Reviews

Review Excerpts

Une mosaïque très colorée. [...] Qu’elles présentent des réverbérations fantomatiques de la clarinette [...], des réponses subtiles aux grognements de la clarinette contrebasse [...] ou des trames oniriques se fondant avec les tenues de la clarinette basse, ces textures participent pleinement de la riche palette de couleurs qui parcourt le disque. [...] Le résultat est subtil, tout comme l’est le voyage sonore proposé au fil du disque.
Guillaume Kosmicki, Resmusica.com, Paris, France, 26 février 2019

A fully extended vibrancy of articulation and full-throated clarinet technique nicely play off against the furthering and effectively nuanced electronics Maestro Charles employs. [...] True woodwind facility conjoins with a very lively musical imagination for a program that fascinates and makes for a most absorbing listen throughout. [...] Very heartily recommended!
Gregory Applegate Edwards, Classical-Modern Music Review, New Jersey, USA, Feb. 14, 2019

Charles [...] created some very engaging works. [...] Electronics and acoustics are integrated into one other, into one musical adventure. [...] His music is for sure full of drama and drive.
Electroclarinet 4 is featured on the Vital Weekly podcast #1169.
DM, Vital Weekly #1169, The Netherlands, Feb. 5, 2019

Jean-François Charles has tamed these hounds, the whole pack in fact, who wag their tails with delight on this disc. [...] I recommend putting these on and enjoying the path to wherever the pooch wants to go.
Electroclarinet 3, 5, and 6 are featured in the Whole Note Listening Room for February 2019.
Max Christie, The Whole Note, Toronto, Canada, Jan. 28, 2019

Il se dégage de ce disque l’impression d’une déambulation poétique dont on a du mal à se séparer. [...] À découvrir.
Thierry Vagne, Musique classique & Co, Paris, France, 10 janvier 2019

The sound of the clarinet is so beautiful. [...] As in the works of John Cage, these pieces by Charles seem designed to extend the definition of music. [...] For example, near the end of Lina, it actually sounds as if the instrument is being strangled by a rather inept executioner (it is interesting to compare the sound here with that at the end of the "March to the Scaffold" in Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique).
Mark J. Estren & team, infodad.com, Florida, USA, Dec. 13, 2018

If your idea of party music is "Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny" this processed clarinet set will be right up your alley.
Chris Spector, Midwest Record, Illinois, USA, Nov. 12, 2018

Full Reviews

ELECTROCLARINET, une exploration poétique par Jean-François Charles
Clarinettiste, compositeur et programmateur de l’électronique live, Jean-François Charles assume avec brio toutes ces casquettes dans un programme s’agençant en une mosaïque très colorée qui réunit l’ensemble de ses Electroclarinet 1 à 6 avec Lina.

Les six pièces de ce cycle ont été créées respectivement à Shanghai, Cambridge, Montbéliard, Bentley, Brest et Helsinki entre 2009 et 2017. Elles usent chacune d’une clarinette particulière en parfait équilibre avec l’électronique live particulièrement soigné. Jean-François Charles a de l’expérience dans le domaine et il est d’ailleurs professeur de composition et d’arts numériques à l’université d’Iowa depuis 2016. Qu’elles présentent des réverbérations fantomatiques de la clarinette en si bémol (Electroclarinet 1), des réponses subtiles aux grognements de la clarinette contrebasse (Electroclarinet 2), de denses échos enrichissant la pâte sonore du cor de basset (Electroclarinet 3), des granulations en soubassement des mélodies de la petite clarinette en mi bémol (Electroclarinet 4), des contrepoints mélodiques au trilles de la clarinette en la (Electroclarinet 5) ou des trames oniriques se fondant avec les tenues de la clarinette basse (Electroclarinet 6, première partie), ces textures participent pleinement de la riche palette de couleurs qui parcourt le disque.

Lina pour clarinette basse est la seule pièce sans électronique, créée en 2007 à Boston. Elle s’intègre cependant naturellement au programme par la diversité des sonorités produite par l’instrumentiste virtuose.

