Wednesday 24 February 2021

Challenging and surprising: on 'arb', clarinet and bassoon duo, Zachary Good and Ben Roidl-Ward explore multiphonics

arb; Zachary Good, Ben Roidl-Ward; Carrier Records

; Zachary Good, Ben Roidl-Ward; Carrier Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 23 February 2021 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
Recorded during lockdown last year, this disc from two Chicago-based instrumentalists explores the fascinating and insistent world of multiphonics

Zachary Good and Ben Roidl-Ward are two young instrumentalists based in Chicago. Both are interested both in expanding the repertoire of their instruments (Good plays clarinets and Baroque recorders, Roidl-Ward plays the bassoon) and extending the possibilities of the instruments. During lockdown last year, they recorded an album in their Chicago apartment.

arb, on Carrier Records, is a disc of original works for clarinet and bassoon, collaboratively composed by Zachary Good and Ben Roidl-Ward.

There are six tracks on the disc, 'Fairchild', '2pm front room', 'Guby', 'Rege', 'Prid', and 'Arb' which seem to tantalisingly hint at subjects behind the music, but the pieces themselves are resolutely abstract. Each piece features extensive use of multiphonics, with the players relishing the interplay between the two instruments.

Pitch and rhythm are almost unimportant here, the two performers place individual notes in the air and the music is often slow moving. It is the multiphonics that are the interest, the fascinating tonal and textural changes that these bring about in the sound. The result is highly textural; in convential classical music such multiphonics would be seen as disturbances but here the two performers concentrate so hard on the acoustical effects that they become the point of music. At times, it seems as if there are more than two performers, but the album isn't about acoustical tricks, but exploring the edges of what is possible on a reeded wind instrument.

The album's name, arb, requires some explanation. 'arb' is the nickname of the Oberlin Arboretum which is part of Oberlin College and Conservatory where both Good and Roidl-Ward studied (what their press release refers to as 'a magical time'). Whilst at college the two formed a duo, Arboretum, dedicated to creating new music for clarinet and bassoon. And the names of the individual pieces contain similar such references, 'Prid' refers the name of the apartment block they were living in during Lockdown, The Pridmore, whilst 'Guby' refers to Good's 1992 Buick Regal!

There is something delightfully nerdy in this disc's focus on a single issue, multiphonics, the single minded exploration of what could be seen as rather a limited aspect of wind instrument performance. But in this sheer focus, the two reveal some amazing detail. And the disc is also about the wider issue of friendship, the two have known each other and performed together for ten years, so the disc is a celebration both of friendship and of shared interest.

Zachary Good and Ben Roidl-Ward (Photo Deidre Huckabay)
Zachary Good and Ben Roidl-Ward (Photo Deidre Huckabay)

The music requires quite a degree of adjustment in the listener, at first the sounds can seem insistent and jarring, but the performers sheer concentration makes you listen in detail. The different combinations of sounds prove to contain rich details which can prove surprising. This is a brave and challenging disc, not everyone will want to listen to nearly 30 minutes of multiphonics, but do give it a go.

arb - music for clarinet and bassoon by Zachary Good and Ben Roidl-Ward
Zarchary Good (clarinet)
Ben Roidl-Ward (bassoon)
Recorded on 7 June, 2020 in an apartment in Edgewater, Chicago. The album was mixed by Ted Moore and mastered by Matt Mehlan at the Stuudio. Original artwork by Ben Llewellyn.

Available from Bandcamp.

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