Process and duration: these are the two complementary foundations which have brought contemporary composition back to the territories of drone music: a trend that, following in the footsteps of doyens Alvin Lucier, Phill Niblock and Éliane Radigue, re-establishes a close dialogue with acoustic instruments, whose depths still conceal unexplored phenomena of a microtonal and subharmonic nature.
With this in mind, perhaps in no other historical period could have emerged such a peculiar line-up like Norway’s Microtub (Robin Hayward, Peder Simonsen, Martin Taxt): born in the bosom of compatriot label Sofa Music, the first – and so far only – trio of tubas focused on the investigation of the microtonal spectrum already counts several studio albums and a live LP to its credit, documentations aimed at conveying the immersive and positively alienating experience of their performances.
The static, even impassive tones reflecting one another with variable cadences confer upon Sonic Drift’s title track a clear resemblance to the spatialized harmony of Bill Fontana’s fog horns, which at the time were in fact also put in dialogue with Stuart Dempster’s trombone improvisations. It is especially in this sequence that the meditative and soberly lyrical character of the trio becomes more evident, their phlegmatic interplay being unable to prescind from the absolute control of the pitches, raison d’être and ultimate goal of each piece. In this sense Microtub’s practice finds commonality with the poetics of Sweden’s Ellen Arkbro, devoted since her solo debut to the solemn and inebriating song of a renovated just intonation (For Organ and Brass, Subtext, 2017).
Entirely developing through immediately adjacent nuances, it takes just an infinitesimal shift for this type of music to change its polarity and translate into a scenery of dramatic desolation. This is the case of “The Pederson Concerto”, a collective composition through which intersects a feeble track of Moog synthesizer prepared by Peder Simonsen (new member in lieu of Kristoffer Lo): if at first it acts as a colorless cantus firmus, in passages of greater acoustic saturation the electronic counterpoint could sometimes be perceived as a psychoacoustic effect produced by the very inflections of the three tubas; their attack here is more decisive but also, paradoxically, subject to a variable degree of opacity, a suggestion evoked by the pervasive oscillations which become accentuated at the encounter between equivalent pitches.
But if, on the one hand, the technical details relating to the intervals delved into on each occasion are useful to objectively differentiate the trio’s repertoire, on the other hand they are certainly not essential to the fruition of such a straightforward and essential expression, devoid of any form of conceptualism: a sonic being reduced to a bare minimum and therefore turned to an unusual and intimately contemplative experiential dimension.