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sound/music CD reviews

 Da Contents H2

May 1 2013
Jon Rose

April 3 2013
zephyr quartet
a rain from the shadows

July 17 2012
the wired lab
wired open day 2009

May 22 2012
ros bandt, johannes s sistermanns

March 20 2012
new weird australia editions: thomas williams vs scissor lock, spartak
jewelz & nippon

October 25 2011
avantwhatever label collection
gulbenkoglu gorfinkel; ben byrne; alex white; ivan lysiak

May 24 2011
disintegration: mutation

May 10 2011
blip (jim denley, mike majkowksi)

listen to the weather

March 22 2011
difference engine

November 22 2010
artefacts of australian experimental music volume II 1974-1983

September 20 2010
clocked out
the wide alley

September 7 2010
clocked out
foreign objects

August 23 2010
matt chaumont

July 26 2010
sky needle
time hammer

May 10 2010
mike majkowski
ink on paper

November 6 2009
new weird australia vols 1 & 2

October 26 2009
clare cooper & chris abrahams
germ studies

July 17 2009
erdem helvacioglu
wounded breath

rice corpse
mrs rice

April 28 2009
james rushford

joel stern
objects, masks, props

January 22 2009
loren chasse
the footpath

mark cauvin

December 12 2007
the splinter orchestra

October 24 2007
artefacts of australian experimental music 1930-1973

August 28 2007
akathistos fragments


various artists produced by le tuan hung; dindy vaughan
on the wings of a butterfly: cross-cultural music by australian composers; up the creek

May 1 2006
ai yamamoto

camilla hannan
more songs about factories

found: quantity of sheep

philip brophy

rod cooper

December 1 2005
anthony pateras
mutant theatre

December 1 2005
charlie charlie & will guthrie
la respiration des saintes & building blocks

dj olive

new belief system

jodi rose & guest artists
singing bridges: vibrations/variations

lawrence english

lawrence english
ghost towns

michael j schumacher
room pieces

robin fox
backscatter dvd


the necks
mosquito/see through

tim o'dwyer
multiple repeat

guns, cars & guitars

warp: various artists
warp vision: the videos 1989-2004

zane trow
for those who hear actual voices


mark cauvin


Self-release 2008

A double CD of works for solo double bass is unique and special. The bass normally complements other instruments in an orchestration, supporting rather than providing the primary melodic direction. The name “bass” is interchangeable with its place on the stave and defines its presumed musical character. But, as a solo instrument, the identity of the bass is transformed, and it can be made to produce the widest range of pitches, beyond its typically subsidiary role.

This is an absorbing CD from virtuoso Australian double bassist Mark Cauvin, and something of a challenge for the novice listener. I had to work at understanding what was happening, but careful attention is greatly rewarded. Cauvin is clearly a passionate and eloquent exponent of the instrument, its varied and challenging literature and the aesthetics emerging from developmental composition. He has collected some of the great examples of work written or transcribed for it and performs them with consummate facility. This CD is a collector’s item not only for students of the bass but also for any student of twentieth century music, as it includes compositions by major composers such as Berio, Xenakis and Scelsi.

The first thing you notice is the extraordinary production. The bass is so closely microphoned it's as if you are sitting right next to the performer. You hear every nuance, and the resonances and harmonics that such an instrument can produce can be breathtakingly sensuous, even erotic. This is a confrontingly intimate performance, which must be heard on a quality hi-fi that can reproduce accurately the subtle overtones and deep notes that characterise the sound.

The CD opens with a 1975 transcription by Fernando Grillo of Giacinto Scelsi’s Ko Tha I, II and III for guitar. As with the guitar version, the instrument is laid flat on its back, and both the body and the strings are played with the hands. The CD notes indicate that, in this version, the performer must bow both in front and behind the strings and also insert knitting needles between strings, in the style of prepared piano, to create novel sonic effects, greatly extending the range of possible sounds that can be orchestrated into the whole. The overall effect is ethereal.

Cauvin has studied with contrabass master and teacher Fernando Grillo whose compositions and influence generally pervade the CD. Grillo accounts for two compositions on CD 1, including a study written specifically for Cauvin, and the monumental Suite 1 for Double Bass (1983–2005) that occupies the whole of CD 2. Grillo’s are demanding works, especially the Suite, the manuscript of which is accompanied by a 17-page instruction booklet indicating in minute detail how the work must be played, including graphically described bowing techniques. Grillo’s Suite adopts the Baroque format as well as character, and the work proceeds from Bach’s legendary studies for solo cello. The work has the emotional power and uplifting melodic lines characteristic of the Baroque suites, but with digressions into more meditative and experimental compositional and technical territory. The emphasis is also on the resonance, timbre and sonority of the bass, complex chords, sudden changes of tempi and extended techniques such as simultaneous bowing and plucking. The bass can produce a sweetly seductive cello-like sound and then abruptly plunge into darkly reverberant depths some octaves lower, rapidly shifting the listener’s awareness from the sentimental to the visceral, and thus offering an unparalleled compositional palette.

The Grillo Suite is not the only Baroque reference on the CD—Cauvin also includes Swiss composer Julien-Francois Zbinden’s 1951 Hommage a Johann Sebastian Bach (Op 44) which takes the musical form into quite different territory.

Some of the works on the CD require extraordinary technical gymnastics. For example, Iannis Xenakis’s θEPAΨ—Theraps for contrebasse solo (1976, dedicated to Grillo) includes not only chords, but polyphonic glissandi. László Dubrovay’s haunting piece Solo No 10 for Double Bass (1991) opens with high pitched whistle-like glissandi that evoke a mournful soprano voice, and also requires quadruple stopping.

Overall, the selection of works on this CD constitutes an exhaustive exploration of the sonic and musical capacities of the instrument short of amplification or electronic mediation. And the more you listen, the more you appreciate the immense stamina and concentration required to realise these works at the necessary level of perfection. Cauvin’s Transfiguration leads us to a new appreciation of the musical possibilities of the double bass, which are demonstrably at least as great as those of any other stringed instrument.

Chris Reid

© Chris Reid; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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