AMN Reviews: Biliana Voutchkova and Leila Bordreuil – The Seventh Water (2022; Relative Pitch)

If string drone is not a genre, it should be. Enter violinist Biliana Voutchkova, teaming here with cellist Leila Bordreuil, for a quartet of gritty sound walls and glissando waves. Recorded in August 2021, this pairing explores their abilities to evoke unconventional textures from their respective instruments while engaging in a compelling musical dialog.

Boiling Lake kicks off the album with the aforementioned string drones. Their playing is discordant, with long-held notes and erratic pulses. In doing so, Voutchkova and Bordreuil generate a big sound, much more than one would expect from a duet. Though rough-hewn, this piece exhibits a dense beauty in its color and non-stop movement. Following this attention-grabbing opener is a shorter and sparser piece, Caitha, goddess of tears. On it, Voutchkova and Bordreuil generate wavelike patterns from slides and brief clusters of notes.

Thirst begins as quiet open-ended improv with breathy – nearly ambient – textures. This evolves into string drones, not unlike those of Boiling Lake, but this time with a more urgent tone (and plenty of screeching and scaping) from Voutchkova. The title track rounds things out with an emphasis on plucked strings and percussive elements. It moves along at a nice clip, with repeating patterns eliciting a near machine-like feel from time to time.

Landing somewhere between free improv and modern classical, The Seventh Water is a beguiling and singular release that stretches the listener’s conception of the types of sounds that can be generated from a pair of otherwise staid instruments. Highly recommended.

The album was released on May 6 by Relative Pitch.