Vale of Glamorgan Festival: World Premières by Arvo Pärt and Arlene Sierra

Posted on by 5:4 in Premières | Leave a comment

On 9 September, a concert given at the Vale of Glamorgan Festival of Music by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, conducted by Tõnu Kaljuste, was for the most part concerned with the music of Arvo Pärt, featuring a new work commissioned by the festival, In Spe for wind quintet and strings. It’s a short piece, in which the winds take precedence at first: horn, oboe and bassoon take turns stating the work’s fundamental idea. The rest of the work is essentially a series of what E. E. Cummings might have called “nonvariations” on that theme; the melody is draped in constantly changing decoration, the voice moving between registers, inversions and retrogrades adding what little spice there is to be gleaned from Pärt’s agonisingly constricted use of material and harmony. Surprisingly, it all feels terribly technical; while the temptation with so much of Pärt’s music is simply to drift, switched off and blissed out, on the surface, i found myself pulled under during In Spe, staring at what lay beneath; i don’t think this is due purely to the paucity of invention on display in the work; Howard Skempton’s Lento goes round in even more demonstrably regular circles for much of its duration, but there the result is hypnotic and entirely convincing. Somehow, the material here all feels terribly workaday, almost like an exercise; unfortunately, as neither the inner workings nor their surface sheen are that interesting, this militates against In Spe, enfeebling it, even in its brief attempts at more dynamic strength. Arvo Pärt’s fans will be delighted; all the ‘tintinnabuli’ stuff is present and correct, and the piece presents them with absolutely nothing unfamiliar, nothing to think about. Read more

Tags: , , , ,

New digital release: at the magical hour when is becomes if / desert-tide

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases, i | 1 Comment

The sonic poles of noise and pitched material are heard in delicate vein on my own new digital EP, which presents two works composed in June 2010. The shorter of the two, desert-tide, takes a gentle journey through a small, noise-based landscape. By contrast, at the magical hour when is becomes if focuses entirely on pitches, juxtaposing them in clouds and clusters ever in flux, drifting, dissipating and coalescing within a relatively narrow sonic space.

The EP is released at midnight on 2 October 2010, available only as a free digital download, through my own label Interrobang. It can be downloaded in a wide variety of formats from my Bandcamp site, here. Included with the download is a high-resolution PDF digital booklet, as well as a special offer to purchase both my CD releases at two for the price of one – an offer not to be missed!

Tags:

Purcell Room, London: Tim Benjamin and Francis Poulenc

Posted on by 5:4 in Concerts, Premières | 1 Comment

Last Thursday i journeyed to London for a small-scale concert at the Purcell Room. On paper, the concert was being given by the ensemble Radius, but in practice only the pianist was present, supporting a quartet of singers. i’ll admit to being disappointed about that; i’ve not encountered Radius before, so it was frustrating to come away still having not encountered them. Two pieces were performed: Poulenc’s one-act opera La Voix Humaine preceded by the UK première of a new work by Radius’ director Tim Benjamin titled Le Gâteau d’Anniversaire.

Benjamin’s work can’t, in any accurate sense, be called an opera, comprising a single scene of barely 30 minutes’ duration. What Benjamin has produced, in fact, is akin more to a dramatic scena, except that it’s intended to be funny, so i guess we should rightly call it a dramatic scena buffa (or something like that). What unfolds is a dream sequence in which the protagonist, Louis, a baker by trade, receives visions from a pair of women who, at length, coax, encourage and downright insist that the reluctant Louis disregard bread-making for a time and bake them a cake. In the epilogue, Louis is awakened by his sisters, only to be reminded it’s their birthday, and that he’d agreed to provide his services to mark the occasion; no resistance from Louis this time, and the preparations begin. That’s it; except that Tim Benjamin’s lengthy programme note expounds the notion that the work is a “theatrical investigation” into “the oppression of, and liberation from, accepted convention and custom” as well as “the power of the subconscious to influence the conscious self through the medium of dreams”. Read more

Tags: , , , ,

Flawless, stratospheric pinnacles: The Birthday Massacre – Pins and Needles

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | 1 Comment

While the majority of contemporary rock—regardless of what prefix it’s given—tends to pass me by as so much generic, posturing fluff, inject a healthy, industrial-strength jolt of electronics through it, and i’m very much more inclined to sit up and pay attention. Such music’s just as capable of factory-line posing as its more raw, guitar-driven cousin, of course, but it does give the music, at least, a veneer of novelty, while at best, produces some of the most exciting rock around. For some years, Evanescence provided my fix in this area, but their focus was lost long, long ago, and their place in my affections has been supplanted by Canada’s most splendidly purple goth-synth-rock group, The Birthday Massacre. Whereas Evanescence hit the ground running, producing outstanding work from their first single onwards, The Birthday Massacre have taken numerous releases over no less than a decade to reach a place of maturity, the latest and most outstanding example of which is their new album, released a few days ago, Pins and Needles. Read more

