Katherine Young: Bassoon Time

Katherine Young — Further Secret Origins (Porter, 2009)

I got curious when the Love, Gloom, Cash, Love blog got so excited about a solo bassoon record. And it even had a tie to that viola trend I’d written about earlier:  One of Katherine Young’s ongoing bands is Architeuthis Walks on Land, a duet with Amy Cimini on — what else? — viola. I had to check this out.

Because it was on the verge of being released, I figured I’d give Young’s solo bassoon album a listen first. It’s definitely experimental, often bordering on drones, but it rewards close listening with wisps of melody that do add up to a whole, a story. And the bassoon is accompanied by electronics that tap out subtle rhythms backed with the texture of small crinkles or static crumples.

“Terra Incognita” opens with a freightliner’s blast of bassoon, but from there it explores quieter bleats over a soft electronics backing.  “For Autonauts” likewise explores quieter territory, with raspy gentle tones, clipped short like tentative harmonica notes, played over a subtle, irregular pulse.  The tones get longer later on but keep to the same careful, near-melodic template. It’s not a drone, more like a whispered song that’s not in a hurry. This is the track I’m thinking of with that “close listening” remark — it’s 14 minutes, but if you’re in tune with its frequency, the time flies by, and the wandering near-melody makes perfect sense.

Same thing on “Elevation,” in a smaller dose.  The bassoon produces more of those harmonica sounds, even some multiphonic bits ….. You can hear the effort. It’s like watching art being etched from stone, a careful pace.

“Some People Say That She Doesn’t Exist” is the most accessible track, with a bass pulse underriding a pleasant melody. But it’s followed by “Orbis Tertius,” which closes the album by getting us back into abstract improv turf — long tones evoking an eternal sea.

The Architeuthis duo covers similarly abstract ground, but Young plays in all sorts of contexts from pop to Anthony Braxton. I’ll have to keep an ear to the ground for her.