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Barry Guy: Five Fizzles for Samuel Beckett

John Sharpe By

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Not to be confused with Fizzles (Maya, 1993), which contains the first documented version of the titular work along with other pieces for solo bass, Five Fizzles for Samuel Beckett is a 14 minute limited edition EP which does what it says on the tin. Virtuoso British bassist Barry Guy has long drawn inspiration from other art forms, especially writings and visual works. Beckett wrote eight texts between 1960 and 1976, seven written in French (under the title Foirades which was translated as "Fizzles," although it also possesses other meanings, including notably "wet fart" as Beckett was well aware) and one, "Still," in English.

In an interview with Declan O'Driscoll published in Music & Literature No. 4 (2014) Guy explains: "Each Fizzle is a short compressed outburst -literary chamber music of great power and beauty. It occurred to me that these "outbursts" could form the basis for little improvisations , each dedicated to particular bass colors and articulations. I have variously performed them in sets of three, five, or seven according to the program at hand. I find them to be a motivator for precise thinking and musical rhetoric."

While Beckett's pieces can be analyzed in terms of phrase length and language, Guy has further parameters at his disposal: speed, volume, and the choice of whether to attack the strings with bow, fingers or other implements. These he combines to realize five concise contrasting exhibitions of dazzling technique which deliver a visceral impact. Close recording at a concert in Vilnius the Lithuanian capital, in 2011, allows full appreciation of the nuances which Guy achieves both with and without his volume pedal.

Although "Fizzle I" largely comprises swooping arco glissandi in perpetual motion, it incorporates a brief lyrically keening interlude, which gives it the flavor of a miniature three part suite. While maintaining similar momentum, in "Fizzle II" Guy bounces either a stick or his bow off the strings to create a stream of tiny koto-like tics, interspersed with silence before closing by hitting the strings and letting the harmonics resound.

"Fizzle III" features strummed tremolos with ringing outliers, while "Fizzle IV" begins with deep resonant slurs before flurries of dense pizzicato sweep between both ends of the fingerboard. "Fizzle V" passes in a litany of abrasive approaches, at times violent and scratchy, but when Guy introduces a second voice with his bow more mysterious and austere.

Presenting the music in such bite size chunks encourages intense concentration without the risk of it ever becoming a daunting exercise. It's time well spent.

Track Listing: Fizzle I; Fizzle II; Fizzle III; Fizzle IV; Fizzle V.

Personnel: Barry Guy: bass.

Title: Five Fizzles for Samuel Beckett | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: NoBusiness Records

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