Teal Creek Music TC-2035 (catherinemlee.com)
The difficulty and excitement of a solo instrumental performance arises from the fact that the entire sound envelope is, from beginning to end, from top to bottom, exposed. A note’s attack, its approach towards silence, the sound of keys, the performer’s breath – all these come under the listener’s scrutiny, amplified by the surrounding stillness. On social sounds, Portland oboist Catherine Lee, instead of merely navigating these choppy waters, makes them her destination. Almost all of the pieces feature an improvisatory aspect, tools which Lee uses to prod the boundaries of her instrument’s sound.
The first such piece presented here is Jérôme Blais’ Rafales. Scored for solo oboe and piano with depressed sustain pedal, the work is this disc’s standout. Inspired by the composer’s encounters with Nova Scotian wind, Blais supplies the performer only with loosely defined long-tone gestures, leaving their lengths at the performer’s discretion. These, combined with the timbral shifts caused by the choreographed movement of the oboe in relationship to the microphone, result in a gripping tension: Lee’s tone, at first pushed and pulled along its edges, finally disintegrates into the murk of sympathetic vibrations with the piano.
A similar effect is achieved in Emily Doolittle’s Social sounds from whales at night, only here it’s improvised timbral fingerings and pitch bends which cause the tension, and pre-recorded whale sounds rising to the ocean’s surface which give release. The sum of these is a CD as compelling as it is eminently listenable.