Mixtape #48 : Enoch Light

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Admiration’s one thing but, personally, there aren’t many musical figures whom i regard as full-on heroes. One of the few notable exceptions, however, is Enoch Light. Yesterday, 31 July, marked the 40th anniversary of Light’s death, and so as a small tribute to the great man my latest mixtape is a celebration of his work.

If his name’s not familiar to you, that’s not necessarily surprising. His earliest recorded work dates from the later 1950s, continuing until roughly the mid-1970s, and unless your musical interests encompass the very particular conjunction of big band, lounge, jazz and easy listening that flourished during this period, he’s unlikely to show up on your radar. My penchant for this music, which began when i was a child – listening to the LPs in my parents’ record collection – has steadily grown into a full-blooded passion, though for obvious reasons it’s not one that i get a chance to discuss on 5:4 very often (the one exception to date being my 26th mixtape devoted to Easy Listening, though as i was focusing particularly on the more laid back late ’60s/early ’70s sound in that mix i didn’t include any of Light’s music).

Enoch Light deserves to be remembered and celebrated not only for his music, but also for the pivotal role he played in greatly developing and improving recording standards and techniques. Having founded his own label, Command Records, in 1959, he pushed hard for the acceptance of stereo (and, in due course, quadrophonic recording), flamboyantly showing it off by using extreme separation and panning, often utilising a left/right hocketing effect that came to be known as ‘ping pong’ recording. One of his most radical decisions was to reject magnetic tape in favour of the increased clarity, stability, stereo positioning and resolution that could be obtained from recording onto 35mm film. The wonderful artwork that adorned Light’s albums combined stark minimalistic, geometric designs – some created by none other than artist Josef Albers – with bold exclamations about the quality and innovation of the recording. These beautiful sleeves occupy a unique place in the history of album artwork.

But, of course, most of all it’s the music that gets me excited. In his multiplicity of roles as conductor, arranger, producer, engineer and, in his own word, ‘originator’, Light created a legacy of music that brought together the brash exuberance of big band and jazz, the cool swagger of lounge, and the light, romantic elegance of easy listening, even managing to incorporate Moog synthesisers into his later work. By turns exhilarating and sublime, for me Enoch Light is one of the most significant and marvellous musical talents of the twentieth century.

For this mixtape i’ve selected some of my favourites from throughout his career, from the very first Command Records release, Persuasive Percussion (1959) to one of Light’s last discs, a quadrophonic album released on his equally forward-looking Project 3 label, Future Sound Shock (1973), the sleeve of which proudly proclaims: “After years of research, the producers, arrangers and artists at Project 3 have produced the recording of the future which will serve as a leader in the world of recorded sound for many years to come.”

In all, a little over 90 minutes of music by way of tribute to the wonder that was Enoch Light, 1905–1978. Here’s the tracklisting in full, followed by links to download and stream the mixtape. Read more

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Proms 2018: Ēriks Ešenvalds – Shadow; Eve Risser – Furakèla (World Premières); Andrew Norman – Spiral (UK Première)

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A piece doesn’t have to be – in fact, can hardly be – all things to all people, but in the case of Shadow, by Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds‘, one has to wonder if it has much if anything to offer a mature listener. This in itself is interesting precisely because of the fact that the driving force of the piece is a meditation on the implications of parental responsibility, using the words from Longfellow’s eponymous sonnet to contemplate the future and fate of one’s children. The words, as indicated by the poem’s opening line, are literally being said to oneself, so the ‘audience’ or object of these private ruminations is adult, while their subject is children. Read more

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Proms 2018: Georg Friedrich Haas – the last minutes of inhumanity; Hannah Kendall – Verdala; Isabel Mundry – Gefallen; Luca Francesconi – We Wept (World Premières)

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The London Sinfonietta’s Prom concert at The Roundhouse, on 21 July, marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I with great works by Messiaen and Ives, plus a quartet of world premières, commissioned to explore aspects associated with the conflict and its aftermath. Composers are often at pains either to avoid extra-musical content entirely or, if present, to play down its significance and play up the subjectivity of the listening experience. One of the few exceptions to this is war music, when composers can breathe a sigh of relief in the expectation that they can lean on programmatic associations to, at least, steer audiences in the right general direction.

Listening to these four pieces, three of which included mezzo-soprano Susan Bickley, it was impossible not to acknowledge their ‘war credentials’ due to the way they were presented, surrounded by discussions with three of the composers about their respective inspirations. Yet the extent to which they spoke with authority, or even authenticity, on this subject, was by no means as obvious.

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Proms 2018: pre-première questions with Jessica Wells

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Tomorrow’s afternoon Prom concert in Cadogan Hall promises to be something a little different. Titled Ancient Rituals and New Tales, the event is a showcase for Egyptian oud player Joseph Tawadros. In addition to his own music Tawadros will also be giving the world première of Australian composer Jessica WellsRhapsody for solo oud. In preparation for that, here are her answers to my pre-première questions, together with the programme note for the piece. Many thanks to Jessica for her responses. Read more

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Proms 2018: pre-première questions with Andrew Norman

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Tonight’s Prom includes a short orchestral work by US composer Andrew Norman, titled Spiral. Here are his answers to my pre-première questions, together with the programme note for the piece. Many thanks to Andrew for his responses. Read more

Proms 2018: pre-première questions with Ēriks Ešenvalds

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This evening’s Prom, titled ‘War and Peace’ and featuring the BBC Proms Youth Choir and the World Orchestra for Peace, gets underway with the world première of a new work called Shadow, by Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds. In preparation for that, here are his answers to my pre-première questions, along with the programme note for his piece. Many thanks to Ēriks for his responses. Read more

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Fermata

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Tomorrow morning, my best beloved and i are heading off on holiday for a week, so normal service will resume once i’m back. One or two articles might just appear while i’m gone, and in the meantime, if you haven’t already, be sure to express your opinion about each of the Proms premières i’ve reviewed so far over on the Polls page.

Toodle pip!