Charlotte Hug, viola

Frédéric Blondy, piano


1. La belle sultane
2. Oeillet parfait
3. Sombreuil
4. Cato’s pink cluster
5. Boule de neige
6. Rosa moyesii
7. Zéphirine
8. Minnehaha
9. Thalia remontant
10. Nova Zambla
11. Double delight
12. Thor


Recorded and edited by Augustin Muller in Paris - 2008 March 23th & 24th
mastered by Pierre Henri Etchandy
cover design by Charlotte Hug & Martin Davidson

Emanem 5026



The implausibility of piano and viola—a hammered and a bowed instrument—working in consonance or dissonance with one another is dramatic. But Frédéric Blondy and Charlotte Hug make the sensational angularity of the architecture of the improvisations grow out of keyboard, strings and voice in a manner so sublime that it is possible to forget the fact that piano and viola are polar opposites. With Ms. Hug’s fifth string (and sometimes additional keyboard) working its magic in ethereal glissandos and monumental arpeggios, the music naturally makes wild twists and turns seem natural extensions of melodic intent. Combined with the hammered and plucked or struck notes and strings of the piano, orchestral harmonics begin to emerge as the music soars and tumbles, splatters and bursts upon a mythical musical topography. As if this were not enough, the notes that make up notional phrases and theatrical lines in a moveable interplay of colours and textures as music—yes music—comes alive with epic harmony to accompany the fractured and howling lyricism of the melodies that are vividly suggested by Mr. Blondy and Ms. Hug on bouquet, a magnificent album from the fearless British label, EMANEM.
Charlotte Hug is a viola player who has the nerve to smite conventional norms and values when it comes to playing her instrument of choice. It is a choice some musicians and critics may consider lugubrious one. The viola is, after all far from elegant, when compared with violin and violoncello. Its upper register is sometimes a tad gruff and its lower register contains scant gravitas; yet Ms. Hug is able to conjure a brilliant excitement by allowing her bow to wander like a medieval apothecary making up a magic potion of musical melody laced with extraordinary harmonic colours. She does so with slivers of musical notes created by the bow racing back and forth across the strings. There are times when, especially in “rosa moyesil,” when the double stops rain like sheets of sound blanketing the piano’s melodic meanderings in great swathes of diaphanous musical fabric. Ms. Hug also accompanies the magnificent drone, which appears to be produced by a pseudo-harmonium, played on her viola of course, with some intense throat-singing. This is not always the case. Ms. Hug’s playing can also be extremely lithe, as on “zéphirine”; or wry and humorous as on the skittering fun of “cato’s pink cluster” and “boule de neige”. She makes her viola dance and sing on “nova zambia” and “double delight” much like a vocalist scatting in harmony with the piano’s suggested lead voice.
Frédéric Blondy is one of the most adventurous pianists that side of the pond. He has the gumption of America’s Cecil Taylor and Don Pullen combined with the graceful abandon of the great Swiss pianist Sylvie Courvoisier. But Mr. Blondy is also a singular voice in whose playing joy and sorrow, laughter and rage; and comedy and tragedy is combined in a mystical hymnal of music that voices itself like a moveable feast of ideas and creations. Technically profound and with absolute mastery of expression, Mr. Blondy commands the keyboard like a magician who probes the outer reaches of his magic with fingers that carve the air with ferocious speed or with splendid dallying gracefulness—depending on where his fertile mind is leading him. Mr. Blondy plays his keyboard as if it were a piano and a snare drum or a tympani drum. He is both pianist and orchestrator, making his musical palette emerge from strings hammered by felts, plucked by fingers, struck by clenched fists as the melodies and harmonies roar from out of the heart of his—by now—almost notional grand piano. Mr. Blondy is a veritable Odysseus when it comes to undertaking a musical adventure on his instrument, that becomes a solo one or a whole symphonic compendium of rhythmic instruments caressed and cajoled by one ingenious musician darting from one instrument to the other, seeming to keep his composure on all of them at once. His peripatetic genius is especially enshrined on “sombreuil” and on “thor”; although there are many more examples of his wondrous playing throughout the album.
Together, Charlotte Hug and Frédéric Blondy have created an album of rare and intelligent beauty; something for the ages, which also means it exists as a desert island classic with a handful of historic albums from anywhere in the world.
Raul da Gama, the world music report


