Aerial Clarinet

François HouleAerials (Drip Audio, 2006)

houle-aerialsClarinetist François Houle will be down from Vancouver on Thursday, March 14, to perform “Aerials” at the Center for New Music (San Francisco). The solo improvised performance should be a nice chance to hear the clarinet fill the room and explore the acoustics of the Center. It’ll be followed by a duet where Zachary Watkins processes and feeds back the sound, turning Houle’s clarinet into an ensemble.

“Aerials” is not a set of specific songs, but an improvisational project Houle developed during a five-week residency in Italy, after nurturing the idea for years.

Houle explains more in this All About Jazz article from 2006. Aerials is a foil to Double Entendre, the album where Houle performs new-classical works solo with the aid of overdubs. (I gave it a mention in 2011.) For Aerials, his inspiration was John Carter, and his goal was to “make a strong musical statement.”

That, he did. Aerials could have been an exploration of every-sound-possible, but Houle edited his explorations to give the album a pervasive mood. It’s celebrates the room’s reverb but also its stillness; it’s an inviting sound that doesn’t let the air drag, even in the most reflective pieces.

“Liege” has the sound of a Native American flute, yet it wiggles and wanders, as if the clarinet were taking a drink. The last melody in this sample is the motif with which Houle started the piece; he returns to it, turning “Liege” into a kind of improvised song.

“Tuilerie” gets into a varied wandering, reminiscent of Evan Parker’s long sax solos of circular breathing. It’s rich in detail, with Houle jumping all over the clarinet’s range.

On the more sad and melodic side, “Pour Sidney” flows like a film noir ballad.

Read more about Aerials — the album and the process behind it — at Misterioso.

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