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**300 copies** While g a b b r o, Hanne De Backer’s baritone sax project, used a no frills duo concept for its debut album, things take a different turn on Granular. With Marc De Maeseneer again by her side, this album also involves fellow Belgian experimentalist Raphael Malfliet on electric bass, as well as singular vocalist Agnes Hvizdalek.
Taken from studio recordings, as well as the quartet’s performance at 2018’s Summer Bummer Festival, Granular turns fragmentation and attention for detail, sound and space into an invitation to listen without prejudice and expectations. The result is a strikingly original impression of a universe full of unconventional techniques, which retains a balance between the highly personal and a remarkable openness, turning the granules of the title into a broader, organic whole.
Hanne De Backer: Baritone Saxophone, Bass Clarinet
Agnes Hvizdalek: Voice
Raphael Malfliet: Electric Bass
Marc De Maeseneer: Baritone Saxophone
"The trailer preceding Granular already gave a strong indication of what to expect and immediately put the album’s title into practice: the first thing you saw were hands, necks and chins, mouthpieces, feet, strings and keys. And they could be blurry. In other words: what you got were fragments, details, parts of a larger whole. They left you wondering about the bigger picture but also forced you to focus on what was at hand. According to the Cambridge dictionary, ‘granular’ means ‘made of, or seeming like, granules’, with a granule being ‘a small piece like a grain of something’. It is a definition that works on several levels here.
But first a sidestep, as project initiator Hanne De Backer started from a confrontation between free improvisation and closed physical spaces. During a visit to the psychiatric ward of the Antwerp prison, graphic scores led to vocal improvisations, which inspired these recordings that were made before, during and after the 2018 Summer Bummer Festival. g a b b r o was a real band this time, as the already familiar duo of Hanne De Backer and Marc De Maeseneer was joined by experimental vocalist Agnes Hvizdalek and electric bassist and composer Raphael Malfliet.
Listening to Granular immediately extends the impressions of the trailer, with those bowed strings, swelling baritone sax (and bass clarinet) drones and Hvizdalek’s uncanny cooing on Monday. The remainder of the album soon unfolds as a consistently fascinating voyage for curious ears, filled with low volume textures and sounds, remarkable use of breath and saliva, wood and metal, the various ways in which strings can be touched and/or manipulated. And then there is the oldest instrument of them all: the human voice with its endless possibilities, and Hvizdalek’s uncanny control over her vocal cords, not to mention the unconventional and inspired techniques.
The music shares some characteristics with the detailed productions of the Mikroton-label and sound-based experiments of artists like Martin Küchen, John Butcher and Polwechsel, but it is also startlingly singular in its approach. It may sound more abstract and cerebral than g a b b r o’s debut album, but it is also bolder, venturing into areas that somehow unite free improvisation and abstract sound art with a complex and textural laboratory of malleable sounds. It also combines an intense intimacy – the kind you can only share with those who have earned your complete trust – with a striking openness.
As such, Granular proves to be a successful balancing act. Taken from sessions spread over three days, both live and in the studio, the seven parts serve as a highly personal puzzle, while also engaging the listener to dive in. There is hardly a conventional sound or technique to be heard, yet the music evolves with an organic flow that keeps things fresh and captivating throughout. Even though the sources and approach involved a heavy dose of fragmentation, taken together, the granules paint a picture that feels complete and stimulates the imagination." - Guy Peters