Tags:

The perfect movie soundtrack: Hans Zimmer – Inception

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases, Movies | 1 Comment

It’s been said that the perfect movie soundtrack is one that integrates itself so well into the fabric of the film that you don’t notice it’s there. i suspect that belief arises as much from experiencing the jarring æsthetic bifurcation that ensues from badly-executed soundtracks as from witnessing the seamless assimilation of sound with sight. The very best soundtracks of all, to me at least, are so good, so interesting, that they’re utterly unignorable. But it would be a mistake to say, in calling attention to themselves, that they’re too interesting; in the same way as an outstandingly effective mise en scène, or wardrobe design, or cluster of special effects, we’re conscious of their brilliance while remaining firmly locked in engagement with the film. My first podcast focused on one of the very best examples of that, in Antichrist, and more recently Hans Zimmer has achieved something similar in his soundtrack for Christopher Nolan’s outstanding film Inception. It helps that the movie is as good as it is; i’ve not seen a film as engrossing as Inception in a while, which therefore presents Zimmer with something already extremely impressive to work with. and yet, as Zimmer has explained, he didn’t create his soundtrack with reference to any of the visuals, working instead from just the script, using that alone to ignite his imagination. It’s a risky approach, but a suitably unconventional one for a film that falls so far outside the realm of conventional thrillers. Read more

Tags:

25 years on: a-ha – Take On Me

Posted on by 5:4 in Anniversaries | 2 Comments

This week marks the 25th anniversary of, in my view, one of the finest pop songs ever recorded: “Take On Me” by a-ha. It could be argued that the release of “Take On Me” marked a turning point for pop, which had spent the preceding years mooching around in New Romantic guise when it wasn’t posturing in Soft Rock or shuffling around with the Goths. To some extent following OMD’s lead, a-ha pretty much defined synthpop in this breathtaking song, although it took them three attempts to do it. Let’s go back to the beginning.

The song first began to take shape as early as 1982, when a-ha barely existed, the trio shacked up in a cabin in their native Norway, putting together a series of demos. Back then it was called “Lesson One”, and while the band used obviously cheap and cheerful synths and drum machines, the basic elements of the final song were already firmly in place, most notably the recurring synth riff as well as much of the main melody. Structurally though, it’s all over the place, sounding like three different songs awkwardly stitched together, not one of them possessing a chorus to speak of. It therefore comes across as rather odd, excruciatingly so when Morten Harket inexplicably lets loose a bizarre, horrifying whoop a little way in (0:41 – a moment he’d probably like to forget).

A year later, now calling themselves a-ha, the group spent several months recording demos in London, at a small studio called Rendezvous. It was here that “Take On Me” properly took its final form, bearing little resemblance to the miserable demo from 1982; all the basic elements—lyrics, structure, melody and harmonies—are the same at this stage as in the final version. Nonetheless, it’s clearly still a work in progress; Harket’s singing is still too waivering for its own good, despite the remarkable demonstration of his vocal range, as heard in the chorus, no less than two-and-a-half octaves. The impressive chorus goes some way to contrast with the verses, but there’s still a dynamic flatness that stops the song being terribly inviting, something the all-too-plain instrumental simply can’t solve on its own. Read more

Tags:

Aching with exuberance: of Montreal – False Priest

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | Leave a comment

My first encounter with of Montreal‘s 2008 album Skeletal Lamping was a bewildering experience. For anyone unfamiliar with it, its apparent 15 tracks are nothing but a ruse; in fact, there are many more than that, the album lurching between portions of song, seeking neither clarity nor indeed coherence. On the one hand, there’s something maddening about it, but what Skeletal Lamping projected most was a riotous celebration of the sheer joy of song-making, the jump-cuts so many signs of unbounded enthusiasm. For all its structural oddness, it was nonetheless irresistable, carrying the audience along on an unstoppable tide of invention. Their new album, False Priest, unleashed earlier this week, is therefore among the releases that i’ve been most excitedly ancitipating this year.

First things first: False Priest‘s 13 tracks are (almost) all present and correct in their entirety; of Montreal—as one might have guessed, considering their highly evolutionary history—have wisely not attempted to repeat past experiments. If anything, what songwriter Kevin Barnes has done in this new outpouring is find ways to incorporate the kind of stylistic eclecticism heard on Skeletal Lamping into cogent songs positively aching with exuberance. There’s undeniably a powerful sense of past musics informing each song at its deepest level, but while in the hands of lesser bands this can become a kind of shallow pastiche bordering on a piss-take (sadly, the road down which Scissor Sisters seem determined to travel), of Montreal’s unbridled imagination takes the essence of former idioms rather than just their surface gloss, and the result—for all its apparent ‘retro’ chic—is unequivocably new. Read more

Tags: