Estonia in focus weekend: Helena Tulve – Extinction des choses vues (UK Première)

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In the UK, while it’s not that difficult to find performances of music from many parts of the world, opportunities to hear music from Estonia – with the obvious exception of Arvo Pärt – are extremely rare. So the decision of the BBC Symphony Orchestra to include in their season a concert devoted to Estonian music – celebrating the one-hundredth anniversary of the country’s independence – came as a surprise and a very real treat. The concert took place on 4 July at the BBC’s famous Maida Vale Studios, and was broadcast earlier this week. Conducted by Olari Elts, the orchestra performed works by three generations of Estonian composers, Eduard Tubin (who died in 1982), Erkki-Sven Tüür and Helena Tulve, all three of them pieces that have been around for some time, but which could do with being a lot better known. In this Estonia in focus weekend i’m going to explore two of them, starting with the piece by the most junior composer of those three generations represented at the concert, Helena Tulve’s Extinction des choses vues (Extinction of things seen), composed in 2007 but only now receiving its UK première.

The way Tulve uses the orchestra in this piece – and in all her orchestral pieces – is to transform it into a kind of giant organism, a single entity comprising innumerable interconnected elements. This is something she and i discussed in some depth during our Dialogue together earlier this year. By keeping the title deliberately abstract, Tulve has also made it interestingly misleading: the musical ‘things’ in the piece are indeed ‘seen’ (or, rather, heard), but often not clearly: we glimpse them, but we cannot necessarily grasp or understand them. Read more

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Another Timbre: Canadian Composers Series (Part 2)

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

Record label Another Timbre has recently released the five discs that comprise the second part of its Canadian Composers Series, featuring music by Alex Jang, Cassandra Miller, Lance Austin Olsen and Linda Catlin Smith. While the excellent accompanying booklet to the series (which, at over 100 pages, is more a book than a booklet) elaborates on the many points of contact and connection between the composers, it would be misleading and inaccurate to say that the music on these five discs shares fundamental similarities. There’s no hint here of a kind of ‘Canadian Collective’ in the manner of the Wandelweiser posse; it’s impossible to miss the fact that all four composers take an overtly reflective approach, not only to their materials but to the way those materials are wielded, but that’s hardly unique to Canada and in any case the way each composer articulates that act of reflection is entirely individual. Read more

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The Arvo Pärt Centre

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18 months ago, i was standing in a forest. It was located on the Lohusalu peninsula, near the village of Laulasmaa on the north-west Estonian coast. This is the site of Aliina, Arvo Pärt’s country retreat, as well as the enormous archive of his scores, sketches and a myriad other materials that have been collected throughout Pärt’s life and which, at the time of my visit, was still being catalogued and organised in a separate building facing Aliina. In addition to this, about 100 metres away into the forest, was a large construction site where diggers and cranes were starting to make preparations for The Arvo Pärt Centre, a hub for the composer’s complete life and work, intended not only to make the archive accessible but also to feature a museum and a concert hall.

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all that dust: music by Morton Feldman, Matthew Shlomowitz, Séverine Ballon, Milton Babbitt and Luigi Nono

Posted on by 5:4 in 20th Century, CD/Digital releases | 5 Comments

The launching of a new label devoted to contemporary music is something to celebrate, and the newest kid on the block is all that dust, the brainchild of composer Newton Armstrong, soprano Juliet Fraser and pianist Mark Knoop. The label’s first five releases have recently appeared, and there are a couple of things to say more generally before getting stuck into them individually. First, all that dust is a label not only concerned with the newest of the new; two of these releases are works composed in 1964, and another dates from the early ’80s. Second, all that dust is interested in digital as a valuable medium in its own right: two of the releases are only available digitally, and have been specifically engineered for binaural listening. Third, the label’s approach to presentation is slick but nicely generic, opting for abstract artwork rather than tailoring each one with something personalised. This somewhat extends to the liner notes, which while they do at least provide some context for the music are generally rather meagre and perfunctory. Overall, though, in terms of presentation what all that dust are clearly seeking to emphasise above all else is the music, indicating that we shouldn’t fuss about admiring fancy covers or reading lengthy tracts but just launch as quickly as possible into these five very different soundworlds. Hard to argue with that. Read more

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Björk – Crave (Odd Duck Mix); Hearts & Bones; Undone

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In my most recent mixtape, exploring the noble art of the remix, i included a track by Björk – ‘Crave (Odd Duck Mix)’ – that i mentioned had been made available as a download back in 2001, but which was no longer available. There were in fact four tracks that Björk released as downloads at that time, and since three of them have been unavailable for over a decade, i thought it would be interesting to revisit them.

It’s worth saying at the outset that throughout her career Björk has been more responsible than most musicians for cultivating an extensive catalogue of remixes of her songs. i began collecting her work in 1993, the year she began her solo career (having left the Sugarcubes), and each successive single felt like a substantial release, usually coming in the form of two or sometimes three CDs (later including videotapes or DVDs) containing a mixture of additional songs and remixes of the title track. The number of these remixes was at times considerable – one of her earliest singles, ‘Big Time Sensuality’ (1993), had as many as seven – but beyond this, these singles would also frequently include new renditions of other songs: ‘Violently Happy’ (1994) had acoustic versions of ‘Anchor Song’, ‘Come To Me’ and ‘Human Behaviour’, ‘Isobel’ (1995) featured a harpsichord version of ‘Venus as a Boy’, while ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’ (1995) – one of Björk’s only singles never to have been remixed – included three versions of ‘Hyperballad’, a song that wouldn’t be released as a single until the following year.