Un poème énigmatique d’Alice Gervais-Ragu et un extrait de partition constituent les seuls éléments présents dans le livret, qui laisse pleine liberté à l’auditeur d’interpréter les œuvres à sa guise, sans explication supplémentaire. Seul indice, les Electroclarinet 2 à 5 sont en hommage à Debussy, Weber, Messiaen et Stravinsky : citations, couleurs, structure ? Un peu de tout ça selon les explications de Jean-François Charles, mais le résultat est subtil, tout comme l’est le voyage sonore proposé au fil du disque.
Guillaume Kosmicki, Resmusica.com, Paris, France, 26 février 2019

From Iowa City we have Jean-Francois Charles and his adventurous album ElectroClarinet (self released). On it we have some seven studies for Bb clarinet, A clarinet, bass clarinet, Eb clarinet or contrabass clarinet and live electronics. The music has a spontaneity yet a logical sequencing that puts it all certainly in New Music territory yet also has some of the immediacy of Free Improvisation.
A fully extended vibrancy of articulation and full-throated clarinet technique nicely play off against the furthering and effectively nuanced electronics Maestro Charles employs. Digital delay and layering, timbral extensions of harmonics, sound colors, etc are made full use of--quite happily. At times the clarinet becomes an orchestra of its own and at no time does the interface of acoustics and electronics seem in the least bit gratuitous or mechanical-perfunctory. True woodwind facility conjoins with a very lively musical imagination for a program that fascinates and makes for a most absorbing listen throughout.
This album may at first blush seem unassuming. But after a few listens it increasingly stands out as an excellent example of its kind. Very heartily recommended!
Gregory Applegate Edwards, Classical-Modern Music Review, New Jersey, USA, Feb. 14, 2019

Charles is a composer, clarinettist and live electronics designer. He studied in Lyon, Strasbourg and Harvard. As a clarinettist, he worked with Karlheinz Stockhausen for the world première and recording of ´Rechter Augenbrauentanz´. He is interested in creating new instruments and possibilities at the crossroads of acoustics and electronics. In 2009 he started composing and performing the Electroclarinet, the clarinet in connection with electronic tools. This album marks a decade of exploring this instrument. The album consists of compositions titled ´Electroclarinet 1´ up to ´Electroclarinet 6´ written for respectively for Bb clarinet, contrabass clarinet, basset horn, Eb clarinet and bass clarinet always in combination with electronics. The CD is completed by one other composition, 'Lina', that has Charles playing just contrabass clarinet using no electronics. Of course one could say the clarinet is in its self complete and not in need of any application to change the sound, adding more possibilities, etc. On the other hand, one could say a given instrument is 'just' a frozen set of possibilities that one can defrost, connecting it with other tools and possibilities. If this helps to realize a musical vision, why not? It did help mister Charles who created some very engaging works. In his compositions, the acoustical qualities of the instruments have a prominent place and are not distorted, but supplemented with electronic treatments. At moments I had the impression he provided the clarinet with bigger 'wings' as it were through his electronics, enlarging movements coming from the clarinet. But also he contrasts the acoustical sounds with opposed electronic textures and gestures. But never in a way that the clarinet moves along on some unknown planet that is completely alien to the clarinet. In the end, electronics and acoustics are integrated into one other, into one musical adventure. It may be a bit too academic for some ears, but his music is for sure full of drama and drive. 'Electroclarinet 6' for example has some fairly wild and noisy parts. 'Lina', the only pure acoustical work ending with a scream by Charles is likewise very dramatic and lively. Although his music is far out, Charles devoted the compositions to Debussy, von Weber, Messiaen and Stravinsky, composers he feels indebted to. Maybe the respective compositions contain a bow or allusions to works of these composers, but I couldn't put my finger on them.
Electroclarinet 4 is featured on the Vital Weekly podcast #1169.
DM, Vital Weekly #1169, The Netherlands, Feb. 5, 2019

I must say it’s refreshing to consider a CD that includes a poem instead of traditional liner notes. The untitled poem written in French, by Alice Gervais-Ragu, seems to refer specifically to the beast that is the clarinet (most especially the contrabass and the basset). Jean-François Charles has tamed these hounds, the whole pack in fact, who wag their tails with delight on this disc.

