AMN Reviews: Bruno Duplant – deux trois choses ou presque

On this release double bassist/sound artist Bruno Duplant performs three verbal scores by composer Manfred Werder. Each score consists of a brief text taken from the French poet Francis Ponge; Duplant’s realizations, recorded in 2011 in Waziers and Douai in France, involve performances in settings in which ambient sounds played as significant a role as Duplant’s use of sine tones, double bass and horn.

The first piece, a realization of Werder’s 2009-4, sounds like it was recorded outdoors in a wooded setting. Sine tones gently rise and fall within the larger sonic space of birdsong, insect sounds and what could be wind and/or distant traffic. By contrast, the second piece, 2009-5, is played out against a background of artificial sounds. The track opens with the Doppler-effected sounds of passing traffic; one gradually becomes aware of the quiet encroachment of Duplant’s bowed bass. Changes of bow pressure and placement relative to the bridge produce subtle shifts of timbre and volume; the long, deep tones, separated by substantial rests, overlap with and complement the surrounding drone of automobile engines. The third track, a realization of 2010-2, seems to have been recorded indoors and opens with what sounds like footsteps on a wood floor. The relative quiet of the recording ambience is broken by the intrusion of sirens, a reminder of the human activity outside. Once again Duplant brings in long bowed tones separated by lengthy pauses; the time between tones becomes more compressed as the piece approaches its conclusion.

The scores have some constraining effect on the performance, though what that precise effect is does not make itself transparently obvious to the listener. The third score, for example, consists of two lines asserting a correspondence between the French phrase for “glass of water” (“verre d’eau”) and the object it describes, based on Ponge’s observation that the opening and closing letters of the phrase have the same vase-like shape as a drinking glass. The connection of Ponge’s observation to Duplant’s realization is something not immediately apparent; it takes place somewhere out of earshot, as it were, but the process of drawing the association would seem to be fundamental to the concept underlying the score. The performance lies as much in the performer’s (internal) act of interpretation as it does in the external execution or in the overt instruction of the score itself—the essence of the performance in this regard is something made invisible and, not incidentally, something beyond the control of the composer. This for Werder represents a deliberate pursuit of indeterminacy by way of a reduction of the role of the composer as well as the composition, which here functions more as an associative stimulant than as an unambiguous set of directions. As the performances on this recording demonstrate, any realization of these scores is a collective effort in which the performer plays a role equal to that of the composer. That Duplant’s choices in responding to Werder’s promptings are apt ones makes this a recording that succeeds at both the conceptual and practical levels.