Christophe Bertrand – Scales

I’ve been out and about almost non-stop going to concerts, figuring out living situations for the next year, and celebrating the good ol’ stars and stripes on America day, but now I am returning to the blog once more with music by Christophe Bertrand. Scales, the final orchestral piece and monumental work completed before his much-too-early demise, is one violent ride. This piece is intense and I really mean it. I mean it so much, I’ll say it again: this piece is intense. It explores many ideas common to other pieces of his, like the Fibonacci sequence as a way to structure the piece and dense layers of asymmetric phasing, but no piece of his has ever sounded so wild. This piece also takes on a different set of influences than I have heard in the other parts of his catalog with nods to Varese, Xenakis, and, to my ears, even romantics. While I wouldn’t say this is quite as good as Vertigo, it is certainly still quite a huge work and worth listening to.

 

Specific Comments:

  • Bertrand builds dizzying swirls of energy from the massive proliferation of scales from about 0’10”-0’40”. He somehow manages to suddenly, yet smoothly transition this energy to a giant harmony of mixed instrumentation that is just in utter stasis. Like around the fourth minute of Vertigo, this is an absolutely magical moment.
  • Starting around 0’55”, the music reminds me of ashes of a volcano that is moments away from eruption: it tensely falls downward as many softly played instruments descend down their own independent sequences. When it builds through a giant crescendo to a whopping forte and the horns scream through violent phrases, it is like the whole top of the mountain has just been blown off! This passage is not for the faint of heart.
  • The harmony at 2’08” is superb–so rich in color and full of strife.
  • His use of tone color in the orchestra at about 3’28” is fantastic! It’s so lively and unpredictable.
  • At 4’00, birdlike chirping from the flutes mixes with deep brass mouthpiece slaps and staccato tone and low string pizzicatos to make a humorous moment, despite being still quite energetic and even somewhat tense because of the closing distance in range between the two groups and the raw speed.
  • Bet you weren’t expecting that slap-you-in-the-face-this-is-gonna-wake-you-up-because-it-is-so-darn-loud chord at about 4’20” either.
  • I have just been loving the held sonorities in this piece, those at 6’20”. There is such drama to their sound (partly because his voicings are fantastic), but they are so abstract simultaneously because of their context. It’s almost like Varese as the blocks of sound hold so violently, yet there is less of the overt harshness to the sound than Varese cultivated. Again, Bertrand demonstrates the his nuanced writing chops as he follows this with a soft and strangely harmonious horn chord over soft piano and strings.
  • Love the timbre at 7’34”–it sounds like a big block of ice. The stumbling musical gestures that follow remind me of around the 6’ mark of Donatoni’s superb Tema (link below).
  • Killer piano lines around 11’22”. I love the deliciously dark low register and how hard it grooves.
  • 11’46-12’ is beautiful. Fleeting string sounds combine with thick chords in the brass and winds that swell and diminish to create some incredible atmosphere. This is then followed at the 12’ mark with one of the most shrill sonorities I have heard in a while. However, this is smartly colored with extremely high register piano and crotales to make what could be simply just unbelievably grating actually gain much more interest. It is truly impressive that Bertrand is able to not only harness these combinations of absolute extremes in almost every parameter, but to be so in control over them that he is able to add little nuances to them that make all the difference. Even more so, he understands contrast very well because he follows up this harsh section with fantastically contemplative melodic lines over the backdrop of static harmony..
  • Really dig the harmonies at 16’18” and the much needed relief they provided from the traumatic violence of the preceding section.
  • The sonority at 19’30” is surreal! The use of orchestration is, once again, fantastic. The sonority itself is certainly interesting, but it wouldn’t be nearly as awesome without such excellent orchestration technique.
  • Holy cats, that’s a BRUTAL ending to the piece! That really escalated quickly.

 

Please feel free to leave your thoughts, opinions, questions, or whatever in the comments section. Hope you enjoyed the music!

 

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