Belgian bass clarinetist Ben Bertrand’s debut album is comprised of 31 minutes of melding some pure clarinet work with electronic processing, looping and drone effects. A mixture of positive and more melancholic melodic meandering drifts over long sustained minimalist tones. Some pitch up-shifting generates some glittery higher tones as well, giving a nice well-rounded balance.
In opener “Orion Molecular Cloud”, the drone layer is processed in such a way that it sounds far more like a didgeridoo than a clarinet- for better or worse, depending on your opinion of didgeridoos. Though it makes claim to reference a variety of ethnic styles, that’s probably about as ethnic as it really gets, frankly sounding quite Western and middle-class otherwise- not intending that as a disservice of course.
There’s a perky jauntiness to “V380 Orionis” that’s quite refreshing, before “Malkauns On Kitt Peak” adopts a more familiar, earnest, chin-stroking modern classical grimness. The two approaches mix together on “Sanctus Hubble”, with its quite bouncy echo-laden staccato rhythm parts meeting the cold-jazz-like clarinet work.
“Post Scriptum to Valentina Terechkova” (the Russian cosmonaut) introduces some whispered vocals over quite a barren and electronic soundscape where the clarinet often feels completely subsumed, as such feeling like the piece that most wholly steps into the album’s space theme.
There’s an assured simplicity to it all that certainly justifies references to Steve Reich. It perhaps falls between two stools somewhat, neither long and truly minimalist enough to reach that feeling of emotional transcendence, but it’s a very appealing and polished- albeit simply too short- bit of work.