John Cage: Music for Piano 4-84 Overlapped (YAN.006)


John Cage
Music for Piano 4-84 Overlapped

Pascale Berthelot piano
Recorded and mixed 2017 by Gérard de Haro at Studios La Buissonne
Mastered by Anaëlle Marsollier
Piano technician: Alain Massonneau
Produced by Marc Thouvenot & La Buissonne
Release date: May 24, 2018

What if I ask thirty-two questions?
What if I stop asking now and then?
Will that make things clear?
Is communication something made clear?
What is communication?
–John Cage, “Communication”

In her third intersection with the CUICATL sublabel, pianist Pascale Berthelot offers something truly unique in John Cage’s Music for Piano. Composed between 1952 and 1962 through a series of chance operations, Music for Piano grew into a set of 85 pieces. Numbers 4-84 took on a life of their own as incidental soundtrack for dancer Merce Cunningham’s 1953 Solo Suite in Space and Time, and these are presented in an unprecedented way: superimposed and played as one. Because Music for Piano indeed plays with notions of space and time—stretching, deconstructing, unraveling them as quantum material—it makes an ideal sort of sense in this collective reiteration.

Suggestions in the score were yielded by natural imperfections in the paper, where Cage decided to make a mark, thus freeing something that might otherwise have remained locked away in its planar prison. This fundamental action—of treating something noticeable as a rupture into sound production—gave emptiness to substance and substance to emptiness. In so doing, he proved the fallacy of silence altogether.

Despite the overlap (if not also because of it), an intense subtlety prevails. And because the notation is already so bare, the result is far from chaotic. It is, rather, like gazing upon a starry sky and hearing it for the first time. The deeper one goes into Berthelot’s performance, the more the piano sheds its associations as a center-stage instrument. Rather, in being plucked, strummed, depressed, and knocked from the inside out, it opens itself like a dictionary. Flipping through it as one would spin a globe and land a finger for want of random travel, Berthelot links one word after another until vocabularies, sentences, and paragraphs emerge. In reading them back to us, he fixes a narrative as such and allows us to wield it as a text. The beauty of it all is that we may cut a piece from anywhere along its trajectory and roll it out into another story altogether.

This recording is a gift that keeps on giving. A must for admirers of Cage, and for anyone who believes that music is something that should feel you, not the other way around.

Thomas Adès: Illuminating from Within (YAN.005)


Thomas Adès
Illuminating from Within

Winston Choi piano
Recorded 2015 by Nicolas Baillard at Studios La Buissonne
Produced by Marc Thouvenot & La Buissonne
Release date: October 30, 2015

If ever there was a composer who worked in light, it would be Thomas Adès. As the subject of this recital by Canadian pianist Winston Choi, he comes across as someone interested not so much in the metaphysical as the metaphorical. Traced Overhead (1995/96), for one, takes its inspiration from the iconography of angels, and in drawing that connection molds transcendence and ascension as motifs worthy of articulation at the keyboard. Such heavenly associations, however, remind us of flesh’s sinful tendencies and of the material world that keeps its desires running smoothly. As two relatively shorter movements shift into a protracted third, in which the scratch of thorns blood-lets a sacred disembodiment, the dichotomy of inner/outer ceases to be real. The Three Mazurkas (2009) that follow are brimming with detail. Originally written for Emanuel Ax and tipping their shared hat to Chopin, they showcase a full integration of sound, color, and environment even as dance steps are obscured through the filter of personal expression.

Thrift (A Cliff Tower) (2012) begins a chain of standalone works. Its roiling textures, viewed (and heard) as if from a precipice, are an appropriate prelude to Darknesse Visible (1992). This nervous translation of John Dowland’s “In darkness let me dwell” is strangely bright. The end result is no longer a song but something else entirely. Still Sorrowing (1992), also rooted in Dowland, lights a decidedly nocturnal stove. Muted strings and plant-like forms grow in honest profusion. All of which makes the Concert Paraphrase (2009) feel like a masochistic slap. This free transcription of Adès’s first opera, Powder Her Face, is dramatic, halting, and intensely physical. Between fiercely lyrical asides and gently tumultuous arias it strings tightropes of Weimar-era cabaret, romanticism, and fantasy. More real than anything, for nothing is real without a little makeup to offset the truth.

