be my main activity in such conditions!), begins with the clear ringing of the bells by Salles. Niggenkemper then provides a low drone from his bass, switching back and forth between a couple of legato notes. Slowly, LaMar Gay's electronics begin creeping in, creating a staticy texture. Then, the recording jumps to the next track, 'juchés,' in which LaMar Gay sings long, wordless tones that seems to cut through the consistent melodic snippets from the bells and the bubbling of electronics. The atmosphere is somewhat creepy, something that is further accentuated by Niggenkemper's droning bass lines. On 'retombées,' LaMar Gay's cornet returns, mirroring the long, floating notes of the other instruments, and on the title track, he sings a short refrain. Niggenkempers extended techniques fills the track 'descente.'

Approximately halfway through the album, on 'sona', a less than two and a half minute piece, that the pulse quickens. A tandem melody by the bells and cornet, over an expressive bass line, offers a near conventional song and provides a nice counter motion to the recording. This is followed by the haunting 'miralh,' where the cornet, bass and electronics move like objects obscured in the fog, while the bells ring out a haunting melody. The texture is thick, the mood suspenseful and a center piece of the album.

have you ever wondered ends with 'torride,' a fitting end to the unusual recordings. The bells, starting off strong are eventually replaced with electronic fuzz and a repetitive bass note. I'm sure, as they wrapped up the recording late on the 44ºC day, the three knew that their sweat was not in vain and that they had created something new and unusual.