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Olga NEUWIRTH (b. 1968)
Lost Highway (2002-2003) (93:10)
Libretto by Elfriede Jelinek and Olga Neuwirth
Constance Haumann (Renée/Alice)
Vincent Crowly (Fred/Mechanic)
David Moss (Mr. Eddy/Dick Laurent)
Andrew Watts (Mystery Man)
Kai Wessel (Andy/Mechanic)
Gavin Webber (Party Guest/Doctor/Arnie/Raucher)
Grayson Millwood (Al/Party Guest/Mechanic)
Rodolfo Seas-Araya (Ed/Party Guest/Mechanic)
Lucas Rössner (Party Guest/Bill/Mechanic)
Jodi Melnick (Party Guest/Candice/Mechanic)
Klangforum Wien/Johannes Kalitzke
rec. Institute of Electronic Music and Acoustics, Graz, Austria 2003. DDD
KAIROS 0012542KAI [49:58 + 43:12]


 

Olga Neuwirth is a contemporary Austrian composer who has absorbed nearly everything: the good, the bad, and the kitchen sink, from every radical movement from early 20th century serialism to late 20th century atonality. She is a clear student of non-minimalist electronic music and the aleatoric modes advocated by Pierre Boulez. She also seems to be one of the current standard-bearers for Stockhausen’s random sonic overlays that allow for elaborate and very spooky electronic backgrounds. Toss into the mix a bit of the theater-of-the-absurd and screwball Lacanian psychology and you have just about every element that is present on this release.

Not quite an opera, Lost Highway is meant as a bit of non-linear, noir-like Musiktheater and is a loving, almost worshipful, translation of David Lynch’s 1997 movie of the same name. There is very little singing here, but quite a lot of dialogue that is taken from the movie but rendered here more like bits from the plays of Ionesco or Beckett. Eighty years ago this might have been called "experimental" music or perhaps "music of the future". Now it’s just très moderne and, to me, a bit pretentious. The Klangform Wien ensemble uses traditional instruments, but there is a music sampler involved in here - sampling both vocals and sound effects. Post-production also added more computer and/or electronic effects. Lost Highway’s only aesthetic weakness is that this is a recording of something that’s meant to be staged … and based on a film.

I say "aesthetic" weakness here, because it has one other weakness, and it’s a big one. Though a loving retelling of the movie, Lost Highway, given the high strangeness of both the spoken word parts, the few song passages, and stretches of pure electronic cacophony, this is only going to appeal to people who either admire this composer or works of similar complexity and dissonance. Admirers of the films of David Lynch or even of avant-garde theater are unlikely to find this music attractive. The visual and narrative chaos of a film is an altogether different kind of creature than an opera that employs both sound and song to carry the same effects. The only work I know that pulls this off is the 1959 opera Aniara by Karl-Birger Blomdahl - based on Harry Martinson’s epic poem about a lost space-ship filled with doomed passengers. But then, Aniara, is quite linear and quite cogent. The music and electronic effects add to the telling of the tragic story; they aren’t part of the telling.

While the physical sound quality of this release is excellent and the miking of the various speakers/singers is spot-on, these elements alone do not a fine composition make. And while the notes in the accompanying booklet are extremely informative — they are in French, German and English — they also hint at the sycophantic, going out of their way, as they do, to make all sorts of odd declarations that unwittingly suggest that the folks involved in this production are actually living on some other planet. In the opening essay, Stavoj Zizek concludes by saying: "… [T]his central position of voice in Lynch’s universe, is what makes the idea of an OPERA based on Lynch’s Lost Highway not only so interesting and provocative, but, in a way, urgent, something which HAS TO BE DONE . . ." Huh? When I read statements like this, I wonder who these people are who are so absorbed in David Lynch that they would assume that the rest of us should also be.

Still, this is obviously a labor of somebody’s love. But I can only recommend it to a stalwart few. Certainly if you are a David Lynch fan you might want to check it out. You may find some kindred spirits here.

Paul Cook

 


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