SOPHIE AGNEL – Capsizing Moments


This unedited concert, recorded November 2008 at Les Instants Chavirés in Montreuil (Paris), probably represents the official induction to the pantheon of distinguished improvisers for a musician who’s been working just above the clandestine status in spite of having already released consistently important works, notably the excellent Tasting with Phil Minton on Another Timbre. Capsizing Moments portrays the austere humanity of an unaided performer: able and willing to expose her convictions and fears without looking back, ready to be accepted or refused, yet not intentioned to loosen the fighting stance regardless of the human frailties revealed by this splendidly irrational substance, born from the alteration of the instrument’s accents via different kinds of inorganic enhancements. The artist calls the apparatus “extensive piano”: a machine whose sonic capacity is positively over-standard.

The first movement starts obsessively percussive, making the most of the big box’s lower registers. An initial wall of rumbling tones soiled by an assortment of clattering items is gradually reduced into a series of scantily delivered hits, one or two pitches maximum, echoed by plastic-sounding bouncing and an underlying monochrome pattern that, with eyes closed, we could nearly associate to unclear noises from a remote construction site, or perhaps a chugging motionless boat next to a quay. There’s almost a sense of frustration when intuiting the potential expansion of a castle that’s instead only a ruin, hopelessly exposed when Agnel suddenly decides that the hammering is finished, the corrosion of resonance left alone to do justice to the mysteriously bitter aura of this momentary transformation in an impressive flash of transcendence.

The rasping bowing introduces to a short and striking episode starting with piercing hyper-squeals – picture a bionic version of Hitchcock’s Psycho – instantaneously shut up by a clustery bang. Following a few interlocutory touches, a magnificent arpeggio – interspersed with more dissonant punctuations – is defined by the peculiar reaction of the preparations, a somewhat softer embodiment of Keith Tippett materializing, accompanied by a couple of woodpeckers jabbing a tabla. An irredeemable propensity to harmonic uncertainty is symbolized by Agnel stopping the procedures to start a new scenario of lumpy micro-chords, strings plucked and pounded in increasingly growing rage, a veritable criticism of pianistic savoir-faire.

Five seconds of calmness and we’re at the final and longest chapter. The protagonist looks around as to assess the damage done, residual ashes still smoking, memories of turbulent action and faded traces of classical-tinged environments rendered useless by the rattling qualities of every attempted profile. This is where indistinctness and lucidity wrestle, not before trying to reach an agreement: the upper partials are contaminated, the zither-like reverberations oxidized, concordance misshapen to the point of utter estrangement. Out of the blue, an acutely jingling reiteration remains solitary for a short while, immediately replaced by tinny sliding objects, isolated knocks and selected picks spotting this absurdly effective nudity. Indeed the sections in which Agnel diminishes the incidence of the “regular” piano – a palette prevalently dictated by the contrast between seclusion and instant vision – are possibly the ones who define her greatness, an implacable lust for collapsing archetypal designs kept under strict control by an inner musicality which renders this flux of consciousness akin to a proper composition in countless occasions.

As the performance approaches closure one feels like watching an old animal patiently searching for a place to finally lay its drained body at rest and peacefully expire after many years of life in the wilderness. This compliance with the nature’s laws – particularly the acceptance of an end, in effect the unsolved dilemma of most people’s psyche – is what makes this music stirring. Birth, existence, struggle, survival, ideas, delusions, demise. It’s so obviously wonderful, and Capsizing Moments depicts all of this entirely, sensitively. When weak exhalations from the inside imply the piece’s termination, further explanations turn out to be a waste of time.

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