Wondering why in the world it took almost five years before music of such a nobility was released. The recording occurred in fact over two days in March 2008. For our good luck, there’s no expiry date in transcendence.
Thus here is the umpteenth pitiful attempt to squiggle lines giving an artificial idea about infinitudes of acoustic transitions that can only be received as aggregates – although plenty of new details come into sight with each spin – and that inarguably surprise us whichever the side we observe. Hug and Blondy are quite indubitably technical monsters, but this is not the album’s defining trait. Their skillfulness does not make an audience become lab rats for experiments in mystification. The whole sounds human – a refreshing type of humanity, scented with total commitment.
Furthermore, it is hard to find improvisations so accurately defined; one conceptualizes an ounce of previous planning in the mind of the performers prior to entering the studio. Case in point: both “Rosa Moyesii” and “Double Delight” bracket sporadic – dare I say Feldmanesque? – piano touches with glorious groupings of voice and strings constantly revolving onto themselves inside a shifting microcosm of heavy-heartedness. Even knowing where it all started, after a while you get lost in uncertainty. Still grateful for not having to establish the reasons behind your condition, and for being pervaded by a vibrational chromatism that is bigger than words.
Elsewhere, the stunning outset “La Belle Sultane” is a miniature masterpiece of sharp-minded instrumental discourse (cum throat singing). Fireworks like those occurring in “Minnehaha” – an all-embracing give-and-take including uncomfortable freeform pianism and near-surrealist viola responsiveness – substantiate what the entire record transmits: the portrait of two strong individualities who manage to generate instant correspondences, which they do throughout 73 minutes flowing in a blink. By enriching their intentions with perceptive imagination, Hug and Blondy stiffen the pillars of our weakening hopey in the reappearance of imperative values, first and foremost the propensity to listen to an interlocutor.
Massimo Ricci, Touching Extreme


Bisognerebbe vederli dal vivo Charlotte Hug e Frederic Blondy, ma ci si può accontentare di qualche loro spezzone di concerto passato in rete. Bisognerebbe vederli, perché altrimenti si fatica a credere a ciò che si legge sulla copertina del loro ultimo album intitolato Bouquet, ossia che Charlotte Hug e Frederic Blondy suonano rispettivamente una viola e un pianoforte. Bisognerebbe vederli perché quello che imperversa nei dodici brani del disco sembra un ensemble da camera eccentrico, spericolato, schizofrenico più che un duo di strumenti acustici che fatichiamo a riconoscere perché il piano suona spesso come uno strumento ad arco e la viola come un clavicembalo impazzito.
Scopriremmo che Blondy ama la pancia del pianoforte, ne sonda ogni anfratto, sfregando le corde con l'archetto o percuotendole con bastoncini felpati, ottenendo effetti microtonali altrimenti impossibili da ricavare. O che Hug utilizza archetti di diversa foggia e dimensione anche contemporaneamente così che pressioni differenti ma contemporanee sulle quattro corde della viola rimandano brusii inquietanti ed effetti orchestrali. O che la violista, compositrice, artista visuale elvetica sfrega con un archetto i crini di un altro archetto che a sua volta sfrega le corde della viola...
Insomma, tecniche perlomeno poco ortodosse che richiedono un'abilità ed una padronanza strumentale superiore, messe al servizio di un'idea espressiva non rivoluzionaria ma che coniuga in maniera convincente rigore formale e subbuglio emozionale. Aprendo all'ascoltatore - questa volta grato alla valenza solo sonora del supporto fisico che lascia l'immaginazione libera di vagare - scenari musicali inimmaginabili.
Vincenzo Roggero, allaboutjazz


