Archive for the ‘Electronic’ Category

Conductor: Tõnu Kaljuste

Orchestra: Tallinn Chamber Orchestra

Performers: Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir

Years of recordings: 1994, 1995

Label: ECM New Series


About the Composer: Estonian progressive rocker Erkki-Sven Tüür (1959-) moved towards classical forms early in his career and has concocted several works, many of which place electronic instruments alongside the standard members of the orchestra.

About the Music: Arvo Pärt is Estonia’s most important classical export, but younger composers such as Tüür prove that there’s certainly more than one beam of talent emanating from the small Baltic state. The composer’s versatility is aptly demonstrated in this collection of pieces from the early 1990s.

Architectonics VI: Scored for flute, clarinet, vibraphone, and strings, the mysterious Architectonics VI clocks in at roughly twelve minutes and bears two distinct halves. The first portion is slightly brooding as the clarinet scurries around in the darkness, only to be seemingly intimidated by the other instruments at certain intervals. Try as it might, the clarinet can’t seem to get a restraining order in place, and once the second half of the piece commences, its reactions become more plangent as the remainder of the ensemble continually reiterates a rather playful yet aggressive passage that serves as the work’s most radiant element but also gives the listener the impression that the other instruments are literally pouncing on the clarinet as a declawed housecat might assail a catnip-stuffed toy mouse.

Passion: Solely for strings, this shorter piece begins somewhat coolly but gradually builds towards a bright exclamation. The triumph is short-lived, though, as a deep-seated sense of adversity quickly takes hold. It’s not long before the strings unceremoniously descend down the chasm of silence.

Illusion: Tüür’s composition notes tersely state that Illusion “deconstructs a baroque motif.” The work would be nestled quite comfortably in a documentary about the global textiles industry. It’s difficult for me not to imagine a legion of stalwart Singers hammering away with the same unrelenting rapidity as the string players do here. The surpise ending will catch many listeners off guard, so be vigilant!

Crystallisatio: Altered fragments of Architectonics VI and Passion appear to have sprung rabbit legs and peregrinated to this ensemble piece which includes electronics and glockenspiel sounds. Tüür is manning the electronics in this recording, and he produces some intriguing effects, the most interesting of which occurs halfway through the work where he effectively distorts the flute and glockenspiel playing and makes them sound like they’ve gingerly circled the drain of a laundry room sink. The percussion and winds are the contrarians in the pack, and like the clarinet in Architectonics VI, they find themselves repeatedly protesting the vigorous charges from the strings.

Requiem: Crystallisatio receives top billing in this collection, which is somewhat curious considering that Requiem is a far more ambitious endeavour. Dedicated to Tüür’s late colleague Peeter Lilje, Requiem is almost a half hour in length, making it the largest work on the disc. The male tenor and bass vocalists are the first on the scene, and they give the text the solemn treatment that you’d expect; they’re eventually accompanied by the female sopranos, which I didn’t find to be quite as captivating (I’m not particularly keen on the soprano voice, let alone vocal music in general!). Regardless, the sparing use of piano throughout the work compliments the singing well. It would have been exciting if electronics were incorporated at one point or another, but it looks like Tüür is aiming to be more of a traditionalist here. I can’t decipher the spoken Latin, but at least the original text is provided in the liner notes along with English, German, and French translations.

ECM New Series has cornered the market on dreary classical album covers. Thankfully, Tüür’s works exhibit significantly more colour.

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Conductors: Yves Prin and Karl-Anton Rickenbacher

Orchestras and performers: French National Orchestra, Beethovenhalle Orchestra, and Ensemble l’Itinéraire

Years of recordings: 1980, 1987, 1986

Label: Naïve


About the Composer: Tristan Murail (1947- ) is a trailblazer in French electronic music and has had a storied involvement with the Paris-based Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics and Music (IRCAM).

About the Music: Murail is regarded as a pioneer of spectral music, which can be described as a style or aesthetic in which a composer analyzes sound spectra in order to make compositional decisions. Listening to Murail’s pieces will lead many to mistakenly assume that the term refers to music that is primarily ghostly; though highly technical in nature, his work will definitely keep listeners on edge. All of the works employ a bevy of traditional instruments, but it is the electronic devices that really make things interesting.

Gondwana: Gondwana opens with a terse, serpentine rattling that gives way to a series of arresting waves propelled by the percussion and the rest of the orchestra. The piece is named after the sunken continent prominent in Indian legend, and it contains numerous passages which effectively represent the eerie recesses of the abyss. I appreciated the sinking sensation that Murail creates about eleven minutes into the work, but felt that the subsequent turbulence from the instruments, meant to signify a volcanic eruption, could have been even more high-strung. The sounds slowly wilt as they reach the conclusion.

Désintégrations: I felt like my mind was being funnelled through an arrangement of dark glass beakers when I first heard the magnetic tape that is employed extensively in this haunting work. Murail has punctuated Désintégrations with several moments of sudden silence that allow you to be easily caught off guard when a bizarre mixture of noises remorselessly pounce on your tympanic membranes. The sounds are unique enough to prevent the nearly 23-minute long piece from meandering into repetition, and they certainly are provocative; witness, for example, the disturbance roughly three minutes into the piece which could be taken to resemble the blaring siren of an otherworldly ambulance as it crawls along the void. The unexpected cascade of percussion sparkles that follows shortly afterward should sound comforting, but it’s certainly not in Murail’s universe. It’s not long before the tape and the ensemble emit a series of thunderous, electrified gulps and sneezes that may either frighten or possibly elicit a chuckle from some listeners. The cacophony doesn’t end there, however; there are also some curious passages in the final minutes which feature a peculiar yet persistent droning noise, reminiscent of an electric razor, which may lead some to posit that extraterrestrial forces surreptitiously entered the studio in an effort to supplement the composer’s handiwork. But does Murail really need assistance from the Greys? I don’t think so!

