review – Flying Horses

Flying Horses
Robert Minden (composer, musician), Carla Hallett (arranger, musician)
Otter Bay OB107 (Socan) 2018
                                                                                               available on cdbaby, iTunes, Spotify, & other digital platforms

review by Andrew Timar, October, 16, 2018

The Minden Hallett Duo’s music was once evocatively tagged as “the house band at the restaurant at the end of the universe.” (Gary Norris, Canadian Press) On their blog they describe their new single Flying Horses, a “waltzing reverie” during “summer days of childhood riding astride a wildly painted carousel horses.”

Having formed their duo in 1997, they’ve performed all around North America making lyrical and quirky music, but always crafted with great care and musicality. Part of their mission is to explore the sonic soul of urban junk — often repurposing found instruments as sound sources — interwoven with compelling storytelling with thematic roots sunk deep in the human condition.

The Minden Hallett Duo has released several albums. Their last, What Is Your Name (2015), was arguably their strongest yet. In my April 2015 review, I suggested, “One way to experience What Is Your Name is as a sound film, or a kind of song cycle filtered through a … contemporary alternative folk ethos, though without the guitars, drum sets, pop musical vocabulary and studio production methods permeating the latter.” On Waltz, the last track, blown bottles provide the main melody and accompaniment.

We hear common bottles again at the core of the duo’s latest release Flying Horses. Also in 3/4 time, the track conjures up the old-timey sounds, sights and feel of a 20th century amusement park. The whimsical-sounding single runs an unassuming 2:49, yet the musical forces arrayed in the studio by the two musicians are anything but modest.

In Flying Horses sixty-nine blown glass bottles of many shapes and sizes form a remarkable “bottle choir,” complete with bass, tenor, alto and soprano voices in an uncanny imitation of a steam calliope, though in this case less industrial and more human-scaled. The cider, beer, sherry, vinegar, etc. source of the bottle array is lovingly illustrated on the duo’s blog post. As individually blown by the breath of the duo and meticulously multi-tracked in the studio, the bottle choir wistfully evokes old-timey fairground sounds.

One benefit to using bottles for music: they can be precisely tuned with water. In Flying Horses bottles are tuned to a form of just intonation, minimising the beating between two or more notes, as present on the piano for example. The result is a pure, mellifluous and subliminally satisfying sound.

The carousel effect is enriched by the addition of a Minden specialty, the musical saw: in this a tenor and a baritone saw. Hallett’s voice picks up a vocal countermelody sung through a whirling vacuum cleaner hose (another found instrument), riffing perhaps on the carousel’s other names: the rotating “merry-go-round,” and in Britain, a “roundabout.”

A few phrases later Hallett’s French horn solo offers a three-note rising call in response to the bottle choir’s cyclical, repeating waltz. The music’s close is signaled by the harmonic cadence in the bottles, undercut by the wispy a-tonal glissando of the waterphone suggesting a transition to another, unknown sonic space.

Could it be toward the next track in a new Minden Hallett Duo album? I hope so.

Andrew Timar is a Toronto freelance music journalist, composer and musician. He is the founding editor of MUSICWORKS and has served as reviewer, columnist, blogger and features writer for The WholeNote magazine. Specialising in the music of Indonesia, Timar is a co-founding member of the Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan the first group of its kind in Canada. He is a leading soloist on the suling (Indonesian ring flute).

“Flying Horses” Robert Minden & Carla Hallett

flying_horses-minden&hallett-small copy
http://store.cdbaby.com/cd/robertmindenandcarlahallett

Sixty-nine blown glass bottles create an ensemble of breathy physical sound. With astonishing intonation, the bottle choir creates an almost creaturely presence. Then floating seemingly effortlessly above, soars a musical saw, (actually there are two – a high tenor and a low baritone) singing a mellifluous duet, evoking an other-worldly feel. And just when you think how cool it is to hear music made with curious things, a lonely call from a classic French horn sounds, out of the blue. The music ends with a surprising glissando from a waterphone, perhaps alluding to the impossible escape of flying horses from a gently slowing carousel.

sublime in headphones.

many thanks to:
Don Harder, recording, CBC Studio One, Vancouver
mixed and mastered by Jeff Wolpert, Desert Fish Studios, Toronto
Drawing by Nancy Walker

a curious mix

“Flying Horses” – other instruments make an appearance in this curious mix.
Floating over the bottle choir, 2 musical saws, (tenor and baritone) play a bittersweet duet. Then a vocal melody, sung through a vacuum cleaner hose spinning round and round. And surprise, a lonely call from the classic French horn is heard, first in the distance, and then closer, as the bottle choir continues its’ circular waltz until the liquid sounds of a waterphone draw the listener to another place.

get ready to waltz in a few days…..

instruments-flying horses2

one more sneak peak before the release – excerpt from the bottle choir…

bottle choir-flying horses

Notes On The Bottle Choir

The foundation of the music rests on “Triple Jim’s” 1 gallon jugs, the lowest notes in the choir. The cider is a bit on the sweet side, but the bottle itself boasts the best taper at the neck, and the opening at the top is not too wide, allowing a more focused tone. The old fashioned vinegar jugs are considerably smaller, but they still have a fat body, which helps to bridge the gap in tone quality between the low breathy “Triple Jim’s” and the sonorous beer bottles. Singing the main melody are the pretty blue Welsh water bottles, while the miniature sherry and maple syrup bottles join in with a sweet countermelody. We can’t forget our one tall wine bottle essential in extending down the range of the beer bottles while matching their tone colour. The bottles are tuned on zero, untempered. After all, we don’t want the bottles to sound like a piano. This unconventional tuning creates its’ own allure. And the sound of in-breaths floating sporadically throughout the choir adds energy to the mix.

coming very soon…

jugs-flying-horses-webcopy

new recording with an ensemble of 69 tuned glass bottles and….stay tuned