Released on SOFA (Norway) 2018
cinder : ember : ashes is Aviva’s first solo release and marks a move towards a more introspective sound. A collection of both composed and improvised recordings, the album offers a selection of liminal, ethereal and elusive resonances. Distinct and refined instrumentations set up a framework of unique sonic environments, which then become a landscape for Aviva’s slowly morphing and contemplative improvisations.
Several tracks explore a veiling of the clarinet, placing another sonic force alongside the instrument which then works together with the clarinet in a symbiotic relationship. In ‘apparition : above’ Aviva uses the skin of the timpani as a resonant chamber which alters, distorts and beats against the tone of the clarinet and amplifies its resonant frequencies into a swirling and glissing halo of sound. ‘vapour : between’ transfigures the tone of the clarinet through a miniature pocket-sized amplifier, the sound of the clarinet distorted and fragmented in a playful and rhythmic trance-like meditation. The umtshingo (harmonic flute) reveals itself in ‘undulations : behind’ through a multitude of subtle effects and feedback, through which the listener may eventually distinguish the beautiful simplicity of this instrument.
In part, this album took inspiration from the musicologist Andrew Killicks’ concept of ‘holicipation’—a term he coined to describe solo musical practices that are not rehearsals, not practicing for something, but are playing for oneself. The playing is ‘holistic’ in the sense that it constitutes audience, composer and performer, and has no investment in a musical future, but instead finds nourishment in the present. Aviva’s introduction to this term from the musicologist Cara Stacey (who also introduced Aviva to the umtshingo, featured on the album) inspired a refocusing of Aviva’s practice in a more introspective, meditative approach to solo playing, in parallel to her heavily collaborative artistic practices. As it happened, some of these solo explorations eventually developed into pieces that she chose to share with the world, but the process of ‘holicipation’ none the less constituted a vital part of this music’s formation.
Complete Review of cinder : ember : ashes by Joe O’Conner for Loudmouth
There has been palpable buzz around Aviva’s Endean’s work of the last few years, a sense that she is onto something interesting that is getting stronger and stronger. She is one of a number of classically trained Australian artists who have developed improvised and experimental practices in parallel with their work in notated disciplines. Cinder : ember : ashes is Aviva’s first solo recording. Released on the SOFA label, it is an introspective collection of pieces played on clarinet, bass clarinet, umtshingo flute and voice. Each of seven pieces creates a musical microcosm where particular sonic parameters, instrumental techniques and effects are subjected to subtle and inventive permutations. Aviva coerces sophisticated timbrel palletes from her instruments, using minimal pitch materials to draw attention to resonance, inflection and the folk-like directness of her approach.
Breath and cyclical movement form the locus for improvisation in Burst in black : under. It is the opening track of cinder : ember : ashes and displays Aviva’s mastery of overtones on the bass clarinet in winding repetitions of a motif. She oscillates between low register fundamentals and multiphonic overtones that split apart as the dynamic increases. Occasionally, higher overtones emerge above the texture, parsing it into three registers with distinct timbrel identities. The cleaving of pitches into their component overtones is further inflected by an alternation up and down by an interval of a tone with an almost dance like regularity. It is a hypnotic prelude.
A number of the pieces explore the interface of acoustic instrument with an external sound device, and situate the musical exploration within the particular sonic possibilities of the interaction. Particularly effective is apparition : above, in which the sound of the clarinet activates sympathetic resonances on the skin of a timpani drum. Aviva used the timpani’s tuning pedal to manipulate this resonance, creating delicate glissandos that move independently of the clarinet’s pitch material – a counterpoint of inflection. The timpani also becomes a resonating chamber for the clarinet, creating an almost cathedral-like spatiality in which the presence of the lower and middle registers of the clarinet are amplified but also sound somehow distant. Aviva’s use of the timpani elegantly channels the resonance of the clarinet into fragile, fluctuating harmonic formations.
Vapor : between explores the interaction of clarinet and device for the opposite effect. The clarinet is projected through a pocket-sized amplifier that distorts and compresses the sounds, stripping it of the fullness of its acoustic tone. The sound is lo-fi and electronic, the lovechild of a poor quality synthesiser and virtuoso kazoo. Aviva transforms the limitations of the tiny amplifier into creative potential, using variations in pitch, volume and timbre to push it to the point of distortion.
A song-like quality emerges in the motivic consistency of a number of improvisations, but is nowhere more present than in distant song : afar. This piece combines Aviva’s voice and what I assuming to be the umtshingo, a Zulu flute capable of producing harmonics when overblown. It commences with a pentatonic melody, sung with a combination of oo, ah and eh sounds. In the opening, the oo sounds activate the flute, creating a pulsating pitch centre around which the melody rises and falls. This transitions into a harmonic texture in which the flute sounds strikingly like a medieval portative organ, though with a rugged clashing of overtones. Though I hesitate to ascribe particular influences from other cultures, there appears to be direct references to African folk traditions. There is a simplicity and modesty to this shorter piece that makes it an effective interlude between Aviva’s more esoteric explorations.
To achieve a well rounded and varied collection of short solo pieces is no easy feat for a solo wind player. Aviva has tackled the challenge with considerable imagination, revealing an impressive ability to transform iterative pitch materials into sensitive, sonically intricate formations. I consider solo albums to be an artist’s expression of confidence in their own vision. There is no hiding and no potential to feed on the creativity of others – the stakes are high! If Cinder : ember : ashes is a statement about Aviva’s confidence in her solo concept, then her confidence is well founded.