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tag: classical

The Muffled Classicism of Christina Vantzou

A track off her new album, No. 4

“So, when you play this live, you just have to figure out a way to construct a huge bell jar to put over the entire orchestra except the cello player.” That is how a friend of Christina Vantzou’s described her aesthetic back to her, per Vantzou’s own recollection when I interviewed her a few years ago on the occasion of her third album, Nº3 (Kranky). It’s an apt comparison. There is a restraint, a sense of sounds emanating down a dark hall, music heard through thick fabric, to Vantzou’s recordings, and the approach holds strong on her new album, No. 4, released earlier this month.

This No. 4 track, “Staircases,” exemplifies Vantzou’s approach. Traditional classical elements, heavy on sedate strings and a minimal piano line that descends like the title subject, are heard in a quiet but intense echo, one in which space — whether real or virtual, physical or a matter of post-production — is as much an instrument as the instruments themselves.

Album posted at More from Vantzou at her channel and at

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Buried in the Depths

Sara Callaway lends her violin to a Stephen Vitiello construction

This is an asynchronous duet between Sara Callaway, playing violin, and Stephen Vitiello, playing with samples of Callaway’s violin after the fact. At first the emphasis of the recording is simply Callaway’s pizzicato action, all pointilist plucking, and then it is on layers that suggest a small chamber group playing something that is equal parts classical minimalism and rural bluegrass, the artful construction informed by a pop sensibility yet fully eschewing song form.

The major transition occurs approximately halfway through, when there is a shift in the balance of power, when the synthesis overtakes the sample, when dense shimmers and industrial roiling come to the fore. Into the mix then arrives a voice, which Vitiello says he can’t recall the source of (“The voice at the end is someone else, unknown buried in the depths of my hard drive”). It manages to both confirm the pop-like gestures, and, with its ethereal, disembodied sensibility, also confirm the avoidance of allegiance to pop.

Track originally posted at More from Vitiello at

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The Disintegration of Swoop and Cross

A preview of an album on the Time Released Sound label

In one week’s time, the Time Released Sound record label will release Disintegration, an album by Swoop and Cross. Swoop and Cross is the name under which the London-based musician Ruben Vale records a mix of classical and ambient, or more to the point a music in which those two finds significant common ground. An advance listen to Disintegration is available on Time Released’s page. Throughout, solo piano is echoed in myriad ways. There are duplicated lines that suggest a hall of mirrors, and there are faint glimmers that presuppose the presence of an astral accomplice. That latter, ghostly aura lends the already somber, if at times quickly paced, music a nostalgic atmosphere. About two thirds of the way through the track, the piano temporarily disappears, and the glimmer takes over: a hushed, granular cloud through which a flock of birds is heard passing.

More from Time Released Sound at More from Swoop and Cross at

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Unsilent Night 2017

You owe it to yourself to try this wherever you happen to live.

Made it to Unsilent Night this past weekend. I love attending. If you haven’t ever, I do recommend looking at the schedule and seeing if it’s happening in your town: I see it’s in Austin on December 17th, Manhattan on the 17th as well, Montréal on the 19th, and Colorado Springs on the 16th. If you’re not familiar, the short version is that 20-plus years ago the composer Phil Kline wrote and recorded four piece of ambient music, collectively titled Unsilent Night, that are meant to be played simultaneously. He then distributed these recordings individually to people, who put them on boomboxes and walked around lower Manhattan in a kind of secular carol for the holidays. Since then it’s been repeated every year in Manhattan, and spread to many other places, about 116 different cities according to the website.

We went last night, using a mix of an iPhone, an Android phone connected to an old Jambox, and an an archaic iPad Mini. They were running the free app, and I was streaming from SoundCloud. You can also download the tracks, and whenever I’ve participated, there have been tape cassettes and CDs available for free use, provided by whoever had organized it that year.

At some point after everyone gathers at the meet-up location, the organizer does a countdown and we all hit play at (roughly) the same moment. The beauty of the sound of Unsilent Night is how those four tracks, in random combinations of emphasis, mix — with variations on them playing slightly out of sync on a wide variety of playback mechanisms, and how the sound bounces off walls in narrow spaces and diffuses in wider, more open spaces — and of course, there’s the sound itself, as it’s a lovely, sedate, holiday-vibe composition, filled with soft bells, and muffled singing, and minimalist percussion.

The path we take in the Mission District hasn’t changed much over the years. We start in Dolores Park, on an edge of the Mission District, where it becomes the Castro District. We then walk through the Mission, sticking mostly to less-populated streets and wider alleys, but not infrequently passing storefronts. There were a lot of people participating this weekend, perhaps 150, maybe more. I was surprised I only recognized one person, a local composer, and otherwise everyone was an unfamiliar face, except that is a few I recognized solely from past Unsilent Night events, like this one guy who has a beautiful old Gramophone-style speaker atop a very tall stick, with an lovely attached wooden box, inside of which I imagine is a phone or an iPod or something.

This year the event started at 5pm, which was great. I seem to recall it started much later in the past. It was nice to see faces, and to experience the transition from daylight to significant darkness as we proceeded. The main change I recall in the walk from previous routes is that this time we headed back directly from the Mission (that is the actual Mission, at the corner of Dolores Street and 18th Street) to the spot near the tennis courts in Dolores Park where we began, rather than re-entering the park further away, up a hill, and coming back down that way. The full composition is 45 minutes long, and we walked almost the full 45 minutes, lingering for the last few minutes in the park as the music came to its subdued close.

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Step Inside an Organ with Claire M Singer

Cello and electronics in hand

Step inside an organ, and then step inside one of its pipes, and then settle in for a spell. Listen as the pipes resound. Listen not just to the pipe you’re in, but to how it responds to the pipes around it, to the air current, to the shape of the majestic hall in which it resides. Listen further to the song that seems to form, out of the ether, from the beading tonalities of this magnificent mix of space and sound.

This is not how the music was made — no miniaturization was involved, no Fantastic Drone Voyage — but it is the sense of “Fairge,” an excerpt of which, two and a half minutes in all, has been posted at the website of the Touch label, It’s the title (and sole) track off Claire M Singer’s forthcoming release, due out on October 20. The track heard currently on that page is about 10 percent of the full piece, which was scored for organ, cello and electronics — as well, it seems, voice, since vocal tones certainly emerge from the heavenly backdrop Singer has summoned up. (Jack Chuter at also hears voices.)

“Fairge,” which is apparently Scottish Gaelic for “the ocean,” was composed for, and recorded in June of this year on, an organ installed at Oude Kerk, not only the oldest church in Amsterdam, but the city’s oldest building as well, dating back 800 years. The organ itself is far more recent, built in 1965.

Track originally posted at More from Claire M Singer at Image from

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