RovaMatic (Mac/Win)The Rova Saxophone Quartet is an adventurous ensemble that has explored improvisational music since the late 1970s. Rarefaction also has a reputation for being adventurous and experimental, and this synergy led to the production of RovaMatic (audio CD, $89; CD-ROM, $149). Noted sound designer Thomas DiMuzio undertook the project and recorded saxophonists Bruce Ackley (tenor, soprano), Steve Adams (sopranino, alto), Larry Ochs (tenor, sopranino), and Jon Raskin (baritone, sopranino, alto).
Roving through RovaMaticThe samples on RovaMatic were recorded in an acoustically live room for ambience, with Rova in a semicircle, its standard performance configuration. The group was close-miked in tandem along with stereo overhead microphones in an XY configuration.
RovaMatic has no multisamples, velocity switches, or pitch and tempo references. Instead, you get 16-bit, 44.1 kHz stereo performances in AIFF format that you can import into your DAW, audio editor, or sampler. The 284 sounds are compiled in eight categories, each with subcategories: Beds, Chords, Chronology Loops, Drones and Tones, Loops, Sax SFX, Solo Rova, and Trills. File sizes range from approximately 150 KB in the Short Chord section to between 16 and 19 MB in the Drone Solo and Chronology Loops sections.
Are You Adventurous?If you are seeking horn section hits and stabs in R&B, funk, and other mainstream styles, look elsewhere. RovaMatic is rife with unusual and outside improvisational playing, including whole-tone scales, abstract collective polyrhythmic explorations, and atypical tonguing techniques.
The sounds in Chronology Loops are carefully documented. Each loop has a main file and a folder with smaller, equal-length phrases snipped from the main file. For instance, Zonk Turns is an 8.9 MB performance that is divided into 14 smaller chunks. I love Zonk Turns for its insistent, percussive tonguing. The full file begins with two bars of one sax playing a fairly straight rhythm. As the performance continues, the others join in and create an outrageously polyrhythmic piece. The smaller loops isolate individual sections of the main file. Splicing these together can create some scintillating, rhythmic aural scenarios.
The Drones and Tones samples offer some real treats. The Eastern Chants folder contains five droning pieces in which the saxophones drift slightly above and below pitch for a chorused, quarter-tone effect. Drone Solos features a couple of very long files. Ceremonial Prelude is particularly good: each member of the quartet emerges for a brief solo, while the other three create shifting, atonal beds behind him. In Overtones, the players use a certain embouchure to bring out breathy, squeaking overtones.
You get oodles of loops here - too many to describe in detail - and all of them possess engaging qualities. Two loops in the Loop Dedications folder are outstanding. Claude Monet has the quartet improvising different repeating motifs; one musician plays an ascending I-II-IV-V line in the alto range while another chatters in high tones above and the other two repeat lines in the tenor range. The 1.8 MB Don Van Vliet sample (named after the artist known as Captain Beefheart) again features percussive tonguing techniques that create a captivating ditty. The first Stories in Sound loop is good: a single horn enters with a pulsing rhythmic line for a few bars, then the others chime in with a backing bed, and another player takes over the pulsing line in a new key. The piece ends with a flurry of bold improvisation.
The Short Chords folder provides 18 files of staccato chord bursts. The Low Chord and Staggered Low Chords folders have some pretty daring sustained chords. None of the Chords folders has pitch or chord definitions; Rarefaction should have described this area of the disc in more detail.
The Noir folder has some all-too-brief minisoundtracks that evoke film noir and make you visualize a shadowy, black-and-white figure on the wall. The Machines folder contains two gems that defy description, but beautifully evoke machinelike qualities. Alternating Currents has a few powerful honking sustains. The two Laugh bits are great - four saxes making laughing noises is a delight.
Rova RavesRarefaction CDs always entertain me, and this playfully peculiar platter is no exception. The disc is not for the meek, and it occupies new turf. It's great for infusing your music with something different. Jazz musicians in particular will like this collection.
I recommend RovaMatic for compositional beds, for video and film soundtracks, and for creating incidental flybys that pique the ear. You can process these samples like mad to create something altogether new. As with all Rarefaction offerings, your imagination is the limit. Rarefaction offers MP3 samples of the disc on its Web site at www.rarefaction.com. Give them a listen.