AMN Reviews: The Particle Ensemble

Earl Howard, at Moers Festival 2007
Earl Howard, at Moers Festival 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Particle Ensemble [Mutable Music 17547-2]

The Particle Ensemble, consisting of Thomas Buckner (baritone voice), J D Parran (bass saxophone, flutes and thumb piano), Mari Kimura (violin) and Earl Howard (electronics and saxello), seems to have gotten its name from “particle stuff,” Howard’s term for the fracturing, granular electronic manipulation he brings to the other musicians’ sounds. And on these three lengthy tracks—composition/improvisations for quartet, trio and duo respectively—Howard’s electronic interventions do indeed serve as a kind of continuo grounding the group’s collective sound.

Howard’s Frond presents an aural mosaic for the quartet, its sound shaped in turn by Parran’s bass saxophone, Buckner’s vocals, and Kimura’s violin. As the piece unfolds it arranges and rearranges itself into processed solos, duos and trios. Voices are multiplied times themselves, broken up into overlapping fragments and reassembled again. Buckner’s extended vocalizations, encompassing growls, cries and buzzes, creates a kind of timbral counterpoint to Kimura’s glisses and Parran’s serrated tones. Parran’s Pundititis opens with the composer’s thumb piano against Howard’s electronics, gradually ceding to Buckner’s Sprechstimme delivery of a politically-tinged text. As the piece continues Parran moves to flute for a lyrical solo followed by duets with Buckner and Howard’s saxello. The last track, an improvisation for Howard and Buckner, is a tour de force of the latter’s mastery of extended vocal techniques.

This is a fascinating ensemble that, in all of its different combinations, creates sounds that are as challenging as they are gratifying.