Each member of this improvising duo has extended the possibilities of their respective instruments.
French pianist Frédéric Blondy studied mathematics and physics before turning full-time to piano, training in both jazz and classical idioms at the Bordeaux National Conservatory. He’s a member of Hubbub, who alongside AMM are leading exponents of texture-based improvisation. Like saxophonist John Butcher, who has a PhD in physics, Blondy’s experimental approach to his instrument has him playing as much inside and outside the sound box as on the keys, and he is not averse to extending and refining the possibilities through the use of objects to strike the various surfaces.
Violist and vocalist Charlotte Hug was born, and still resides, in Zurich, where she has perfected the “soft bow technique.” The hairs on the bow are adjusted to be loose enough so that all four strings can be played simultaneously. This allows up to eight notes to be sounded together, as two different pitches can result from each string, above and below where bow meets string. She uses her voice only sparsely on this recording, but her whoops and quivers add yet another layer to the mix.
Crossing these two results in a palette so rich and varied that overdubbing or electronic manipulation is suspected, but this recording was performed live, and with no electronic effects. Each song is named after a rose cultivar, appropriately arranged under the title Bouquet. The 12 tracks thus present a dozen roses, and like their floral counterparts, these sonic blooms burst with vibrant colours and heady fragrances. Varying in length from under three to over 10 minutes, they recombine all of the duo’s influences into fresh cuts.
“Cato’s Pink Cluster” has the violin and piano chasing each other with rapid runs, the classical feel of the introduction giving way to a jazzier coda. Here, Blondy reminds one of Marilyn Crispell, as he shifts from gentle melodies to Cecil Taylor-like hammering of single notes.
“Sombreuil” and “Boule de Neige” are thorny electro-acoustic soundscapes, with Blondy flailing over all piano surfaces. “Rosa Moyesii” is minimalist (mirroring its single-flowered namesake), with Hug moaning almost imperceptibly along with the drones.
A tour through this highly cultivated garden is strongly recommended.
Lawrence Joseph, cultmontreal


Bouquet est le quatrième album de ou avec Charlotte Hug sur le label Emanem et comme ses prédécesseurs, il se révèle ce qu’on pourrait définir comme un chef d’œuvre, si c’est une chose possible dans le contexte de l’improvisation libre ou totale. Comme le souligne mon confrère Dan Warburton dans les notes de pochette, l’univers de ce duo parlera « aux connaisseurs de Grisey, Xenakis, Cage et Feldman ». Frédéric Blondy prend ici un recul par rapport à sa pratique engagée avec le groupe Hubhub ou le duo avec Lê Quan, les deux improvisateurs établissant un rapport réciproque de dialogue lucide et sensible qui parcourt un très large champ d’investigation. Douze pièces aussi variées qu’il est possible, faisant appel autant à l’intelligence musicale qu’à la spontanéité en mettant en valeur une véritable mine de matériaux sonores, d’idées lumineuses, de pratiques instrumentales rares, ponctuées de quelques interventions vocales de Charlotte. Celle-ci nous avait offert une symbiose magique entre sa voix naturelle et son alto joué en pizzicato, à l’archet ou avec sa technique remarquable de soft-bow dans l’album Slipway to Galaxies. Ici la chanteuse mêle sa voix aux sons instrumentaux avec un esprit d’à propos qui fait à la fois corps avec son jeu à l’alto et avec la musique du duo. Ayant fait le choix d’utiliser différentes techniques au piano pour cet enregistrement, Frédéric joue magistralement le clavier « normal » comme on l’entend dans cato’s pink cluster, l’instrument préparé comme durant les dix minutes de thalia remontant, ou intervient manuellement dans les cordes, comme dans la belle sultane qui arrache littéralement l’écoute lorsqu’on choisit d’écouter directement la première plage. Bouquet porte bien son titre, le fait d’accorder dans le même album douze morceaux aussi différents comme les parties d’un même tableau plein de couleurs, de souffles, de mystères et de lueurs est à lui seul tout un art. Devrais-je convaincre un connaisseur pointu et exigeant ou un auditeur occasionnel de la filiation ou du cousinage de plus en plus rapproché des musiques d’improvisations avec celles des compositeurs contemporains, Bouquet sera mon premier choix (ex-aequo avec gocce stellari du Stellari Quartet où officie Charlotte Hug). Aussi, Frédéric est un pianiste exceptionnel et Charlotte est une artiste unique du point de vue de son instrument, le violon alto. Franchement, j’ai tellement de plaisir à écouter et à en découvrir tous les coins et recoins que je ne vais tarder à conclure cette chronique pour me concentrer sur l’écoute de Bouquet. Il met en perspective les recherches, pratiques, racines, sentiments, talents individuels et l’imagination de deux artistes sincères et complètement engagés dans leur art comme rarement il est permis de l’entendre.
Jean-Michel van Schouwburg, Orynx-improv'andsounds


