If I wasn’t made aware of the fact that the double bass is the instrument at the point of focus here, would I have been able to guess? The friction of taut coarse hair against string is an unmistakable sound – drones and slithering overtones wrestling over the rasp of contact – but the actual music that results is far from what many would expect to hear from a double bass, both in terms of instrument timbre and the musical characteristics of a piece “written for double bass”. The key phrase of the album’s accompanying literature is that it explores the “instrument in its role as a resonating chamber” – one does not hear each tone as the rich, unified emission of string instrument vibration, but acknowledges the presence of two separate entities: the initial, more immediate scrape of bow on string, following by the ghostly circulation of tone around the double bass’ hollow interior. Barbiero ensures that each sound is inflected with a wealth of croaky, buzzing detail, at once an agonising frictional drag and a dazzling kaleidoscope of constant tonal transformation. Grand pauses of quiet (never silence) sit between each stroke, during which I can imagine Barbiero examining his instrument with the fierce concentration of an open-heart surgeon, carefully determining his next point of contact.
There’s a certain sense of relief that accompanies those first couple of bows on the other piece here, “Eighteen Events For Double Bass”, as Barbiero finally produces the rich, clean note that “Not One Nor” holds excruciatingly at arms reach. The piece comprises of 18 actions alternated with 18 “non-actions”, producing a similar (albeit slightly more aggressive and energetic) interchange between contacting his instrument and leaving it alone. There’s a strong meditative force at the centre of Barbiero’s music – action followed by blissful pockets of contemplation, during which both listener and composer are able to fully absorb the sound they have just experienced without the immediate distraction of the next. Beautiful and somewhat cleansing.