Samuel Sighicelli: Etudes pour piano & sampler (YAN.004)


Samuel Sighicelli
Etudes pour piano & sampler

Samuel Sighicelli piano, electronics
Recorded October 6-8, 2014 by Gérard de Haro at Studios La Buissonne
Mastered by Nicolas Baillard
Produced by Marc Thouvenot & La Buissonne
Release date: February 28, 2017

Pianist Samuel Sighicelli, known to La Buissonne Label listeners as a key member of Caravaggio, presents what this album’s press release calls a “bionic piano.” More than an amalgamation of flesh, metal, and wood, it is a meta-compositional tool. Sighicelli started this project by recording improvisations at home on the piano, treating curated selections therefrom as seeds for heavily constructed pieces. From this a series of 12. Though originally intended for two loudspeakers, he reworked them for live performance using digital sampling, thus allowing him to invoke the prerecorded material via electronic keyboard.

“Signes/Course” combines elliptical motifs with splashes of cold water, string treatments, and backward glances. If such descriptions feel vague, it is only because the music is so precise, and to capture it in like manner risks limiting its interpretive possibilities. So begins a psychological character study of psychology itself. The mix of submarine signals and deserted expanse that is “Carcasse dans la neige” haunts the brain. Upon hearing it, we immediately realize we lack the necessary equipment to interpret the pattern as a message. Instead, we flounder in our need for communication: isolated, undiscerned, voiceless. Those pulses continue to echo across the waters of our conscious mind in “L’horizon comme vouloir,” even as they find purchase in the piano’s physical body.

The more these pieces evolve, the more the sampler becomes integrated into the piano itself, as if it were hybridizing with the very instrument from which it emerge. Along the way, we are exposed to sound bites of human voice (“Édifices”), sinister ruptures (“Brèches”), sacred spaces (“Monolithe”), futuristic body scans (“Départ dans le bruit neuf”), and even the lull of cricket song (“L’âge du faire”). And when the keys sing to us from within minimal clothing, as in “Dernier regard” and “Presque l’aube,” the effect is startling. It is akin to being sonically operated on to disentangle us from an incursion of microscopic entities, each wielding a knife so small that every slash is felt only in dreams.

Daniel D’Adamo/Thierry Blondeau: Plier-Déplier (YAN.003)


Daniel D’Adamo
Thierry Blondeau

Béla Quartet
Julien Dieudegard
Frédéric Aurier violin
Julian Boutin viola
Luc Dedreuil violoncello
Recorded, edited, and mixed in 2012 by Gérard de Haro at Studios La Buissonne
Mastered by Nicolas Baillard
Steinway prepared by Alain Massonneau
Produced by Marc Thouvenot & La Buissonne
Release date: November 19, 2013

Plier-Déplier (Folding and Unfolding) is the title piece, jointly composed by Daniel D’Adamo and Thierry Blondeau, of this fascinating program of string quartet music. Played with astonishing (meta)physical accuracy by the Béla Quartet, it comes across as three-dimensional and tangible. Prerecorded snippets allow insight into the preparatory elements of these constructions. Some are distant, others intimately close. Such extremes give credence to the between-ness of things, just as the rising and setting of the sun confirms our allegiance to the day. Though nearly all of these 19 pieces average two minutes in length, there’s a sense of expansion at play from one to the next. Silence is as much employed for its notecraft as scored action. Calling these vignettes therefore feels grossly inaccurate, as they are no less narrow in scope than a haiku. So-called extended techniques become the norm, while traditional bowing serves to insist on the contrivances of measured speech, directed emotion, and impositions of time. In the present context, urgency of clarity becomes a disruption to the comforts of a given instrument’s tessitura, stretching the limits of possibility as naturally as blinking. Implications abound in the creak of a tuning peg, the scrape of an un-vocalized string. Contrasts of breezes and gales coexist in a fluttering storm, while harmonics resound like sirens of the heart, coaxing themselves to shore.

Blondeau and D’Adamo each offer a solitary composition as postlude. Where the former’s Last Week-End on Mars evokes air raids and space travel, using electronics to enhance the vagaries of time, the latter’s Découper – petite passacaille touches the edges of its own vocabulary—not with the tongue but with the fingertips. The quartet’s delicacy, interspersed with forthright expulsions of air, gives a taste of the meal that never reaches this proverbial table. Instead, it leaves us to ponder the empty plate before us as if it were our own life, scarred by years of silverware and unthinking consumption.

