This music is less rarified and warmer sounding than the CD title indicates, as French clarinettist Xavier Charles mixes mutated reed timbres and aleatoric slabs of musique concrète to craft five highly distinctive improvisations. Despite what it might seem like, Charles—who is also part of the minimalist Dans les Arbes trio and other formations—doesn’t shove his instrument into household appliances. Instead, he painstakingly reworks sounds from these machines to extend, challenge, or transform clarinet tones.
Sometimes, as on “10 Clarinets in a Washing-machine,” basic reed tones predominate, at least at first, with the multiple clarinet samples initially putting out a jaunty theme. Blurry, signal-processed murmurs soon intersect with the acoustic lines, however, transforming the ringing and squeaking tones into something akin to white noise. Other pieces, such as the title track, concentrate on the clarinet’s woody chalumeau lowing, producing a sound that’s appropriately dense and rough-edged, but which never loses its linear flow.
The centrepiece of the session is the over-fourteen-minute “Hétérogène.” Assembled from sound scraps the clarinettist has preserved over the years, the noise collage is thickened with dial-twisting squeaks, plus resonating reverb that at points oozes into every spatial crevice. Stentorian or near-silent at different junctures, the resulting tone block is seasoned with watery grinds, scraps of captured conversations, and animalistic yelps and growls. At the same time, tongue slaps and reed bites confirm the actual clarinet’s constant presence, with the climax occurring as distinctive reed tones triumphantly splinter the formerly near-solid resonating drone.
Not an aural pas de deux between man and machine, with each scrambling for supremacy, this CD instead expressively alters the clarinet’s sound, with Charles confirming its continued potential in advanced music.