Proms 2012: Nicole Lizée – The Golden Age of the Radiophonic Workshop (Fibre-Optic Flowers) (World Première); Omar Souleyman (arr. Jacob Garchik) – La sidounak sayyada (UK Première)

by 5:4

Yesterday’s late evening Prom with the Kronos Quartet technically contained two premières, although one of them hardly qualified. Jacob Garchik’s string quartet arrangement of ‘La sidounak sayyada’, by the great Syrian pop enigma Omar Souleyman, systematically undermined the fundamentals that make Souleyman’s music so weirdly irresistible. Kronos executed the music with their usual dollop-and-a-half of energy, but going through the motions simply wasn’t enough; without Souleyman himself in the spotlight, it just sounded hollow and forced. i’ve included the music for the sake of completeness—but do yourself a favour and listen to the original.

As to the real première, this was the the first performance of The Golden Age of the Radiophonic Workshop (Fibre-Optic Flowers) by the Canadian composer Nicole Lizée. That subtitle is borrowed from one of the most revered of the Workshop’s composers, Delia Derbyshire, who once quipped that she wanted to “smell” these flowers. Lizée acknowledges that the workshop didn’t use acoustic instruments, but her aim has been to make “the kind of sound that might have been conjured had a string quartet been available. Sitting among the electronic bric-à-brac, I imagine the strings lying in wait for the moment when Delia might sneak in late at night and, in a moment of synergy, meld the wooden with the molten”. The music created during the Radiophonic Workshop’s golden age is thoroughly idiosyncratic; the pieces come and go, occasionally structurally sound, but more often than not superbly quirky examples of sheer experiment with little regard for logic and tradition—these composers were, after all, forging their own way forward in a land (and, indeed, a corporation) that typically viewed their music with little more than amused bafflement.

Lizée taps into the Workshop’s qualities in her piece, eschewing a clear sense of direction in favour of a crucible of ephemera. Electronic sounds jostle and interweave around the quartet’s material, which is primarily a series of minimalistic episodes featuring repeated chords and angular melodic writing. Of itself, the quartet isn’t terribly interesting (on a first listen, they seemed irrelevant), but the way Lizée jars them with adjacent sounds of unknown provenance makes what they’re doing seem not inappropriate. Frequently, she makes vague the work’s sense of focus, forcing the ear to grope in the darkness, but she doesn’t wait too long before throwing light on something: analogue swoops, a retro bassline, some teasing snatches of the opening of Delia Derbyshire’s timeless rendition of the ‘Doctor Who’ theme. It perhaps sounds like a cop out to claim that the work’s textural arbitrariness is what makes it work, but not only is that true, but a work inspired by (and aspiring to) the music of the Radiophonic Workshop could hardly be anything other than weird and occasionally wonderful.


Omar Souleyman (arr. Jacob Garchik) - La sidounak sayyada
  • Loved it! (10%, 2 Votes)
  • Liked it (20%, 4 Votes)
  • Meh (30%, 6 Votes)
  • Disliked it (15%, 3 Votes)
  • Hated it! (25%, 5 Votes)

Total Voters: 20

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Programme Note


Nicole Lizée - The Golden Age of the Radiophonic Workshop (Fibre-Optic Flowers)
  • Loved it! (32%, 8 Votes)
  • Liked it (24%, 6 Votes)
  • Meh (24%, 6 Votes)
  • Disliked it (20%, 5 Votes)
  • Hated it! (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 25

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Programme Note

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[…] particularly like the Lizée quartet at the moment. Check […]

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