Ces deux-là cultivent depuis plusieurs années des affinités électives, conjuguent un langage commun au croisement d'une certaine musique écrite (Cage, Feldmam...) et d'un goût du risque propre au Free Fall. La violoniste Charlotte Hug et le pianiste Frédéric Blondy ont choisi l'éloquence des petites pièces pour mieux explorer les récits qu'ils inventent et suivre des trames sonores qui bruissent de mille éclats. La matière de leurs instruments respectifs est sans cesse explorée, détournée (piano intérieur, usage non classique de l'archet...) afin d'en faire jaillir des correspondances à vif, sans perdre le fil du dialogue. Bouquet offre une éclosion magique des sens, patiente et obstinée, comme une nouvelle forme d'abstraction lyrique.
Thierry Lepin, Jazznews


This meeting of French pianist Frédric Blondy and Switzerland's Charlotte Hug on viola and voice was studio-recorded in March 2008 in Paris. Performing as a duo since 2005, Hug and Blondy continue to do so. The album sleeve bears a phrase that is increasingly seen in recent years: "No overdubbing or electronic modification was used." In other words, everything on the album was played by the two musicians in real time. However, the aural evidence may lead some to doubt that; at times, it suggests that several players are at work rather than just two, so complex and detailed are the soundscapes.In his sleeve notes, Dan Warburton—himself no stranger to the violin and piano or to Blondy, with whom he has played—comments upon the risks of combining a stringed instrument with piano, citing as evidence the differences in their tunings. But, he says that once going beyond the traditional boundaries of normal technique, the question of compatibility is of little or no importance. Together, Blondy and Hug demonstrate the truth of that statement. In addition to frequent passages of conventional playing, each of them goes way beyond the boundaries of normal technique. So, Hug employs her slackly-strung "soft bow," which allows all four strings of her viola to be played simultaneously, giving her the capacity to create polyphonic drones. As on other recent recordings, she also uses her voice alongside her viola, frequently emitting small sighs or moans of pleasure. Blondy plays inside his instrument, extracting uncharacteristically high-pitched metallic tones and glissandi.
Throughout, the pair is entirely compatible, doubtless because of the years they have accumulated playing together as a duo. Each of them brings a wealth of experience playing in a range of contexts, plus many other influences, to the duo. But when they play together, rather than making all of that history explicit, it informs their reactions to each other and their shaping of the music. The end results show that both Blondy and Hug are skilled improvisers able to make split-second decisions in response to each other and to the overall flow of the music they are creating. Across the twelve tracks, that music is richly varied but consistently high quality, fluent and engaging.
John Eyles, allaboutjazz


