The answer to what Bartok’s Mikrokosmos would have sounded like if he had access to psychedelics and a saxophone no longer needs pondering–the latest album from composer James Young and saxophonist Tyrone Page Jr. winds through an extensive sonic world built on multiphonics, breath techniques, and other modern techniques in an exploration of “memory, machinery, rust, ghosts, cybernetics, and neon.” Aptly named True Fluorescent Skeleton (Ehse Records), this album wildly, and at times forcefully, weaves various isolated techniques into a jarring experience through a myriad of uneasy timbres.
Young uses each miniature to focus on one technique or concept, exploring the limits of the saxophone, and at times pushing past them. Comparing li-e and FAZE-Og, Young’s attention to detail and versatility emerges, whether displaying a solitary multiphonic repeated at varying durations to exposed the unique attack and decay to the timbre, or showing the beating patterns and timbre as a pseudo-chordal structure. Young’s structuring of such techniques proves insightful as materials begin to merge and grow into an untamed body. Page picks up where the where Young left off and breathes life into these structures with a raw and untethered skill set.
Moments of lyricism met with raw outbursts in shadomel define Page’s style. Instances of over-exertion, to the point of degeneration of control, seem minimized–even when Young pushes too far, the out-of-control-esque nature has a net benefit. It is precisely his untamed power in HAZE-sPark that grants character and intrigue to the track. Young keenly identifies modifications to motivic material in all its instantiations, insightfully ramping up his aggression. In spark, it immediately feels that Young is letting loose, but as the material through sp–k and finally HAZE-sPark progresses, he proves there is seemingly no limit to his intensity.
Young’s way of approaching structure forces a different listening experience–one in which material development also demands the meticulous tracking of multiple motivic lines constantly weaving in and out of perspective. The progression of material from spark, to sp–k, to HAZE-sPark epitomizes Young’s unruly lines of thought while managing to tame them just enough to highlight their unique qualities. This imaginative technique creates a labyrinth in which material identified may not lead to a new structure, leaving you at a dead end. Certain motivic threads cut off abruptly and create an uncertainty–a carefully crafted diversion of expectations. This jarring alteration to the progression of material asks the listener to find new points of focus, such as the imaginative progression from combining material from previous tracks.
For all the unexpected turns in the development of the album, the structural insights and anomalies would be lost without Page’s drive and fearless audacity. The fluency in which the multitude of techniques are projected into each track is an exposé; techniques often used as effects are given musicality and purpose through Page’s meticulous understanding and refined control of unlike timbres. Page’s forceful performance occasionally overpowered some of the more fragile techniques, while the broken timbres may often added to the raw aura of True Fluorescent Skeleton.
Page’s interpretations on cRa-ck perfectly display the uncontrolled, even if intended, nature. Uneven flurries of moving notes and unmatched articulations force an unease over the track, however Page’s dedication and intent to the awkward technique and sound world allow that unease to be welcome in what could have easily been a failure with another performer. In contrast, lulline-lie tasks Page with finding intrigue in a single multiphonic repeated. The consistency of control over the fragile timbre show a beautiful and gentle contrast to the heavier moments on the album. The skillful flurry of modern technique is a tour de force, showing what an already versatile instrument can further become.
True Fluorescent Skeleton is a raw and partially unhinged work unfathomable in inception without the uniquely ideal pairing between Young and Page. This truly inventive, if at times uncontrolled, collaborative work constantly unravels new relationships in material, structure, and time. The constant breaking of form with the motivic development forces an adaptive listening experience. Is the album a series of 31 tracks meant to be listened to linearly? Or do all of the tracks belong to a larger body with no starting or stopping point, perhaps a skeleton–where relationships are highlighted by what surrounds and informs them?