The BBC Philharmonic – Music from Blue Velvet & Twin Peaks

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This evening’s concert on BBC Radio 3, given by the BBC Philharmonic from their swanky new home at MediaCity in Salford, was dedicated to film music, hosted by the superlative Mark Kermode. Towards the end of the concert, the orchestra performed three pieces from the films of David Lynch. The first was an arrangement of the Julee Cruise song ‘Mysteries of Love’ (heard in Blue Velvet), in which a solo horn took the vocal line, and it was performed to absolute perfection. Then came Blue Velvet‘s Main Title, which was nice, but has always struck me as a bit of an inconsequential piece. The real highlight, though, was Angelo Badalamenti‘s theme from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me; i’ve already talked about this brilliant piece in my podcast, so i won’t say anything further, except that the BBC Philharmonic’s rendition was outstanding. Read more

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Podcast #3 : The Music of Twin Peaks

Posted on by 5:4 in Podcasts | 6 Comments

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the end of the television show Twin Peaks; the final episode was broadcast on 10 June 1991. Therefore, the new 5:4 podcast is a celebration of the remarkable music from this unique show. Despite some discussion of the story, those who haven’t yet seen the show need not fear; there are no plot spoilers, and at no point do i mention who killed Laura Palmer. In the podcast i examine the various aspects of the music (mostly composed by Angelo Badalamenti), and how it’s used to bring alive David Lynch’s incredibly vivid and surreal drama. As ever, the podcast – which this time lasts just under 90 minutes – is available in both FLAC and MP3 formats; it can also be streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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Choral Evensong (Wells Cathedral): music by Judith Bingham, Philip Wilby and Messiaen

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Today’s service of Choral Evensong from Wells Cathedral—part of the New Music Wells Festival—broke the moribund trend of these broadcasts to celebrate English banalities in aspic, and revelled in a collection of new choral music.

It got off to a poor start, however; the American composer Gary Davison‘s setting of a text by Thomas Ken, Glory to thee, my God, this night, did little more than execute the most perfunctory and predictable word-painting; it’s an utter waste of a really rather lovely text—do we really need yet more composers incessantly churning out this banal brand of generic guff?

Following the first hymn, though, wonder of wonders: the alternative canticles! It’s incredibly rare these days to find a cathedral that actually remembers these alternatives exist, rarer still that composers see fit to set them to music. Kudos to Wells and to Judith Bingham for being prepared to break with Anglican tradition and be imaginative! Read more

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A flawless reverie for the end of the world: The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation – Anthropomorphic

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | 2 Comments

From time to time, an album comes along that doesn’t just confound expectations, but actually goes so far as to widen one’s understanding of what music is capable of being. Scott Walker’s The Drift (which recently turned five years old) is, for me, the most memorable example of that; the most recent, released three months ago, is Anthropomorphic, from The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation, the live performance configuration of The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble. If you’ve not heard of them, and/or if the word ‘jazz’ in those titles puts you off, have no fear. In their original Kilimanjaro guise, stylistic mannerisms such as the muted trombone and double bass action raise the superficial spectre of jazz without its substance. As Mount Fuji, barely a trace remains; if anything, it’s almost like a palimpsest of jazz, over which multiple layers of obtuse musings have accumulated, and that’s particularly true of Anthropomorphic. Put together from three separate live performances (in, respectively, Utrecht, Wroclaw and Moscow), it is a single, hour-long piece divided into four equal sections, given the headings “Space”, “Dimension”, “Form” and “Function”.

Despite its 15-minute duration, the first part is something of an overture. Soft and calm at first, “Space” opens with a trombone making shapes while a guitar ebbs elsewhere. A few minutes in, an ultra-deep bass throb begins—more felt than heard—gently unsettling everything, and perhaps indirectly initiating all that follows. Five more minutes pass in relative quietude, the guitar gradually easing out of the shadows, after which some threatening electronic stabs briefly but brutally interrupt the flow. The trombone’s soliloquy splits in response, and its duties are continued by a new voice in the texture: a sliding sine tone (at first sounding like a bending trombone note); it starts an acrobatic counterpoint to the previous material, causing a series of aggressive, industrial surges beneath, increasingly electronic in tone. “Space” culminates in a focused, forceful drone, the trombone joining in, buzzing and spitting on its surface. Read more

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Mind-bogglingly beautiful: Fovea Hex – Here Is Where We Used To Sing