Q: What’s the difference between a dog and a viola? A: The dog knows when to stop scratching. Of all the stringed instruments extant, it’s the viola which gets the least respect, with this joke only one of hundreds about it.
Yet because of its unique intonation the viola has become a favored method of expression for inventive improvisers like the two on these discs. Certainly Zürich’s Charlotte Hug and Amsterdam’s Ig Henneman confirm the versatility of their chosen instrument.
Perfectly designed to confuse types whose allegiance is to contemporary so-called classical music are the selections on Bouquet by Hug and Paris-based pianist Frédéric Blondy. Both have enough academic expertise to work in the notated milieu, but the dozen tracks here are improvisations, off-handedly displaying exquisite technical smarts, while sympathetically cooperating to create sound pictures that are extravagant without being egocentric. Most tracks consist of inside and outside piano tropes that range from methodical to stratospheric, plus fiddle sweeps that encompass mangling, melding and mixing textures. The overlapping cadences create a genuinely moving program.
A track such as “Thalia remontant” for instance finds the pianist vibrating mini cymbals resting on the top of his instrument’s internal string set, complementing Hug’s low-pitched spiccato swipes. Moving away from steady rhythm, both apply more torque to their strings resulting in multiplied tremolo syncopation. In contrast, “Rosa moyesii” is completed with a (faux?) sexy sigh from Hug after the two have methodically exposed parallel tonal chords, with the violist’s instrument attaining cello-like resonance as she roughens her attack. Blondy is so skillful that on “Sombreuil” he creates a cavern-deep ostinato from pure pedal motion alone, and then uses broken-octave keyboard jumps to define a response to Hug’s melodic invention. Elsewhere embroidered textures oscillate so quickly and are so opaque that ascribing them to a particular instrument is nearly impossible.
These CDs confirms that the viola makes a perfect vehicle for advanced improvisation. More sessions like these, and eventually there may be a dearth of jokes like: Q: Why is a viola like a lawsuit? A: Everyone’s happy when the case is closed.
Ken Waxman,The New York City Jazz Record


Švýcarská violistka a vokalistka Charlotte Hug a francouzský pianista Frédéric Blondy zazářili v Praze na festivalu Alternativa v roce 2006. Hug je známá svými eskapádami do alpských ledovcových jeskyň a dalších zvláštních míst, kde hledá možnosti zvuku svého nástroje a hlasu, i jako tvůrkyně abstraktních výtvarných objektů, což se pochopitelně odráží i v jejím vzletném stylu hry. Blondy vystudoval matematiku a fyziku a jeho preludia připomínají kubistické geometrické obrazce zborcené samy do sebe.
Souznění obou umělců je zcela zjevné a vytváří uhrančivé plochy plné temných zákoutí a sonických gejzírů, které se rozpadají do jednotlivých kapek a posléze volně stékají v různých směrech, aby se znovu potkávaly či účelně míjely. Vibrující i skřípavá hudba, která má symfonickou patetičnost a rozkošatěnost. Vše tu má obrovskou kadenci a valí se neustále vpřed i vzad. Hladivé i mrazivé zároveň. Kaleidoskopický pohled na svět, kde se vše mění každou vteřinou a představuje impresionistický náhled zobrazování pomíjivé skutečnosti. Úsporné vzdechy i mručení Charlotte jsou sice v podkresu, ale mají nesmírnou naléhavost, jež se podprahově zarývá do vašeho podvědomí. Výbušná meditace ve spirálních výkrutech, kde jednotlivé tóny narážejí do sebe v atomizovaném prostoru, aby se vracely do stejných míst nebo uprchly do nenávratna.
Petr Slabý, His Voice


Depuis plusieurs années Fréderic Blondy et Charlotte Hug entretiennent un duo avec obstination et brio. Formule classique par excellence, le duo piano/violon prend ici une toute autre dimension. Plus de soliste, plus d'accompagnateur, ces rapports sont constamment en jeu, renversés, contestés, assumés, décalés. Piano préparé, étendu, archet et cordes malaxés, l'étendue des techniques est immense, mais ce qui frappe avant tout c'est l'extraordinaire complicité qui opère ici et dont on peut penser qu'elle est généralement l'assurance d'un grand moment d'improvisation.
Anne Montaron, France Musique


