Posts Tagged ‘Orchestral’

PNL Records – PNL040 – 20th April 2018

Extra Large Unit is an appropriate collective moniker: More Fun Please! is a live recording of an expanded iteration of Paal Nilssen-Love’s Large Unit ensemble, and features some twenty-seven musicians, in a line-up which features three grand pianos. Yes, three grand pianos. Excessive? Hey, if you’re going to go large, why not go uber-maxi, all-out massive?

The accompanying blurb explains that ‘The challenge of composing for so many musicians, while also maintaining the qualities and identity he had established with Large Unit, pushed Nilssen-Love to new creative levels. This was a monumental task…’ And More Fun, Please! is a monumental album. The question is, how much fun can you handle?

In his liner notes for the album Nilssen-Love writes, ‘When writing music, I search for extremes, pushing boundaries: physical, dynamic, instrumental limitations, if any, how fast and how slow can one play, how loud and how quiet. I search for unusual ways of thinking. I want to give the musicians trust and have them take initiative and to feel the responsibility of what it is to be an individual player in a group context’.

More Fun Please! is a thirty-minute aural rollercoaster, half an hour of highs and lows. At times, it sounds like a classic cartoon soundtrack, parping brass and sudden bursts of percussion; at others, it’s brimming with oriental exploration and eastern promise, and at others still, it’s utter bloody chaos, discord and cacophonous mayhem. In between, there are passages of trilling, tooting, droning and scraping, brought to abrupt halts by immense orchestral strikes – and I mean immense, earth-shaking, and borderline galactic in scale – and plinking, bibbling xylophone breaks.

The brass is beyond wild. Words simply aren’t enough.

The whole thing is an orchestral frenzy, a riotous ruckus of everything all at once, with sustained crescendos that seem to last forever.

It’s a lot of fun… but half an hour is probably about as much of this kind of fun as anyone can handle.

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Music Information Centre Lithuania – MICLCD097

Christopher Nosnibor

Horizons has been a long time in the making, and the artist has described it as a ‘Sisyphean process’, which, at the end, ‘only strengthened the joy of accomplishment’. The five compositions span from between 2006 and 2015. Martinaitytė’s biography is long and detailed, and covers the complex and challenging circumstances surrounding the composer’s journey to its completion. But an abridged rendering would focus on the fact that the pieces here are from what she terms the decade which represents the ‘blue’ period of her career, and that the album as a whole represents her explorations of ‘the dichotomies between proximity and distance, nearing and departing’.

It’s perhaps worth quoting from the accompanying notes at length, in order to demonstrate the full expanse of the album’s scope: ‘With this album and the individual works on it the author tells an absorbing emotional narrative. She begins with a larger picture – a multi-layered, timbrally rich sonic expression of the faraway landscapes (Horizons, 2013; The Blue of Distance, 2010); she then moves on towards her subjective relationship with the untouchable distance (Thousand Doors to the World, 2009; Completely Embraced by the Beauty of Emptiness, 2006); finally, she reaches the state of inner calm (Serenity Diptychs, 2015). Acoustically speaking, the concept of nearing is presented through instrumentation – she begins with larger orchestral and choral works, and finishes with a refined, chamber sound.’

The title track sets the album’s tone: ‘Horizons’ begins expansively, a vast, expansive sonic vista stretching for some seventeen and a half minutes and leading the listener through moments of grace and tranquillity punctuated by moments of drama and tension. The choral swell of ‘The Blue of Distance’ resonates deep and strikes a spiritual chord, albeit in a vague, abstract sense, touching as it does the corners of the subconscious. Bursts of vaporous ambience spar against distant echoes of notes. The drama surges and sweeps on ‘Thousand Doors’, a tempest of brass and strings mounting and enveloping the listener. While Martinaitytė is a master of the subtle and the delicate, her compositions equally demonstrate her capacity for the bold, with passages of grandeur and turbulence.

Contemporary classical seems to have been relegated to big-budget film scores, but Žibuoklė Martinaitytė is unquestionably an exponent of 21st century classical music. More to the point, Horizons is a powerful orchestral work which transcends genre boundaries and interacts on many levels.