Time and Again: Named after the novel by American science fiction legend Clifford D. Simak, Time and Again is Murail’s stab at conveying music in which the passage of time is distorted, causing several flashbacks and premonitions to occur during the work’s 17-minute length. A loud and extremely discordant piece, I didn’t appreciate it as much as Désintégrations. I did enjoy the pleasantly unnerving finale, however, which consists of an unexpected smattering of radio static coupled with arcane tapping noises.

The liner notes are brief yet succinct. This disc is an appealing glimpse into Murail’s creative approach to electronic composition.

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Vangelis’ El Greco is probably my favorite musical piece. I blogged about it in a post titled “VANGELIS: El Greco” awhile back.

Other fans I’ve met find Movement V and Movement X serve as effectively refreshing interludes of melodic accesibility. Refreshing in the sense of a welcome water break while playing an enthusiastic basketball game, not as in a chance to slip to the restroom during a boring lecture 🙂

I particularly enjoy the harmonica voice and keyboard runs in this sample from Movement V.

Click to listen to MP3 – Excerpt from Movement V – El Greco – Vangelis – 43s.

Does this harmonica voice (I’m assuming it’s digital) work for you? What is your favorite section of this or any movement of El Greco?

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Vangelis: Mythodea

About the Composer:

Anyone familiar with electronic music will know Vangelis. Born in 1943 as Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou, Vangelis is short for Evangelos. Perhaps most famous to the popular audience for his theme to the movie “Chariots of Fire,” Vangelis’ works range from movie soundtracks (which also include Blade Runner, Missing, The Bounty, and Antarctica) to electronic pop/new age to orchestral/classical. In this latter category we find two excellent discs: El Greco (1998) and Mythodea (2001). Let’s talk about Mythodea.

About the Music:

The disc consists of an “Introduction” and ten numbered, but otherwise unnamed movements (e.g. Movement 1). Vangelis wrote and performed the music that would become Mythodea for a charity concert in 1993. In 2001, he refreshed and expanded the music after tying it to NASA’s 2001 Mars Odyssey mission. The music evokes Mars in all of his mythological warlike awesomeness, delivering on the promise of the Greek mythology in every track.

The introduction and Movement 1 feature electronica sounding samples, those of rocket engines, digital computeresque noises (almost like windchimes), “space noises,” and an electronic voice counting “One, two, three” several times.

At 0m53s a male chorus begins uttering military sounding words (apparently singing in Ancient Greek), building into phrases, the the male chorus is replaced by a female chorus. The choruses and orchestra deliver a strong, martial work ending in a thunder of drums, cymbals, and chorus chanting that fades to a wind-swept, tinkling chimes sound.

Movement 3 begins with a drum rhythm that is soon joined by the male chorus chanting and that ends with a gong-like sound. Movement 3 enters with harp music, again evoking Ancient Greece, joined by Sopranos Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman then swelling to full chorus and orchestra.

Movement 4 is the centerpiece of the performance, running 13m42s, or twice as long as any other movement. This piece ends with rocket-sounding drum-rolls building into a string and chorus roar that climaxes and cuts to a fading chorus and electronic wind-noises.

Although I enjoy El Greco more because it is less martial <grin>, Mythodea is as dramatic, moving, and enjoyable as any theatrical soundtrack I’ve ever enjoyed.

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El Greco on Amazon.com

About the Composer:

Anyone familiar with electronic music will know Vangelis (born 1943 as Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou, “Vangelis” is a diminutive of his given name, Evangelos). Perhaps most famous to the popular audience for his theme to the movie “Chariots of Fire,” Vangelis’ works range from movie soundtracks (which also include Blade Runner, Missing, The Bounty, and Antarctica) to electronic pop/new age to orchestral/classical. In this latter category we find two excellent discs: El Greco (1998) and Mythodea (2001). Let’s talk about El Greco.

About the Music:

Let me start by emoting – El Greco is tremendous. I’ve listened to it dozens of times and enjoy its subtleties, expansions, undertones, melodies, and rhythms.

The album is named after the mid-1500s painter from Crete to whom the disc is dedicated. The music consists of 9 unnamed movements (e.g. Movement I, Movement II, etc…) and an Epilogue (Movement X).

From the tolling of the bell (sounding somewhat like a life-bouy) in the opening movement, El Greco evokes a nautical theme. I find this fitting as the painter was from the island of Crete.

However, the bell is probably intended to evoke a religious theme. El Greco (1551-1614) spent most of his career painting religious works that fused Byzantine, Spanish, and Venetian themes in near-monastic isolation near Toledo, Spain. Crete was part of the Kingdom of Venice when he was born, and he studied in Venice as a young man.

The album’s vocal elements center on choral contributions and “arias” by two opera singers: soprano Montserrat Caballé and tenor Konstantinos Paliatsaras. The Fifth Movement and the Epilogue feature moving piano melodies and are my favorite tracks. While most of the album makes excellent background/mood music, these two tracks stand out.

Note: El Greco died 393 years ago, today.

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