song

In Memoriam: Richard Rodney Bennett – Goodbye for Now

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

2012 has almost drawn to a close, but not before claiming another prominent musical voice: Richard Rodney Bennett, who passed away on Christmas Eve aged 76. Bennett began his compositional life as something of a modernist, studying with Boulez & showing a distinct interest in serialism. But i suspect it’s for his lighter music, particularly jazz, that Bennett will be most fondly remembered. In the late 1990s i worked for the Cheltenham Music Festival, & on one occasion was charged with being Bennett’s assistant for an evening cabaret at the Town Hall (with, i think, Cleo Laine). Until then, i was generally grumpy in the presence of anything jazz-related, but that night everything changed, & i remember being amazed at the wit & sophistication of Bennett’s performance (&, for what it’s worth, he remains one of the most charming composers i’ve ever met).

Around the same time, BBC Music Magazine gave away a free CD of Bennett’s music, featuring his Four Jazz Songs. On hearing of his death, the last of these songs, ‘Goodbye for Now’, came immediately to mind. Read more

Tags: , ,

A spine-tingling fusion: Alone Architect

Posted on by 5:4 in Digital reviews | 3 Comments

A release i’ve been anticipating for a while came out recently: the self-titled debut EP from Alone Architect. Much of the best electronica-fuelled songwriting in recent times has emanated from Canada, & Alone Architect is no exception, being the project of Montreal musician Jeff Feldman. Feldman posted a couple of teaser tracks online some weeks back, one of which featured the unique vocalisations of Elsieanne Caplette, chanteuse of the outstanding duo Elsiane. The song in question, “The Incision”, proved absolutely captivating, & promised big things for Feldman’s forthcoming EP; it does not disappoint.

The EP comprises six tracks whose brand of electronica is dark bordering on nocturnal. But it’s not yet another generic exercise in pseudo-post-apocalyptic knob-twiddling; on the contrary, rhythmic drive & overt lyricism pervade Feldman’s darkness, adorning it with splashes of colour & lightening its heavy undertones. Opening track ‘Moth to Flame’ exhibits both, although with a sense of distance. Feldman spends some time establishing layers of accompaniment (drawing heavily on the spectre of late ’70s Jean-Michel Jarre), & when his voice finally enters, the lyrics are bent out of shape almost to the point of obscurity. However, this is more than just a song—the absence of a chorus in its structure reinforces the point—& its climactic moments are carried by music alone, the words falling silent. It’s followed by the goth-inflected “Not Alone”, sung by Angela Boismenu whose voice seems to combine the best aspects of Cher & Amy Lee. Laid back in tempo, it nonetheless packs no little punch in the choruses, a punch that Feldman ramps up as the song progresses. Lyrically, despite the convolution of its poetry there’s real passion here, made all the more potent by a switch to triplet rhythms in the middle 8 & the abrupt fragility at the start of the coda. Read more

Tags: , , ,

Proms 2012: Eric Whitacre – Higher, Faster, Stronger & Imogen Heap – The Listening Chair (World Premières)

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

Yesterday’s late night Prom focussed on the USA’s most popular manufacturer of choral music, Eric Whitacre. Featuring his own choir joining forces with the BBC Singers & ensemblebash, the concert included two world premières, a new work of Whitacre’s own plus an arrangement by him of a new song by the UK’s most brilliantly eclectic chanteuse, Imogen Heap. Read more

Tags: , , , ,

Mix Tape #23 (Modern Troubadours)

Posted on by 5:4 in Mix Tapes | 3 Comments

Creatively, my thoughts have been heavily focussed on song in the last couple of months, so i’ve made that the focus of the new 5:4 Mix Tape. Songs as we think of them today more or less conform to a generic, prefabricated mould that’s often at odds with their lyric content. Not all artists are prepared to compromise so readily, though, & the sixteen songs on this Mix Tape represent a rather more rare breed of song. i think of these artists as modern troubadours, for whom the the content of their song is such that it demands a break from convention, & the opportunity for a more experimental type of expression.

These songs, which range in duration between 7 & 17 minutes, encompass a wide variety of approaches to the art of song. Some, such as those by Deerhoof & maudlin of the Well, take experimental & progressive rock as their starting point, while Frankie Goes To Hollywood & Transvision Vamp opt for episodic epics, betraying the legacy of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Janelle Monáe‘s approach is to create what amounts to a 9-minute musical, while Kevin Barnes’ of Montreal beg, borrow & steal from a plethora of pop, dance & rock idioms to convey his typically bizarre narrative. By contrast, Dead Can Dance tell their tale via a hypnotic, circling music that pushes the words firmly into the foreground; despite the complexity of their electronic backdrop, Ulver achieve the same result by speaking their lyrics. Julia Holter makes her words count, summarising them in the first three minutes & allowing them to radiate for another ten; Fovea Hex do something similar in their rethinking of folk music. Others have more to say & take longer to do it; Jenny Hval puts herself on a kind of musical knife-edge, fragile before a pale, sparse backdrop, while David Sylvian surrounds himself with a network of improvised lines & motes that would be impenetrable if they weren’t so scattered. Tori Amos turns to her trusty Bösendorfer in what is still her longest song to date, whereas Joanna Newsom (in her longest song) has her complex harp epicentre heavily enriched by lush orchestrations provided by Van Dyke Parks. Beginning & ending the mix are songs by perhaps the great troubadour of our age, Scott Walker, a pair of songs from his last two albums that explore a depth of lyrical expression that’s pretty much unique in the history of song. Read more

