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Robin Hayward - Nouveau Saxhorn Nouveau Basse

Ron Nagorcka - Atom Bomb Becomes Folk Art

Almost to the day two hundred years ago, Adolphe Sax was born in Dinant, Belgium. He created many new instruments, including what we now know as the saxophone, but also this strange hybrid, the saxhorn, a six valve horn of which the valves could only be used independently. The instrument never got any success.

Now, tuba-player and modern composer Robin Hayward reworked the instrument, with valve combinations allowing for microtonal playing. To make things even more complex, Hayward put six loudspeakers in a room, through which the tones resonate, and move from one speaker to the next, creating an interesting effect. The first track, "Plateau Square", offers deep long stretched tones, which echo like a foghorn over the sea, resonating in space in various layers, offering a strange impression of quiet power, harmonious loneliness and solid emptiness. It is beautiful and unique, and even at twenty-two minutes of monotonous

The second tune, "Travel Stain", brings a duet between the tuba and a classical guitar, played by Seth Josel, continuing the stretched tones, yet with more changes of pitch, entering into a calm, more intimate yet intense dialgue with the strings. Josel's playing is minimal to say the least, plucking slow chords or single strings, sprinkled around the saxhorn's volume, gradually coming more to the foreground, shortening the tones to little droplets of sound.

The longest track lasts half an hour, and is a magnificent tribute to the deep reverberating sound of the instrument. No more layers of tone here, but the naked power of one instrument, almost organically growing out of the surrounding silence. It sounds like something fundamental, like the primal rumbling of the earth or the universe, the basic sound that lies below it all, and that now, for once, is coming to the surface, within our limited auditory range, as a special treat. And hearing that, even for half an hour, is very short, yet then for the last few minutes the tone shifts to very high, almost angelic multiphonics, adding an entirely new dimension to this magnificent piece.

Regardless how strange Adolphe Sax's original instrument, or how unusual Hayward's own custom-made valve tuba, the result is fabulous: a great tribute to musical instruments, their power and the sounds they can bring us. - Stef, Free Jazz Collective

Robin Hayward is a tuba player whose work we have reviewed before, usually with other people. Here he has a two long solo pieces and a shorter piece with Seth Josel on guitar. Hayward is the inventor of the microtonal tuba in 2009 which is also equipped with six valves, which he can use independently, using different speakers distributed over the performance space. It seems to be a complex system, but the cover tells it all. On CD it's of course reduced to a stereo signal, so perhaps I need to spare the technical side of it. In the short piece with Josel, placed in the middle, we hear more notes being played than in the two long pieces - or so it seems. I wasn't blown away by that piece, but the two long pieces, 'Plateau Square' and the title piece were quite nice. Both of these pieces are slow in development, with long sustaining sounds from the tuba being played majestically, sounding like a fog horn meeting a tuba meeting sine waves. In the title piece more than in the other, which seems to be more a like a regular slow tuba piece of slowly intertwining tuba sounds. The title piece is for me the best out of trio. Very fragile, almost electronic, but also organic and well, also, tuba like. With over thirty-two minutes this could have been longer, up to an hour, and be the only one on the release, as far I am concerned. But the other piece is great too and just the shorter piece is the one I didn't dig that much. - FdW, Vital Weekly

As stated in its subtitle, Robin Hayward’s new release is an elegy to the Saxhorn nouveau basse, an unsuccessful brass instrument invented by Adolphe Sax, whose saxophone went on to enjoy a considerably better career. From Sax’s failure, Hayward retrieves success in these works for a microtonal tuba he developed using Sax’s six-valve layout as a model, though one that he modified substantially.

Two of the compositions on the CD are for solo microtonal tuba run through speaker systems. The title tracks uses six speakers to image the tuba’s six valves which, following the original design of the Saxhorn nouveau basse, are used independently of each other. Tones cycle through the six speakers to a seventh, during the course of which the sound is altered. The second solo performance, Plateau Square, uses a quadrophonic speaker setup to give the sound a spatial dimension. Both of these lengthy pieces exercise a hypnotic effect through a gradual accumulation of harmonic and timbral density. Long tones and their electronic afterimages overlap into slowly pulsating chords with long decay times and unexpected lacunae. The title track’s low, fluttering rumbles have something seismic about them, something almost more felt than heard.

On the shorter Travel Stain, Hayward is joined by Seth Josel on scordatura guitar. Relative to the solo tuba pieces, Travel Stain has a certain textural lightness. The ranges of the two instruments contrast nicely, as do their differences of timbre and duration of tones.

- Dan Barbiero, Avant Music News

One composer's drone is another composer's melodic center. It depends on context. Music which uses long continuous tones and hearkens back in some way to classical Indian music tends to use the long tones as an anchor to something that either does or is expected to occur overtop, even if that "something" never quite comes to bear on the music. On the other hand Robin Hayward's Nouveau Saxhorn Nouveau Basse (Pogus 21077-2) uses long tones in a different way.

The album at hand today contains three pieces. Each uses long tones on the microtonal tuba, an instrument Robin Hayward conceived of using six valves, allowing for standard plus microtonal soundings. He plays the instrument on all three works.

"Plateau Square" utilizes the instrument with a four-speaker sound system. Each speaker reproduces sound aspects in an individual plateau of pitch relationships. I wont attempt to explain it; indeed I am not entirely clear what is meant in the liner notes. Suffice to say that long tones correlated in pitch to a particular plateau are the basis for the work.

"Travel Stain" combines long tones on the microtonal tuba plus a guitar part realized by Seth Josel. The guitar notes, mostly plucked harmonics, accentuate the long tones. There is an elaborate hexagonal notation with tone sequences that the instrumentalists explore one-by-one.

"Nouveau Saxhorn Nouveau Basse" returns to solo microtonal tuba. Subtitled "Elegy for a Failed Instrument", it centers around a horn invented by Adolpho Sax, with six valves that were configured to avoid the need for the instrumentalist to combine multiple valve stops. All tones were produced by depressing one valve at a time. It never caught on. Hayward combines his microtonal tuba (which also uses six valves but in different ways, including combinations) with a seven-speaker sound system. To honor the memory of the instrument Hayward conceives of a tuning-note sequence that utilizes long notes produced by only one valve at a time, with six speakers each devoted to the notes played by depressing a particular valve. The seventh speaker is located backstage and represents the bell of the saxhorn. What counts is the sound of the notes and their overtone development as the tones interact with the aural playing space. The piece creates eerie harmonies via a system of multiple trackings that gives the work an acoustic-electric ambiance and fullness.

All told this is music that creates its own space. And you do not need to understand fully or even partly the theoretical underpinnings that went into the works to appreciate the sonorities that are produced.

In the end there is an aural poetics at play. Hayward has his own kind of rigor which we can appreciate for its existence--and then set aside and appreciate the music in its full utterance. It's haunting and moving music! - Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate

Reading tuba player Robin Hayward’s sleeve notes can be a dry affair - his interest in microtonal tuning and harmonics will interest some and turn away as many others. But if the three works here originate partly from mathematically derived graphic scores, their realization invokes a sensuality and human touch that the written compositions don’t presuppose. On “Plateau Square”, a work based on prime numbers, Hayward cleverly sends multiple signals from the various valves of this one of a kind microtonal tuba to separate speakers, creating the sensation of multiple instruments layering gorgeously rich bass tones. “Travel Stain” pitches the same low rumbles against a gently plucked guitar, and the album’s title track again utilizes multiple speakers to create a dense field, this time in homage to failed microtonal experiments by instrument builder Adolphe Sax. - Richard Pinnell, The Wire

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