AA

Žibuoklė Martinaitytė – Horizons

Dependent

Christopher Nosnibor

Bristol synth-pop duo Mesh are a classic example of an act underappreciated in their domestic territory but who have found a fan-base in mainland Europe and who are particularly appreciated in Germany. It may be that there’s a sense of the grass being greener, but even taking into account scale and catchment, I can’t help but feel that Germany has a better appreciation for certain strains of ‘alternative’ music. For example, can you think of anywhere else that The Sisters of Mercy still regularly headline festivals? And so it’s in this context that Mesh performed a one-off with the Philharmonie Zielona Gora to a sold-out audience at Neues Gewandhaus in Leipzig. Live at Neues Gewandhaus Leipzig is a document of the occasion, augmented with three new orchestral-based compositions

‘Just Leave Us Alone’ from 2013’s Automation Baby is the first song of the orchestral set, and it’s striking just how Depeche Mode it feels. The soulful richness of Mark Hockings’ voice is the key, but what’s equally striking is just how subtle and nuanced the arrangement is. The 65-piece orchestra contrive to build drama without at any point overstretching into extravagance.

They reach further back into to catalogue for ‘Only Better’, here led by a skipping piano and plucked strings, and the vocal harmonies work well alongside the layers of brooding theatricality, while ‘Save Everyone’ is simultaneously deep yet sparse. The fact the live orchestral show featured just five songs and ran for half an hour – and is captured in its entirety here – is admirable. So many acts, when presented with the opportunity to perform with an orchestra, will splurge, with overblown renditions and overlong performances. That Mesh keep it concise and keep a tight rein on the material, which, if anything, intensifies the effect and the emotional layers imbued therein. ‘Taken for Granted’ is the last of the live songs, and it broods through dark tension and builds to a soaring finale which utilises the dramatic and layered instrumentation to the max.

As a necessary aside, the audio quality is exceptional, and does the performance justice. Every detail is perfectly captured, as it should be. And there is a lot of detail; the songs are played with real nuance, and while the performances are powerful, there’s a palpable emotional depth that’s intrinsically linked to the subtlety and multi-dimensionality of the instrumentation.

The three new studio tracks compliment the live set very nicely indeed: recorded with a stripped-back orchestra, they still explore the same emotional terrain as the material chosen for the live set, and because the sound quality of the live recording is so god, they flow into one another rather than feeling like appendices which have been bolted on.

There isn’t a weak song in the new recordings, although ‘Can You Mend Hearts’ is a standout, being delicate and fragile, the surging builds bringing depth and resonance to Hockings’ affecting vocal delivery.

Live at Neues Gewandhaus Leipzig is one of those albums that could so easily be a drag, and fall to cliché, but instead offers a set of strong reworking of songs which lend themselves to the orchestral treatment, and as such, it’s not only successful, but an impressive release.

AAA

Mesh - Live

Living Music Duplication – 17th November 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Thor Harris continues to keep himself more than vaguely occupied in the post-Swans era, and also continues to demonstrate just what a versatile percussionist he is. The collective, centred around Harris, who not only contributes diverse and eclectic percussion, but also wind instruments including some of his own devising. features at its core, Peggy Ghorbani on marimba, and Sarah ‘Goat’ Gautier on marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, organ, voice, mellotron and piano.

Anyone on the market for Swans-style brutal percussive bludgeoning should leave now. Thor and Friends are pitched as an ‘avant-chamber ensemble’, drawing on ‘the classic Minimalist composers including Terry Riley and Steve Reich, but also amalgamate such diverse influences as Brian Eno, Aphex Twin, Moondog and The Necks around a polyrhythmic core of mallet-struck instruments, primarily marimba, xylophone and vibraphone’.

There’s a lighthearted, skipping melodic heart beating beneath the eddying synths and weirdy whistles and subtle strings which are all interwoven into one another on the hypnotic and ever-shifting ’90 Metres’. Ominous and eerie tones and echo-heavy chimes dominate both ‘Creepy Carpets’ and ‘Dead Man’s Hand’, while elsewhere, ‘Mouse Mouse’ explores a more playful side, manifesting as a sing-sing tune that has an almost nursery rhyme / lullaby feel to it.