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | 3 Comments

Clodagh Simonds likes to take her time. Following an early spell of musical incandescence in the late ’60s and early ’70s (in her own group, the fascinating prog folk outfit Mellow Candle), the Irish singer was content to hover in the fringes for three and half decades before taking centre stage again in 2005. But even then, her return was a gradual one; in a new guise, Fovea Hex, Simonds took a further three years to unveil a one-hour cycle of music, titled Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent. But what music it was! the nine tracks—released as three EPs: Bloom (2005), Huge (2006) and Allure (2007)—did nothing less than reinvent from the bottom up the notions of what song is and can be. This was no irreverant act of avant-garde ruthlessness, however; Simonds’ folk leanings (and they are only leanings; she has repeatedly stated that she neither thinks of herself as a folk singer, nor does she feel part of a tradition)—despite their proximity in an apparently alien context—were loudly and proudly proclaimed seemingly at every moment. It was, in short, an almost incredible blending of ancient and modern ideas, an enterprise made all the more successful and telling by the contributions of such figures as Brian Eno, Colin Potter, Carter Burwell and The Hafler Trio‘s Andrew M. McKenzie, who also mesmerisingly reworked each EP for an accompanying CD series.

That choice of title, Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent, could not have been chosen more wisely; it encapsulates perfectly the paradox confronting the listener in Fovea Hex’s music. On the one hand, as already stated, the folk elements are emphatically foregrounded, and folk music is at its heart communal music, not to be sat back and listened to, thought about and critiqued; on the contrary, it invites our participation, we are compelled to join in, to speak. Yet equally emphatic is a profound sense of ritual—not exactly a religious sense, it’s more diffuse and unfocused than that, but nonetheless a potent, perhaps pagan forcefulness that invokes a rather different kind of response. Rituals are communal acts too, of course, but participation here has more ebb and flow; at times, whether by rubrics or by our inner sense of the numinous, we are compelled to be silent. This unique, magical paradox has returned in dazzling fashion on Fovea Hex’s new album, Here Is Where We Used To Sing, released last month. Read more

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Mixtape #20 : Dancefloor

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Having finally emerged from the dark days of Lent, i thought it would be fitting to have a new mixtape, with an upbeat theme. As i’ve mentioned on previous occasions, dance music has always been a parallel love of mine alongside the avant-garde, and this mixtape will, i hope, prove to be an irresistable selection. As always, there’s a mix of old and new, the oldest being around 13 years old, the newest released last month.

Delphic were included in the BBC Sound of 2010, not exactly a good sign to be sure, and while they’ve failed (as yet) to distinguish themselves, this song isn’t at all bad, and this remix makes it perfect. Above and Beyond are, in my view, the champions of contemporary trance music, and they feature on this mixtape four times; “Stealing Time” is one of the standout tracks from their lovely album Tri-State, released 5 years ago. Connected to Above and Beyond via their Anjunadeep label is Michael Cassette; this is his latest single, a delicious throwback to 1980s synths. Ahead of Delphic in that dreaded BBC 2010 list was Marina Diamandis, better known as Marina and the Diamonds; she’s proved herself to be a real talent, and while “I Am Not A Robot” is pop perfection as it stands, this hard-to-find remix is outstanding. If you’ve never heard of Bloodgroup, they’re an up and coming band from Iceland, specialising in a rather unusual brand of electropop (with occasional similarities to The Human League); this track comes from their latest album and is a good introduction to their music. Read more

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Barbican, London: Unsuk Chin – Total Immersion

Posted on by 5:4 in Concerts, Premières | 4 Comments

Yesterday was a long day, spent in the company of the music of Unsuk Chin, the latest composer to be featured in the Barbican’s ongoing Total Immersion series. In some ways, it feels like Chin’s music has been around forever—or, at least, for the last 20 years, since Acrostic-Wordplay first become well-known—yet the paucity of performances of her music in the UK (despite the fact that almost none of the pieces heard throughout the day were new to these shores) mean she’s remained at a distance; serious kudos to the Barbican, then, for hosting such a deserving occasion in this, her 50th year. Lasting from 11am to 10.15pm, the day comprised six events: three concerts, two talks and one film, oscillating about the assorted performance spaces deep in the labyrinthine bowels of the Barbican Centre. Most striking of these were the two orchestral concerts, featuring the London Sinfonietta and the BBC Symphony Orchestra respectively. To say the Sinfonietta tackled ‘smaller’ pieces would be to do them something of a disservice; even when composing for reduced size ensembles, Chin never really composes ‘small’ music, and in any case, her well-known penchant for extensive percussion meant that the kitchen department always occupied the majority of the stage. Speaking of which, one of the talking points of the day was the fact that the stage of the Barbican Hall had needed to be extended by around 6 metres in order to provide sufficient space for all the performers and instruments in the evening concert; due to this, the Barbican made the irrational decision to block off the entire central section of the stalls, relocating all of us who had seats in that area to the sides. The words “health and safety” were mentioned, but it was abundantly clear that an over-cautious approach had been taken, and there was a large amount of audible disgruntlement in the audience. Read more

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