Although traditionally used to fill in harmonies or double melody lines, the viola has become increasingly prominent as a solo instrument in modern and experimental settings. Part of its appeal is the relative salience of its lower partials: Pitched a fifth below the violin, the viola offers a darker overtone structure that has been fruitfully exploited by Gérard Grisey and other composers. This same sound profile makes it a stimulating partner for electronic intervention and manipulation, as it is on À la face du ciel, a new recording by violist João Camões and electronic artist Jean-Marc Foussat.
Camões, originally from Portugal and a participant in that country’s effervescent improvised music scene, spent some years in Paris, where he met Foussat. The latter, a native of Oran, Algeria, began playing guitar in progressive rock bands but moved toward experimentation with tapes and musique concrète as well as with synthesizers. The two were part of a trio with accordionist Claude Parle, but here are presented alone together on two long improvised performances. Both tracks reflect a dynamic inspired more by the moment-to-moment impulses of free jazz than by the pre-given structures of composition proper. The sound of the music, however, owes much to the textures and phrasing of contemporary electroacoustic composition.
Both performances are grounded in Camões’s freely lyrical playing as interpreted and reworked by Foussat’s direct, real-time processing. Both musicians take advantage of the viola’s unique soundworld, whether through Camões’s application of conventional and extended techniques or Foussat’s fragmentation and mosaicising reassembly of Camões’s line. The ordinarily dolce, rounded sound of the instrument is scuffed up, its grain roughened and translated into the often harsh language of post-industrial strain: In the end, it speaks with the voice of a truly hybrid being.