Clarinetist and composer Charles, whose series of six pieces titled ElectroClarinet make up the bulk of the disc, gives no other accounting for his work than the audible evidence: Ten tracks, recorded in Iowa City over a two-day period roughly one year ago. His métier is acoustic instrument with live electronics. He grapples with every member of the broad range of horns, from contrabass (an octave below the bass clarinet), through bass, basset horn, A, B-flat, and E-flat. Electroclarinet 1 dates from 2009; the latest and longest, Electroclarinet 6, from 2014. The four in between are subtitled as Homage to... (in order) Debussy, Weber, Messiaen and Stravinsky.
Delays, reverb, and a variety of granulating effects create soundscapes distinctly unclarinet-like. Anyone so inclined is welcome to delve into how the homages relate to the various composers and the works they notably added to the repertoire. (There’s something reminiscent of L’Abyme des Oiseaux in number four and flat-out quotes from Stravinsky’s Three Pieces in number five.) I recommend putting these on and enjoying the path to wherever the pooch wants to go.
Electroclarinet 3, 5, and 6 are featured in the Whole Note Listening Room for February 2019.
Max Christie, The Whole Note, Toronto, Canada, Jan. 28, 2019

Un disque singulier : un interprète clarinettiste jouant successivement de plusieurs instruments et dont le jeu est traité informatiquement en temps réel.
Au total, neuf pièces sont présentes sur ce CD dont quatre en hommage à Debussy, Weber, Messiaen et Stravinsky. L’auteur-interprète nous convie tout au long de ces pièces à une sorte de voyage onirique, ou plutôt des voyages variés : variété des instruments, des modes de jeux, des transformations informatiques. Il se dégage de ce disque l’impression d’une déambulation poétique dont on a du mal à se séparer, même après une deuxième audition intégrale. À découvrir.
Thierry Vagne, Musique classique & Co, Paris, France, 10 janvier 2019

The situation involving a new CD featuring performances by clarinetist Jean-François Charles is somewhat analogous, except that in this case, Charles is both composer and performer. The reaction of listeners who are not already deeply committed to the form and sound of the music here, however, is likely to be similar to that of listeners who hear Schillinger’s excellent playing: it would be good to hear Charles in somewhat more-forgiving and more-engaging repertoire. It is possible to understand the motivation for music composed as Charles has composed the works on this disc, and even to admire the skill with which the material has been created and put together, without necessarily liking the end product very much. The issue of the genuinely unpleasant sound of some of these works is especially acute because the inherent sound of the clarinet is so beautiful. Charles mixes live electronics with his clarinets in such a way as to give the overall impression – to modify a comment made by Hans von Bülow about Brahms’ Violin Concerto – that Charles is composing not for the clarinet but against it. The first Electroclarinet is for B-flat clarinet, the second for contrabass clarinet, the third for basset horn, the fourth for E-flat clarinet, the fifth for clarinet in A, the sixth for bass clarinet, and Lina is for contrabass clarinet (and is the only piece on the CD that does not include live electronics). As in the works of John Cage, these pieces by Charles seem designed to extend the definition of music to include pretty much everything that a listener may hear while attending and ostensibly paying attention to a concert or recital. The physical sound of the clarinets’ keys, the breaths taken by Charles during performances, and of course the multiplicity of the usual electronic yawps and screeches and outbursts – all these are part of the “musical experience” here. So are the quite obvious attempts to push the instruments beyond what could be described as their (not just the audience’s) comfort zone: for example, near the end of Lina, it actually sounds as if the instrument is being strangled by a rather inept executioner (it is interesting to compare the sound here with that at the end of the “March to the Scaffold” in Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique). Charles describes several of the Electroclarinet pieces as homages – to Debussy, Weber, Messiaen, and Stravinsky – but whether the audience (as opposed to Charles himself) will pick up any sense of tribute is doubtful. A great deal of focus in contemporary music is to bring listeners sounds that they have not heard before, using nontraditional methods (especially computers and other forms of electronics) to accomplish what Charles Ives said more than a century ago, to create music that should “stretch the ears.” But there is a certain point at which what is being heard is no longer music but a concatenation of sounds. Indeed, some of Ives’ own music was accused of being just that – but Ives was never trying to force an audience to reconsider what “music” is, any more than, say, Edgard Varèse was. It was Cage who insisted on that reconsideration, and composers such as Charles have continued to insist on it. Some audiences will surely thrive on aural experiences along the lines of the one offered on Charles’ disc, but others can surely be forgiven for wishing they could hear Charles’ obviously very considerable performance skill employed in the service of pieces that work with the clarinet’s inherent warmth and melodiousness rather than so very determinedly against them.
Mark J. Estren & team, infodad.com, Florida, USA, Dec. 13, 2018

If you're not into experimental music and don't appreciate cats like Stockhausen, then you just won't know what to do with this cat that has the resume to back up the claims and the chops. Now, if your idea of party music is "Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny" this processed clarinet set will be right up your alley.
Chris Spector, Midwest Record, Illinois, USA, Nov. 12, 2018