contre-plongée [six cuts for string quartet]

Ernesto Rodrigues | Gerhard Uebele | Guilherme Rodrigues | José Oliveira | cs011






























There aren't many string quartets (named as such) in the world of free improvised music. Offhand I know of two - the Emergency String Quartet and the Quatuor Accorde, and unfortunately the latter has (temporarily?) disbanded, after one amazing release three years ago (Angel Gate, Emanem 4050). Ernesto Rodrigues, Gerhard Uebele, Guilherme Rodrigues and José Oliveira have deliberately chosen to avoid the quartet moniker (though "CS String Quartet" might have been nice, as a friendly nod maybe to Dominic Duval's CT String Quartet - itself now renamed), for the simple reason that Oliveira plays guitar - a stringed instrument, though not normally featured in a classical string quartet - but also the inside of a piano, which, as any school kid will tell you is technically a percussion instrument. The instruments of the conventional Western symphony orchestra have traditionally been divided into four categories: wind, brass, percussion and strings, but to quote a famous phrase of Steven Stapleton's, "categories strain, crack and sometimes break, under their burden - step out of the space provided." The music on this album is a fine example of musicians doing just that: the sheer variety of playing techniques used here effectively puts paid to any meaningful differentiation between instrumental families as hitherto defined.
On the violin, viola and cello, the actual area in which the bow is normally supposed to come into contact with the strings - between the bridge and fingerboard - represents but a tiny fraction of the total area of the instrument. Bowing slightly over the fingerboard is standard technique (sul tasto), as is bowing near the bridge (sul ponticello), but these musicians bow on and behind the bridge itself, behind the fingers, not to mention on the pegs, neck, tailpiece, back and sides of their instruments. Playing with the back of the bow (col legno) has been a special effect known to classical music since Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique", but here the frog of the bow and its metal binding are also used. And if that's not enough, the strings themselves can be prepared with any number of extraneous materials.

It's as if these venerable instruments have been discovered anew, approached from an entirely different direction - hence the album title, borrowed from the world of photography - "contre-plongée" translates as "low-angle shot", and the associated expression "en contre-plongée" means "from below".

What is equally clear from the music is that such a radical reappraisal of the possibilities of traditional instruments is not possible without an in-depth knowledge of their entire repertoire, including not only contemporary classical key works but also the brief but eventful history of free improvised music - including electronic improvised music. To quote another musician who redefined - reinvented, almost - his instrument, Keith Rowe: "Today there's an acoustic school influenced by electronics, [by] the way that electronics can be translated to an instrumental context. How could a trumpet player break through into something new? And suddenly, since Axel Dörner, they've done it! There are four or five trumpet players around who are really doing interesting stuff. Violin is yet to make a breakthrough. But I'm sure it's going to come. Someone will crack it."

With contre-plongée, Messrs. Rodrigues, Rodrigues, Uebele and Oliveira have not only cracked the violin, but exploded the whole concept of the string quartet. Check it out.


Dan Warburton