As stated in its subtitle, Robin Hayward’s new release is an elegy to the Saxhorn nouveau basse, an unsuccessful brass instrument invented by Adolphe Sax, whose saxophone went on to enjoy a considerably better career. From Sax’s failure, Hayward retrieves success in these works for a microtonal tuba he developed using Sax’s six-valve layout as a model, though one that he modified substantially.
Two of the compositions on the CD are for solo microtonal tuba run through speaker systems. The title tracks uses six speakers to image the tuba’s six valves which, following the original design of the Saxhorn nouveau basse, are used independently of each other. Tones cycle through the six speakers to a seventh, during the course of which the sound is altered. The second solo performance, Plateau Square, uses a quadrophonic speaker setup to give the sound a spatial dimension. Both of these lengthy pieces exercise a hypnotic effect through a gradual accumulation of harmonic and timbral density. Long tones and their electronic afterimages overlap into slowly pulsating chords with long decay times and unexpected lacunae. The title track’s low, fluttering rumbles have something seismic about them, something almost more felt than heard.
On the shorter Travel Stain, Hayward is joined by Seth Josel on scordatura guitar. Relative to the solo tuba pieces, Travel Stain has a certain textural lightness. The ranges of the two instruments contrast nicely, as do their differences of timbre and duration of tones.