Franco-German double bassist Pascal Niggenkemper, currently living in New York, is an experimentalist with a background in jazz and classical performance. Alone and with fellow bassist Sean Ali, Niggenkemper has come up with ever more unusual ways to prepare a bass—by inserting small blocks on the fingerboard under the strings; rubbing and rattling a tambourine against the strings and fingerboard; preparing the strings with alligator clips and aluminum foil; inserting the base of a metal lampshade between the strings over the bridge. Look with thine ears, his first solo release, is a demonstration of the timbral versatility of his altered instrument.
The title of the CD, like the titles of all its tracks, is a line from King Lear, a 2014 production of which Niggenkemper played on and for which he developed some of the sounds and techniques captured on the recording. Each piece is a kind of tone poem given over to the exploration of a technique or a defined range of timbres; many of these push the bass into acousmatic territory, but no matter how unusual the sounds, Niggenkemper manages to fit them to musical structures, often cohering around a rhythmic core. On “This Shall Not Be Revoked” Niggenkemper gets a brilliant buzzing sound that disguises the bass as a distorted electric guitar played through a tinny speaker. Under the weight of the bow the horizontal becomes vertical as individual tones are compacted into a thick, pulsing dronelike mass. The timbres for “At Fortune’s Alms” are woody and reminiscent of a marimba; Niggenkemper lays out a quasi-romantic chord progression in a brisk pizzicato that falls halfway between a flamenco strum and an arpeggio. “Let Me Kiss Your Hand” again has the bass mimicking a kind of mallet percussion instrument, this time one that embodies its own kind of tala in a series of irregular, stuttering rhythmic cycles. Rhythm also underlies “Be This Perpetual,” whose rapid ostinato figures are punctuated by rattles and scrapes sounding like chains dragged over asphalt, and the nervous pulse of mallet- and dowel-beaten strings on “Let Me Still Remain the True Blank of Thine Eye.”