AMN Reviews: PascAli – Suspicious Activity

Example of a Busetto-shaped double bass: Copy ...
Example of a Busetto-shaped double bass: Copy of a Matthias Klotz (1700) by Rumano Solano (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

PascAli: Suspicious Activity [creativesources]

The past sixty or so years have seen an enormous expansion in the sound range that can be solicited from conventional instruments. Nowhere has this augmentation of sonic possibilities been more dramatic than in the case of the double bass. The instrument has provided the occasion for everything from the extension of techniques used to produce pitch, to techniques and supplements designed to produce a more texturally-oriented approach. It is research into the latter possibility that is pursued on this new CD by PascAli.

PascAli is the duo of American Sean Ali and Franco-German Pascal Niggenkemper, both of whom play prepared double bass. The twenty-two tracks presented here are brief pieces meant to show the sheer diversity of sounds that can be produced by acoustic basses properly prepared. And that diversity is truly fascinating.

The CD literally begins at the bottom. The first track is an improvisation for the instruments’ endpins—squeaking as they’re loosened and tightened, whispering as they’re bowed. Subsequent highlights include “How Long Does It Take Styrofoam to Become Earth Again?” which is a hissing of white noise as the bassists bow Styrofoam; “Witch Tricks,” with its spiccato (bouncing) bowing and squeaking pulse evolving into overpressured bowing and percussive strikes; and the sparse pizzicato and metallic sounds of “Japanese Garden.”

This is acoustic musique concrete that pushes physicality to the forefront of both the players’ relationship to their instruments and to the listener’s experience of the sound. But not everything here is abstract sound. There also is music at the core of even some of the most unconventional tracks, as the bass’s function as a resonating chamber frequently meets with the sympathetic vibration of strings as the instrument is struck or its various parts manipulated. And there are tracks that involve overtly pitched sounds, such as the swooping microtonal glissandi of “Chinese Mask” or the repeating figures of “Buzzing Bees.”

The brevity of the tracks allows PascAli to present the greatest variety of sound, and works overall to give the recording a pleasantly kaleidoscopic—and yes, enjoyable–feel. As such the CD is an intelligent introduction to two innovative bassists’ approach to expanding the double bass’s soundworld.