Björk’s predilection for remixes has remained consistent, reaching a peak during the late 1990s (the Homogenic period) when ‘Bachelorette’ (1997) and ‘Alarm Call’ (1998) were treated to ten remixes each. More recently, 2011’s Biophilia was supplemented with a series of eight singles collectively titled Biophilia Remixes containing a total of 17 remixes, and while there are far fewer of them, a handful of remixes have been released to accompany her last two singles taken from Utopia (2017), ‘Blissing Me’ and ‘Arisen My Senses’. Furthermore, in addition to singles Björk has also regularly released anthologies of remixes, including The Best Mixes from the Album Debut for All the People Who Don’t Buy White Labels (1994), Telegram (1996), Voltaïc (2009) and Bastards (2012). Remixes are clearly a logical extension of the restless imagination and urge to collaborate that drive Björk’s creativity. Read more

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Mixtape #50 : Remix

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The new 5:4 mixtape is a celebration of the art of the remix. However, i should stress immediately that the emphasis here is not simply on that word’s implied legacy of beats and dance-based forms of music. The scope for this particular mixtape is altogether more broad and open-minded, exploring some of the most unusual, unpredictable and unhinged ways that musicians have rethought, rearranged and reimagined both their own and others’ existing musical material.

Some tracks are more closely associated with the diverse songworlds of pop, rock and electronica – including Gazelle Twin, Nine Inch Nails, Björk, Kate HavnevikThe Irrepressibles, Marina & the DiamondsBeastie Boys, Erotic MarketSusanne Sundfør and Belle and Sebastian – though in some cases the ways that their music has been remixed establishes a sizeable distance from the original. Indeed, in the case of Björk’s ‘Crave (Odd Duck Mix)’ – a remix created by Matmos that was made available as a download from Björk’s website in 2001, and is no longer available – it’s by no means immediately obvious that the track is actually a remix of her song (from Vespertine) ‘An Echo, a Stain’.

Away from songs, i’ve included a number of tracks that occupy dream-like soundworlds of varying levels of stability, comfort and drift. At the more abrasive and/or disquieted end of the spectrum are the likes of Fovea HexAM and the UV, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Shinkei + Mise_en_scene, The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz EnsembleBrian ReitzellKim Cascone and Ektoise, while more sublime environments are found in the music of Ryuichi SakamotoAndrew LilesJonathan Coleclough & Colin PotterCarl Sagan’s GhostMissy MazzoliBen Frost, Sylvain Pohu and Christina Vantzou. Something of an odd one out in the mix as a whole is the track by World’s End Girlfriend, a wonderfully bonkers oddity by an artist whose work i’ve never managed properly to get my head around.

Structurally, it’s pretty much a stream of consciousness, with me more than usually just following my nose, and as a consequence the mixtape veers quite wildly between periods of calmness and seriously ramped-up intensity. Having said that, i’ve started and ended with a pair of tracks that complement each other as an effective overture and finale to the mix as a whole. Access to Arasaka‘s remix of Klangstabil marries elements of dark ambient with glitched beats and electronics, whereas Techdiff‘s grime and dubstep-infused remix of Hecq & Exillon‘s ‘Spheres of Fury’ is quite simply the most accomplished and downright exhilarating remix i’ve ever heard by anyone, retaining an obvious connection to the original while transmogrifying it into a structurally dramatic foray through a series of rhythmically discrete episodes, culminating in the equivalent of a firework display of beats triggered by a barrage of interconnected machine guns. Just amazing.

Two hours of radical reinterpretations; here’s the tracklisting in full, together with links to obtain the music. As usual, the mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

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The Barbican, London: Ryoji Ikeda – Music for Percussion / datamatics [ver. 2.0]

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Last Sunday, the Barbican in London was treated to an evening of music by Japanese composer Ryoji Ikeda. For much of Ikeda’s career, he’s created a unique kind of electronic music, blending the aloof coldness and potential impenetrability of the most raw sounds – sine tones and noise – with more warm and accessible extra-musical associations derived from aspects of the world around us: temperature, time, space, and above all, data. More about that later. Ikeda’s compositional interests go beyond electronics, though, demonstrated in the first half of the concert which was devoted to his recent Music for Percussion (released on CD earlier this year on Ikeda’s own Codex Edition label), performed by members of Swiss percussion collective Eklekto. This is not the first time Ikeda has ventured into writing for acoustic forces; his 2002 album op. features three works for strings (the first of which i directed the UK première of a few years ago) – works that, considered retrospectively, are at some remove from Ikeda’s usual tone and aesthetic.

The four works that comprise Music for Percussion are much more closely aligned to the rest of Ikeda’s output. The most obvious thing they clarify is his indebtedness to minimalism: the opening section of Body Music [For Duo], featuring isolated claps that slowly coalesce into a concrete rhythmic pattern, could hardly evoke more instantly Steve Reich’s seminal Clapping Music. Yet where Reich was presenting something nascent, germinal, arguably more a concept than a deeply engaging composition, Ikeda’s Music for Percussion is a logical extension and, more importantly, an analogue of his work in electronics. Those claps in Body Music are swiftly supplemented with an assortment of thigh slaps and foot slams to elicit the same kind of stripped-back timbral palette employed in his intricately rhythmic electronic work. However, whereas on disc the connection to Ikeda’s earlier music is emphasised yet further by the dry clarity of the performance, watching Alexandre Babel and Stéphane Garin negotiate their way through the formidable complexities of its constantly varying rhythmic patterns bestowed on the music a palpable frisson of instability – even fragility – that’s entirely absent from Ikeda’s electronic oeuvre. Performed without music, facing towards the audience rather than each other, Garin and Babel were simply mesmerising to watch. Read more

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