Matt McBane & Sandbox Percussion – Bathymetry

· par Frédéric Cardin

Bathymetry is a surprising and very seductive encounter between an electro album and a chamber music concert for percussion.

Matt McBane is an American composer who was an avid surfer as a teenager and became interested in the cause-and-effect relationship between the sea floor (or beds of whatever water bodies) and surface waves. Little did he know at the time that this interest had a serious and official scientific corollary called bathymetry. Now a composer, this particular world is the inspiration for an eight-movement suite written for analog synthesizer, in this case, a classic Moog, and percussion ensemble.

The proposal, which is quite original in that it finally deigns to involve the Moog in a learned contemporary compositional approach, is made possible here thanks to a collaboration with the excellent quartet Sandbox Percussion, nominated twice for Grammys, among others. The four members of the quartet play with all sorts of percussive objects, both traditional classical and spontaneous and prosaic objects. They use ping-pong balls, bowls filled with water, folded metal sheets, a vibraphone, tom-toms, a drum kit, etc. The Moog, meanwhile, becomes a kind of avatar of the ocean floor. McBane describes its use:

The synth most often functions in a bass role – a kind of ocean floor to the primarily treble sounds of the percussion ensemble. The idea of bathymetry is sometimes more literal, sometimes more poetic. In some movements, the synthesizer in the bass sometimes determines the behavior of the percussion sounds above it, shaping and refracting the rhythms in a way that is evocative of how the ocean floor shapes the waves passing above it. In other movements, a dark, underwater, mysterious world is created.


We are bathed in a contemplative and placidly undulating atmosphere (with the exception of a single, more agitated Reich-style breach), perfectly illustrative of a quiet exploration of the ocean floor in a bathyscaphe with a panoramic window. Slow-motion swirls of sea sand, fantastic-looking creatures waving at the listener with curiosity, delicate spurts of unexpected sea currents, we are witnesses to a setting plunged into bluish darkness, revealed only by the delicate intrusions of lights imported there by the explorers at the service of music lovers.

Part description, part visual poetry, part dreamlike meditation, and part awe-inspiring exploration, Bathymetry is a musical and sensory journey like no other that has been offered in contemporary music recently.

Whether you are a lover of pure electronic music, soothing ambient, or avant-garde contemporary chamber music, you will be enchanted by this fascinating journey, made to the rhythms of small, graceful cephalopods and other fantastic inhabitants of a universe we know less about than interstellar space.

One of the most interesting albums of the year 2022!

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