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tag: classical

Chamber Ensemble Stasis

New music from Christina Vantzou

Like the earlier Christina Vantzou piece covered here (“Going Backwards to Recover That Which Was Left Behind,” back in January), her “Brain Fog” is a work of chamber music whose density masks its complexity, the full context of its internal machinations willfully lost in the near stasis of the undertaking. The sheer drone-like, slow-motion grace of the piece is so consuming you can lose track of all the timbral activity, the constant shifting that makes the drone so difficult to fully focus on in the first place. Like the earlier track, “Brain Fog” is from her highly recommended new album, No. 2, which the record label Kranky released on February 24.

Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/kranky. More from Vantzou at christinavantzou.com.

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A Winged Victory for …

A live Arvo Pärt cover by A Winged Victory for the Sullen

A Winged Victory for the Sullen is the name employed by Adam Wiltzie (of Stars of the Lid) and composer Dustin O’Halloran when working in tandem. They have, together, committed wonderfully drone-informed explorations of what might be called contemporary classical, except to the extent that so many of its participants welcome the word “classical” with the same enthusiasm that might meet an invitation to a high-school reunion. In this live recording, performed with the ACME Contemporary Music Ensemble (here listed as ACME String Ensemble) live in Seattle (date and place left unspecified), they present the most subdued portion of “Fratres,” a famed and oft-revisited work by Arvo Pärt, the Estonian composer known for his bracing mix of spiritual and minimalist intensity.

Minus the piece’s frenzied violin solo, it is a swell of sound that comes and goes like a playground swing kept aloft by the wind. The haphazard live-recording acoustics just add to its dusty figurations. O’Halloran and Wiltzie in effect proclaimed their modus operandi with the title of the first track of their self-titled album from 2011; the track: “We Played Some Open Chords.” A later track on the same album might also suffice: “Steep Hills of Vicodin Tears.” Along with the likes of Nils Frahm and Rachel’s, anong others, A Winged Victory for the Sullen are openly nostalgic and emotive in a way that brings to mind the heart-on-the-sleeve emotional awareness of much indie-rock. Pärt’s “Frartes” makes a natural choice for its role as retroactively adopted precedent to what A Winged Victory for the Sullen is currently up to. The association is as natural as Billy Bragg covering Pete Seeger or Alexandre Desplat giving the nod to John Williams.

Here’s the complete A Winged Victory for the Sullen, released by Kranky in 2011:

The Arvo Pärt track was originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/alliedee. More from the duo at awvfts.com. More from O’Halloran at dustinohalloran.com. More from Wiltzie’s Stars of the Lid at brainwashed.com/sotl.

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A Different Piano, a Different Noise

A musical soundscape by Victoria Fenner

Like yesterday’s Downstream entry, today’s is of piano subsumed in noise. Yesterday’s noise has an industrial static to it. It is a thick forest of noise through which the piano occasionally becomes apparent. What makes yesterday’s piece, “Week Twenty Nine Project” by Madeleine Cocolas, work as a composition is how the melody’s slow development is at creative odds with that noise — the notes don’t just follow each other, but they in addition have to make sense of the drone through which the emanate.

Today’s piece, “Early Morning With Piano Cityscape” by Victoria Fenner, is a retroactive composition — which is to say, it is field recording that, through selection and framing, can be heard as a composition. What it contains is the everyday sounds of the city, two and half minutes of them, a single swath of a day recorded, extracted, and saved for posterity. There is variety to the sounds in Fenner’s recording: birdsong, traffic, a general municipal whir, aircraft, household activity, and a piano. The piano is just one sound among the many, but because its musicality is explicit it stands out, no matter how loud the other noises, such as the encroaching bus — or so it appears — that arrives toward the end, might get.

Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/victoriafenner. More from Fenner, who is based in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, at magneticspirits.com and twitter.com/VictoriaFenner.

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Is It Solo Piano When There Is Noise?

Melody and tension from Madeleine Cocolas

The framing material is alternately sheer and grating, a haze of static, a thick brush through which the piano, slow and steady, occasionally makes itself heard — first some tentative notes, then a hint of a melody, then a sour note to emphasize that all is still not well. The development is not restricted to that solo piano. First of all, it’s odd to think of it as solo piano, since there is so much more going on in the track, but everything else is a noise so primal it seems to come from some other plane. Yet that noise also changes as time passes, the volume and the brittle metallic intensity rising and falling in waves. This is “Week Twenty Nine Project” of Madeleine Cocolas’ ongoing attempt to write an original piece of music each week, last mentioned here in June 2013.

This is the note she wrote when she posted it:

Oh my goodness. Have you seen Gravity yet? If not you should go and see it now. Preferably in 3D. It was so tense that I had worn hot pink lipstick to go see it (nothing special there – I wear hot pink lipstick everywhere), but when I went to the bathroom afterwards I noticed I had smudged it all over my face from holding my hands against my face. And that stuff doesn’t really come off very easily.

Anyhow, here’s my Week Twenty-Nine Project. I had fun with this one and spent hours manipulating some of Greg’s guitar noodling by slowing it down, reversing it, putting reverb and other effects on it, then I put a simple piano melody over the top. I like the relentless wall of noise that sits behind the piano melody. Maybe I’m still harboring a bit of the tension from Gravity?!

Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/madeleine-cocolas. She’s an Australian composer based in Seattle, Washington. More from her at madeleinecocolas.blogspot.com.

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Post-Classical Sequel

A peek at a new Christina Vantzou album

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The second album from Christina Vantzou is due out on February 24. Titled No. 2, it follows her earlier No. 1, which was released in late 2011. The new album is on the label Kranky, which is home to such notable musicians as Jessica Baliff, Greg Davis, Grouper, and Keith Fullerton Whitman, as well as the Dead Texan, which is Vantzou’s collaboration with Adam Wiltzie of Stars of the Lid, also on the Kranky roster. Kranky has posted a track from No. 2 in advance of the album’s release. “Going Backwards to Recover That Which Was Left Behind” is a slow-moving chamber piece that builds as it goes, its increasing density of instrumentation at each moment in an eager, quiet struggle to keep the increasing momentum from undoing the stability of what the piece has accomplished thus far. Melodic fragments are repeated on varied instruments, the orchestration swelling as it passes its midpoint, and a reticent horn section — reminiscent of David Byrne’s Knee Plays — eventually filling things out. Absolutely beautiful.

Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/kranky. More by Christina Vantzou at christinavantzou.com, which is where the above images are from.

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