When the Montreal-based Bell Orchestre recently performed at Montreal's Plaza Theatre, it not only brought together unlikely instrumental bedfellows, but also made cerebral music that was equally appealing on an instinctive levelsometimes in the strangest of ways. Playing material from their debut record, Recording a Tape the Colour of the Light, these musicians also tapped a youth market that's not driven solely by the greater pop music industry machine.
Bell Orchestre makes music that's expansive in sound, singable in melody, andwith the inclusion of a variety of electronic treatmentsvaried in visual imagery. French horn player Pietro Amato and trumpeter Kaveh Nabatian create a strangely large yet insular sound on "Recording a Tunnel..., which appears on the disc in two variations. Simple lines intertwine, suggesting a kind of Philip Glass minimalism, but with less inherent persistence.
Violinist Sarah Neufeld is as likely to be found creating an insistent rhythmic foundation, as on "The Upwards March, where she saws out sixteenth-note chords almost to the point of exhaustion, as she is a harmonic base on "Salvatore Amato, which drummer Stef Schneider propels with a solid backbeat. Bassist Richard Reed Parry often works in tandem with Neufeld, creating a persistent arco rhythm on the visceral "Throw It on a Fire, but he's a contrapuntal pizzicato partner on "Recording a Tape..., where the duo is supported rhythmically by Schneider, playing only on a manual typewriter.
Bell Orchestre's genre and role-busting attitude makes Recording a Tape more than just a collection of diverse compositions. The bass-driven heartbeat pulse of "Les Lumieres Pt. 1 is a gentle overture to the egressive rock beat of "Les Lumieres Pt. 2, where guest Mike Feuerstack's slightly overdriven pedal steel lends a more aggressive stance. On the anthemic "The Upwards March, Amato and Nabatian trade places with Neufeld and Parryat some points the lyrical thematic core, at others the low-end foundation. Schneider adds a danceable techno-like rhythm halfway through, but ultimately drops out as the tune segues into "The Bells Play the Band, where the theme is reiterated on bells recorded on a tape that flutters and wobblesa strangely compelling coda.
By fusing seemingly disparate sources and ideas into a new amalgam, Bell Orchestre advances the music. By supplementing core instruments with assorted processing, tuned percussion, claps, whistles, and more, the group creates a strange blend of contemporary chamber music, pop-like melodic simplicity, and propulsive rhythms. It isn't exactly rock and roll, and yet it has an energy that could only come from that space. With enough reference points to interest its primarily youthful audience, Recording a Tape also makes enough stylistic leaps to suggest that there are other places to travel, bringing its audience along for the ride in an approachable way that challenges but never assaults.
Track Listing: Recording a Tunnel (The Horns Play Underneath the Canal); Les Lumieres Pt. 1; Les Lumieres Pt. 2; Throw It on a Fire; Recording a Tunnel (The Horns Play Underneath the Canal); The Upwards March; The Bells Play the Band; Recording a Tape...(Typewriter Duet); Nuevo; Salvatore Amato; Recording a Tunnel (The Invisible Bells).
Personnel: Richard Reed Parry: upright bass, glockenspiel/bells, synth, tape machine, faraway organ, tunnels, claps, whistles; Sarah Neufeld: violin, twinkles, dexterity, claps, whistles; Stef Schneider: drums, xylophone, bells, frozen cymbals, typewriter, tympani, claps, whistles; Pietro Amato: french horn, feedback, animal sounds, tunnels, claps, whistles; Kaveh Nabatian: trumpet, melodica, echoplex, cuica, bells, tunnels, claps, whistles; with guests: Sir Mike Feuerstack: lap steel guitar (2, 3); Marika Anthony Shaw: viola/patience (8); Caroline Laroche: trombone and chaos (2, 3); Regine Chassagne: accordion/enthusiasm (9); Sarah McMahon: pizzicato cello finale (3); The Callino Quartet: whistling choir (9).