JACKSON GREENBERG – FIRST LIGHT
First Light opens with an ominous roaring sound while the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra sets in with a string drone that will last throughout the full length of the composition. This prolonged string drone is the foundation on which numerous instrumental accents are introduced that constantly grab the listener’s attention: “almost indiscernibly, instrument families join the accumulating harmonic roar like the rays of daybreak cresting over some desolate, faraway planet.”
This mental image obviously gave the composition ánd this album its title.
“The music was composed by feeding short compositions into a computer program that stretched them up to ten times their original length, creating vibrant distortions that stir the soul with their strange humanity.”
First Light may be experienced as a symphonic drone piece, but it isn’t a ‘true’ drone since there are many different elements demanding the listener’s attention, and is constantly intensifying to a climax over its 16 minute length.
The Panther, the second composition on this album, is much shorter with its 8 minutes and a different approach. It is a musical setting to a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke: Der Panther (you can find the poem and its translation here). Instead of singing, Greenberg chose to use an old (anonymous) recording of the poem. It is endlessly looped and repeated multiple times, just like the animal pacing back and forth behind the bars of its cage.
The Panther demonstrates (Los Angeles based) Jackson Greenberg‘s experience as a composer for drama, film, and television, while First Light expands his horizon into the realm of post-classical contemporary composers.
JACKSON GREENBERG – THE PANTHER
CHRISTINE OTT – CHIMÈRES (POUR ONDES MARTENOT)
The Ondes Martenot was one of the first monophonic and experimental synthesizers in history. Invented (by Maurice Martenot) in the early 1920’s, it offers an infinite range of timbres, textures and sounds, recognisable for its ‘mysterious and sensitive vibrations’ somewhat resembling the human voice or the cello. The sound of the Ondes Martenot is somewhat comparable to that of the Theremin. The instrument had considerable impact on avant-garde composers such as Messiaen, Varèse, Jolivet, Scelsi, but was also used in a lot of popular music (Bryan Ferry, Tom Waits, Radiohead, Daft Punk).
Multi-instrumentalist and ‘virtuso ondist’ Christine Ott has used the instrument extensively in her previous projects and her works for others, but never before as a solo instrument for a full album. Even more surprising: as often as the instrument is used on “numerous recordings of the classical/contemporary repertoire, the Ondes Martenot had never before been used solo on a whole album of contemporary music.”
Chimères (‘Illusion, unrealizable dream’) explores all aspects of the instrument and its enigmatic sounds. The album opens with a moving track, Comma, which is as beautiful as Messiaen’s seminal Oraison and equally moving. The first part in the instrument’s original mono sound, but suddenly unfolding to a broader spectrum – the sound of the Ondes Martenot is “manipulated live via effect boxes and sonic modulations external to the instrument” by Paul Régimbeau (Mondkopf) and Frédéric D. Oberland (Oiseaux-Tempête). The tracks on this album are partly composed and partly live-improvised.
Chimères may open with a peaceful dreamlike work, but in the tracks following that Ott explores all the instrument’s dramatic possibilities, even if that may ask more from the listener. Todeslied, for example, is a quite enervating piece; while Sirius sounds like it could have been inspired by the music of Claude Debussy. As different as these tracks are from each other: all of them share the same fascinating atmosphere induced by the instrument itself: fairy-like and retro-futuristic at the same time.
VARIOUS ARTISTS – MEDITERRANEO
To celebrate its first year of existence, Lady Blunt Records commissioned 15 artists to create a composition dedicated to the Mediterranean Sea. The result is a collection presenting a broad spectrum of (neo-classical) music. “From solo piano to strings, passing through electronics, ondes martenot, kalimba and experimental guitar. The musicians have composed pieces that are rich in emotional depth, with evocative, melancholy tones, sometimes dramatic, sometimes positively heartening. It is a genuine auditory immersion in the depths of contemporary instrumental music.”
The list of artists includes names like Laura Masotto, Christine Ott, Jim Perkins, Fiona Brice, Ceeys, Snowdrops, as well as some less familiar names (to me): Philip G. Anderson, Daniela Savoldi, Anna Yarbrough, Eleuteria, Cabeki, Glowworm and Luca Longobardi.
“Mediterraneo is a tribute to a sea that suffers, that is now the scene of profound human and ecological drama. For this reason, all proceeds from the project will be donated to two Italian NGOs involved in the Mediterranean Sea, both on the environmental side (MareVivo Onlus) and the humanitarian side (Mediterranea, Saving Humans).”
Mediterraneo is a showcase of contemporary neo-classical music as well as a great introduction (if needed) to the Italian Lady Blunt label. And, if that is not enough, buying the album also supports two great causes, environmental and humanitarian.