Ivan Fedele: Musica della luce (YAN.002)


Ivan Fedele
Musica della luce

Pascale Berthelot piano
Recorded in 2012 by Gérard de Haro at Studios La Buissonne
Edited, mixed, and mastered by Nicolas Baillard
Steinway prepared by Alain Massonneau
Produced by Marc Thouvenot & La Buissonne
Release date: November 19, 2013

The pianistic literature of Ivan Fedele is the subject of this recital by Pascale Berthelot, which follows her CUICATL debut. The program opens with the Italian composer’s Études boréales (1990). Meant to evoke the icy climate of Finland, it requires the performer to dig into the keyboard like a mountain climber might ascend by means of a pick. Such sharp attacks are resolutely luminescent, while the slower sections are murmurings of shadow. Internal resonances are beautifully enhanced in the third and fifth etudes, as if in a frozen cave exhaling its own voices across the valleys. The harmonics of the fourth are the tones of icicles falling from their state of overhang.

Études australes (2002/03) shifts to warmer, more forgiving spaces. Subtitles of individual etudes (Tierra del fuego, Cape Horn, etc.) suggest polar geographies but also the genera (e.g., Aptenodytes) and species of birds who inhabit them. With no pedal indications to lead the way, Berthelot is left to interpret the duration of every note cluster as if it were its own hybrid, jumping from sparkling cliffs into oceanic depths.

The Toccata (1983, 1988) is an ode to the composer’s own youth and the revelry of practicing at the piano. That feeling of repetition, of evolution and involvement, is omnipresent. Insistence and flowery ornamentation go “all in” throughout this fascinating and unabashedly honest music.

Cadenze is a set of nine aphorisms composed over a 25-year period (1983-2008). Though short, they practically insist on lingering long after being uttered. Thus, the markings of each are as much linguistic as environmental. Some particularly striking examples are numbers III (a psychic rush), VI (a dance that never gets off the ground), and VIII (a lullaby for DNA).

Nachtmusik (2008) concludes with a piano-only section from the longer Deu notturni con figura, itself for piano and electric piano. As the most brooding narrative at hand, it pulls itself through a thick emotional transference, ever aware of its age.

Fedele’s oeuvre is a collective study of contrasts in the same planetary body. Just as the Earth’s axis suggests two tilts—one toward the sun and the other away from it—it balances light and dark, warmth and cold, art and science. This is neither a treatise or a manifesto, but a short story collection rolled into a ball and kneaded until its words are no longer distinguishable.

Morton Feldman: Triadic Memories (YAN.001)


Morton Feldman
Triadic Memories

Pascale Berthelot piano
Recorded and mixed in 2009 by Gérard de Haro at Studios La Buissonne
Mastered by Nicolas Baillard
Steinway prepared by Alain Massonneau
Produced by Marc Thouvenot & La Buissonne
Release date: November 19, 2013

Around fifty solo piano pieces are attributed to composer Morton Feldman (1926-1987), whose relationship with the instrument was like that of light to prism. This studio recital by Pascale Berthelot, recorded in 2009 by Gérard de Haro at La Buissonne, marks the inaugural release in the studio’s CUICATL imprint, dedicated to documenting world-class performances of contemporary classical material.

Triadic Memories, written for Japanese pianist Aki Takahashi in 1981, is a cartography not only of triads and memories as self-contained entities but also of the ways in which each informs the other. Arpeggiated chords mark ephemeral borders; motifs are recycled and transformed. Every shade comprises a vocabulary of solitary travel. In the words of Feldman himself: “In this regularity (though there are slight gradations of tempo) there is a suggestion that what we hear is functional and directional, but we soon realize that this is an illusion; a bit like walking the streets of Berlin—where all the buildings look alike, even if they’re not.” Thus, Feldman’s interest in duration over rhythm (or, as Louis Goldstein puts it, “[h]is concern with how a musical composition sounds, rather than how it is made”) takes precedence, just as one’s footsteps might give the illusion of regularity yet, upon closer scrutiny, reveal endless possibilities. Like a child learning how to walk yet whose comportment speaks of an innate knowledge passed down genetically, cosmically, from body to body (if not soul to soul), Triadic Memories recalibrates the parameters of our attention span until we no longer feel present in ourselves. And just as we are about to get stuck, we find our equilibrium restored, over and over, until only beauty remains to show for our passage.

One of the missions of CUICATL is to include pieces appropriate for conservatory students to learn and play. In this case, it is Feldman’s Piano Piece of 1952. Despite its more rigid structure and shorter duration, it feels less welcoming than Triadic Memories. Premiered by David Tudor in 1959, it has been rarely recorded since. Its score suggests not melodies but organisms. These we can hold as one might hold a newborn and watch them grow in a space where the air shapes itself as a sentient, physical substance. This is character of Feldman’s music: its willingness to let contradictions speak as the fully formed individuals they are rather than stand before the court of our scrutiny as selves divided between prosecution and defense.