The first striking thing about this new record from Quasar, Canada’s premier saxophone quartet, is its minimalist packaging. The sleeve and booklet are black and white. The notes probably fill one letter-size page all-told, and they read like a pastiche of found text. Montreal-born composer Pierre Alexandre Tremblay presents an Aloysius Bertrand-inspired poem in lieu of notes; Wolf Edwards offers a wikipedia-esque blurb about predator drones. But for music that means to speak beyond the bounds of words, there can be no better introduction. Like a rare, hand-painted cassette hiding at the bottom of a bin otherwise filled with greatest-hits compilations and obsolete business audio books, these electroacoustic soundscapes wait patiently to be heard.
That spirit pervades every work on this disc, but none more so than Tremblay’s Les pâleurs de la lune. Here, electronic clicks flitter against a nocturnal saxophone backdrop. This electronic scaffolding, which also takes the form of saxophone long tones distilled into pulsewaves, is omnipresent but unobtrusive. Like circuit traces on a motherboard, these elements lay flush against Les pâleurs, where they serve a mysterious yet important function.
Listening to De souffles et de machines feels like being the only person awake on an overnight bus winding its way through a dark forest: it’s as though the night, unaware of your presence, has let its hair down. Only here, as the saxophone squalls mount, the night seems perilously close, at times, to rearing its head.