Fenętre Ovale is a composition by Karl Naegelen, and performed by Eve Risser on prepared piano and Joris Rühl on clarinet. The three share an interest in searching for new sounds and illusions; in this case, they can make a rubbing sound resemble breath and breath resemble creaking. Online video of the opening track, “In Aquam,” shows Rühl playing his clarinet into a bowl of water, the end results being barely audible, while the more percussive “Rondo” features Risser playing the strings and frame inside the piano with a hairbrush, “conducted” by Naegelen. By comparison, “Kroum” is a conventional piano and clarinet duo in which the pair perform notated music containing a melody. The end result is an album in which it is often impossible to attribute the source of a particular sound, however familiar it may seem.
Tellingly, the oval window (fenętre ovale) is the membrane that marks the limit between the middle and inner ear, and so is the place of transition between acoustics and psycho acoustics, between physical sound waves and their subjective perception. The composition is an episodic piece, consisting of 12 parts varying in length from 32 seconds to almost eight minutes. Although Risser and Rühl had history working together as a duo, Naegelen worked with “musical material that had already been partly crafted and took a while to tame.” This seems to indicate that he notated musical ideas that arose out of interactions and improvisations between Risser and Rühl, inventing a notation to fix the musical form while preserving the spontaneity of improvisation. That online video indicates that it was a long slow business, with the final album being constructed from a variety of pieces recorded over a period of time.
It has often been considered a compliment to an improvisation to say that it sounded composed — to which some improvisers would respond, “it was composed, while you were listening.” In the case of Naegelen’s composition, the most appropriate compliment seems to be that it sounds improvised; it certainly blurs the boundary between composition and improvisation beyond recognition.