Französisch-Schweizer Duo, das verblüfft. Präpariertes Klavier, Original-Bogen-Technik, teilweise Stimme – ein Improvisations-Duo gnadenlos, einmalig.
"Frankreich ist durch den jungen Pianisten Frédéric Blondy vertreten, dessen Auftritt mit der Schweizerin Charlotte Hug, Viola und Stimme, trotz der kammermusikalisch erscheinenden Besetzung einer der experimentelleren sein wird.
Begegnungen von Klängen und Geräuschen in Konfrontation und Synthese, Entwicklungen grandioser Soundscapes und immer wieder überraschende Wendungen und Tonwelten sind zu erwarten. Unterstützt und gesteigert wird die Klangperformance auch durch ungewöhnliche Techniken mit optischen Qualitäten, wie etwa Hugs "soft bow", eine extrem weiche Bogenbespannung, die enorm reichhaltige und obertonreiche Klänge zu erzeugen vermag.
Genauso spannend verspricht auch die Verarbeitung der musikalischen Hintergründe der Musiker zu werden, Blondys Synthese von beispielsweise Cecil Taylor und Morton Feldman, oder Hugs interdisziplinäre Arbeiten oder ihre Einbeziehung der Aura ungewöhnlichster Aufführungsorte versprechen ein spannendes Konzerterlebnis.
Hannes Schneider TUBE


Avec l'intime complicité de Charlotte Hug et Frederic Blondy, partenaires depuis quelque temps déjà, il a pu nous sembler que le monde au fond, n'était pas si mauvais puisqu'il existait encore des gens capables de communiquer vraiment, ensemble et avec le sourire de ceux qui découvrent la vie à chaque seconde. Ce genre de concert a le don de me rendre idiot, parfaitement béat comme devant une heure arrêtée à midi, quand le soleil est au zénit.
Un pianiste rompu aux exigences de son instrument, qui le met en branle et le plonge immédiatement au plus profond de la nuit, là où plus rien ne vient baliser le chemin à suivre ni interrompre la démesure du protocole... une violoniste haut perchée sur l'échelle du danger, mêlant aux accents de son instrument les exhalaisons naturelle d'une voix généreuse...


Samedi 20 (août 2016), retour dans l'église de Domeyrot, où est installé le piano du festival (Le Bruit de la Musique). C'est le matin, nos oreilles sont fraîches. Frédéric Blondy s'installe au piano. Ce n'est pas un piano préparé, rien n'est encore installé dans les cordes. Mais un grand bric-à-brac est prêt à être utilisé, au fil de l'impro qui va commencer. Charlotte Hug est à l'alto. Ses accessoires sont moins spectaculaires (petites pinces à linge, objets métalliques que je n'ai pas identifiés, et son archet dont les crins sont amovibles à une extrémité ce qui lui permet de faire le tour de l'alto et de faire sonner les quatre cordes en même temps). Les deux musiciens se lancent dans ce qui fut peut-être le sommet du festival (quel crève-cœur de désigner un coup de cœur au détriment de tous les autres). C'est inracontable mais on va essayer. Lui danse dans son piano, gratte, frotte, frappe, sonne. Il quitte le cadre du piano pour revenir sur les touches. Pas bavard, il joue aussi avec les silences, dans un tempo puissant d'une beauté saisissante. Elle effleure, caresse, résonne, grince, hurle son alto, chuchote à la voix, percute des lèvres, invente un chant, lance des hurlements orgasmiques, ose tout. Les deux dialoguent, écoute, respect, relance, complicité. Leur impro à quatre mains et deux âmes se termine magnifiquement, sur un sommet (bien plus enthousiasmant qu'une fin classique dans un souffle qui s'essouffle jusqu'au silence). Après tant de beauté, le monde peut s'arrêter de tourner.

Anne Kiesel © Le son du grisli

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