In the fucked-up, brutal world in which we find ourselves, where it’s everyone for themselves while each and every citizen is shafted by governments and multinationals and consumerism, kindness does feel subversive. And in their own quiet way, Thor and Friends offer their own subversive resistance. It’s a gentle, mellifluous collection of compositions which are neither overtly contemporary nor steeped in traditionalism. It’s this sense that the music exists out of any place in time, and that it doesn’t obviously connote any concrete physical space that makes it so very appealing.

Thor and Friends

ITN Corporation – 3rd November 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

In the Nursery – or ITN as they’re sometimes referred – have been in existence for some thirty-five years but the Sheffield act centred around core duo of brothers Klive and Nigel Humberstone have existed well beneath the radar for the duration of their career. This hasn’t prevented their music being featured on Game of Thrones, Interview with a Vampire, The Aviator, and Beowulf, amongst others, and 1961, which follows over two dozen previous albums after some six years’ silence, showcases a set with a cinematic quality which is ideally suited to TV and movie soundtracks.

While the album’s title and overarching theme is significant on a number of levels, not least of all it being the year of the birth of the Humbertstone brothers – as well as landmark historical events including the construction of the Berlin Wall – its sound exists out of time, and if it does betray a link to any period, it’s the 1980s. Post punk collides with orchestral grandeur across the album’s nine tracks, which explore a broad array of atmospheres and spaces, with judiciously placed samples and – occasionally – vocals bringing variety and range.

A stocky bass enveloped in eddying synths, cool and spacious dominate the marching beat of ‘Until Before After’, the album’s opener, which hints at the kind of brooding, atmospheric post-rock of early iLiKETRiANS. If the comparison seems dissonant in terms of time-frame, it’s testament to ITN’s ever-shifting sonic form and their endless capacity for evolution.

If the idea of a choir of soaring operatic vocals reminiscent of Karl Orff’s ‘O Fortuna’ atop a sweep of dramatic strings by what sounds like a full orchestra sounds ostentatious, the execution of ‘Torschlusspanik’ elevates is miles above pretention to true art.

Rippling pianos, soaring, graceful strings, chiming guitars and murky percussion all form the fabric of an intriguing album: ‘Grand Corridor’ conjures a claustrophobic intensity worthy of Joy Division, while the acoustic guitar led ‘Pacify’ has echoes of Bauhaus on Burning from the Inside and ‘Solaris’, with its pounding percussion and a bassline that’s pure Peter Hook, is a major standout.

There’s a lot going on, and it’s all good: 1961 is a spectacularly articulate album that never ceases to reveal new layers, new corners, new depths.

AAA

1961

Touch – TO:101

James Wells

It’s perhaps due to the formulaic nature of television dramas that a certain type of orchestral music has become almost a signifier for rolling countryside, and people in bouffy dresses and full skirts or frock coats and hats riding horses, brawling in taverns and battling high seas, or otherwise taking the and bidding one another ‘good day’. Such pieces are then played, ad infinitum, on commercial classical radio as exemplars of contemporary classical music. It’s by no means the fault of the composers or musicians: it’s inevitable in the arts that commissions and funded projects will determine the outlets of their work.

The medium isn’t always the message, though, and while the pieces featured here are largely products of specific commissions, Claire M Singer’s work retains a strong focus on her own compositional interests: (quote from press). Imposing strings, bold and evocative sweep and arc through ‘A Different Place,’ as rousing percussion drums a rolling, thunderous tattoo. ‘Ceo’ is an altogether sparser composition which casts a more gloomy atmosphere, and the title track is an extended meditation on the album’s theme (‘Solas’ translates as ‘light’ from the Gaelic) and Singer’s instruments of choice. The organ’s majestic grandeur is very much brought to the fore, and resonates on a deep, subconscious level.

The slow-building sweep of ‘Eilean’ is gentle yet at the same time subtly stirring, flowing into the humming swell of the solo organ piece of ‘Wrangham’. Disc two contains just one track, ‘The Molendiner’, co-commissioned by Glasgow art gallery The Civic Room and Union Chapel, London, which spans twenty-six minutes. Centred around ‘the precise control of wind though the pipes’ of the organ, it utilises various organ types to create a vast sonic expanse, which hangs, drawing out an immense mid-tone humming drone. This probably doesn’t sound like the greatest advocation, but trust me, it’s subtly powerful, and as a whole, Solas is a moving collection of works.

 

Claire M Singer - Solas