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Apologies; & forthcoming

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

Apologies, one & all, for the lengthy hiatus here on 5:4. In a break with convention, i’ve been finishing off two or three new compositions & then—entirely in keeping with recent convention—fighting off a rather stubborn virus. Before service resumes properly, then, let me flag up a couple of performances of these new pieces that are happening next month, both at the Birmingham Conservatoire.

The first is nolite facere dicunt enim, a work for 12 voices written for the vocal group Icarus, based at the Conservatoire. The group, which changes membership each year, is the brainchild of Chi Hoe Mak, one of the most wonderfully effervescent conductors i’ve ever met. It’s not a piece i want to say anything about at this stage, but you can take a look at the full score below. The first performance will be taking place on Wednesday 6 June; the concert starts at 7.30pm & tickets (undoubtedly very cheap) will be available on the door. Do come along & be shocked, appalled, enriched &/or entertained by it if you can.

EDIT: Due to a variety of unfortunate circumstances, this performance has been postponed.

Second is a work for voice & five players called the octave of the grief of the clone that leapt to the remainder of night sky; that title is taken from the writings of one of my ongoing inspirations, Kenji Siratori, as is the sung text, which uses Siratori’s poem Foolish/Moon. It’s not possible to show a score for this piece, as there isn’t one; the five players—clarinet, bassoon, viola, double bass & guitar—are all independent of each other & of the vocalist, although a couple of the players interact & affect the ensemble in different ways. This piece was written for the soprano Ruth Hopkins, who will be performing the piece with members of the ensemble Thumb, also based at the Conservatoire. The concert is on Monday 11 June, starting at 8pm; there may be a performance in Camden later in the year, but more about that as & when. Again, if you’re in the area, do come along.

Tags: , ,

John Cage – The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs

Posted on by 5:4 in Lent Series | 3 Comments

Austerity is probably not the first characteristic that would come to mind when describing the music of John Cage, & yet that’s precisely what dominates his short song The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs, composed in 1942. The text is extracted from a passage (on page 556) of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake:

(click to see text)
night by silentsailing night…
Isobel…
wildwoods’ eyes and primarose hair,
quietly,
all the woods so wild, in mauves of
moss and daphnedews,
how all so still she lay neath of the
whitethorn, child of tree,
like some losthappy leaf,
like blowing flower stilled,
as fain would she anon,
for soon again ‘twil be,
win me, woo me, wed me,
ah weary me!
deeply,
Now evencalm lay sleeping; night
Isobel
Sister Isobel
Saintette Isobel
madame Isa
Veuve La belle

Cage sets these words for voice & piano, on both of whom he imposes severe restrictions; the singer has just three pitches at their disposal (F♯, G♯ & C♯) while the pianist isn’t even allowed to open the lid, playing instead on the outside of the instrument. Cage flirted with strict pitch restrictions a few years earlier in the Five Songs for Contralto (song no. 3, “in Just-”, also uses just three pitches), but the atmosphere he establishes here is much more sombre & unsettling. The voice is instructed to sing without vibrato, & the result is a strange cross between sacred chant & folk song, somehow elegant & crude simultaneously. Read more

Tags: ,

György Kurtág – Scenes from a Novel

Posted on by 5:4 in Lent Series | 3 Comments

A profound sense of melancholic introspection pervades the next piece in my Lent series, György Kurtág‘s song cycle Scenes From a Novel. Kurtág composed the work in 1982, setting 14 texts by the Russian writer Rimma Dalos, texts that are in perfect sympathy with the composer’s penchant for exceptionally short but highly expressive music. The 15 songs (one of the texts is used twice) project loneliness above all else, but not resulting from unrequited affection or imagined reciprocity; on the contrary, this is a loneliness born out of experience, the product of a love both lived & celebrated, but that has ultimately been blanched, torn & downright thwarted. Yet the texts betray a deeper complexity, & as the songs progress their message becomes increasingly conflicted; desire is undermined by disappointment, temptation yields to regret. Contrast the texts of the 11th & 12th songs (titled Again & Sundays Without End respectively), where impatient expectations dissolve into blank, monotonous boredom:

I’m waiting for you again.
How slowly comes
the day after tomorrow.

That’s another
Sunday over.
That means the next will come.

Read more

Tags: ,