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Anders HILLBORG (b. 1954)
Close Up (1996)
Close Enough (remix of the above by Magnus Frykberg)
Åke PARMERUD (b. 1953)

SubSring Bridge (1999)
Steve REICH (b. 1936)

Electric Counterpoint (1987)
Escortic Joynt (remix of the above by Trio Escort)
Arne LÖTHMAN (b. 1954)

Diptych
Toru TAKEMITSU (1930-1996)

All in Twilight (1988)
Johan SÖDERQVIST (b. 1966)

Epilogue (2000)
Åke PARMERUD

SubSring Bridge, short version (multimedia track)
Mats Bergström, guitar
Recorded at various locations in Sweden between 1996 and 2001
BIS NORTHERN LIGHTS BIS-NL-CD-5019
[55.54 plus 4.40 video track]

The front cover of this CD carries only the title SubString Bridge, plus the name of the guitarist and a black and white photograph of part of a bridge. Turn the CD over and you have the programme listing, but references to mysterious things like "computer interactions" and a collection of composers many of whom are not among the best known are daunting. I donít think many people would buy this disc on impulse having found it in the rack. The reviewer carries a heavy responsibility under these circumstances, and therefore the disc, which is a frustrating mixture of excellent things and others which seem near-worthless, is worth considering at some length.

An important element of the programme is the remix technique, familiar in the world of popular music, where an existing recording is subjected to electronic modification. In the works on this disc the sound of the guitar is distorted and filtered, regular computer-generated drum and other beats are added, as well as other sundry noises. Reading Mats Bergströmís notes makes clear that he is very interested in this technique and it features on around half the programme.

The first work on the disc is Close Up by Anders Hillborg. Itís a sort of moto perpetuo, featuring rapid guitar figurations, repetitive, apparently random, and the whole accompanied by electronic drum beats. The composer writes "Öthis piece has been generated using very carefully controlled processes regulated by prime numbers and with almost no intuitive influences." The most constructive thing I can find to say about the piece is that it sounds like it. The most interesting thing about it is that it lasts for only eighty seconds. The guitaristís intention from the first time he saw the score, which was not originally written for guitar, was to record it with electronic embellishment, which he did with Magnus Frykberg. He later rerecorded the guitar part, and later still Frykberg produced a remix of the whole thing. Very confusing! Like the original, the remix, which appears on the disc under the title Close Enough, is free of any discernible musical interest.

SubString Bridge, for guitar and computer interactions, by Åke Parmerud, lasts for five hundred and thirty seconds. According to the composer the guitar part is both traditional and idiomatic "in many respects". However, he made a conscious decision to give the guitar part "a low profile", concentrating instead on "sonic expansion" through "interactive computer processing". Itís all very high-tech, but in the event it reminds me of those LPs of electronic music we used to listen to in the sixties: many Ė though not all Ė of the sounds are beautiful in their own right, plinks and squeaks though they are, but the work appears formless, the music wandering from one more or less inconsequential event to another and fading away at the end. Many of the elements listeners hope to find in a musical work are absent. To pick some of these at random: there is no drama, no conflict; there is no sense of forward movement; there is no recognisable emotional content, neither tragedy, nor pathos, nor joy, certainly no irony; there is no sense of a musical or spiritual journey, no feeling that musical material has been conceived, moulded and worked on until it takes its final and inevitable shape. The composer would probably find me unreceptive, which is certainly true, or even philistine, which I would probably try to dispute. Yet not the tiniest part of this work communicated itself to me in such a way as to justify its own existence, and in attempting to explain it in the CD booklet the composer is both garrulous and opaque.

If only he had been as economical as Arne Löthman, who provides just sixteen carefully chosen words to introduce his five minute Diptych. He draws attention to the fact that the second of the two short pieces is more extrovert than the first, which is certainly the case, even if the essentially introspective nature of the work is still present. This is beautiful and affecting music beautifully played. There is no electronic element.

The reflective mood is continued in the four short pieces which make up Takemitsuís All in Twilight. The title is taken from a work by Paul Klee and the composer makes reference to "pale, pastel-like colours." Like much of this composerís music it is essentially undemonstrative, though it exploits widely the instrumentís many possibilities. It was composed for and first performed by Julian Bream who plays it on his 1992 EMI recital Nocturnal. Recorded more distantly than Bergström, Breamís tone is at once less glamorous and more beautiful, and the recital as a whole brings playing of consummate mastery. Taken on its own terms Bergströmís reading is also very convincing.

The word Ďminimalismí is becoming unacceptable nowadays, politically incorrect, like blackboard and blind. Perhaps composers are rather wary of having their efforts compared to minimalist ventures Ė the infamous piles of bricks and unmade beds Ė in the visual arts. The word is very evocative, nonetheless, of much music having as its stylistic origin the works of certain American composers such as Terry Riley and Steve Reich. It is not minimalist in the sense that there are not many notes in it. On the contrary, there are millions of notes in almost any given Reich piece. The point is that there are not many different notes. Tiny melodic and rhythmic tags are used, constantly repeated and with next to no development, to construct long periods of music. Electric Counterpoint is an excellent example of this. The soloist plays live, accompanied by a recording of himself Ė hereís one I made earlier Ė playing up to twelve other guitar tracks. The pulsing opening brings the soloist, with little crescendos, in and out of the pre-recorded texture. Itís extremely rhythmic music, and the third of the three movements in particular contains a considerable element of dance. Itís also extremely, perhaps surprisingly, beautiful. True, the repetitive nature of this music may not be everybodyís cup of tea, but I hope listeners who respond negatively to Electric Counterpoint would be consistent in also rejecting the first great minimalist work, Ravelís Bolero. Reichís piece sticks maddeningly in the mind for hours after listening to it, exactly, come to think of it, as Ravelís does. And Mats Bergström plays the work with extraordinary virtuosity, quite the equal of Pat Metheny (Elektra Nonesuch) for whom the work was written.

Feeling proud to be so open-minded and up to the minute as to enjoy the works of Reich I have therefore no hesitation in shamelessly writing off the remix by Trio Escort as a load of old tosh. Their remix, wittily entitled Escortic Joynt, follows the established method of taking Bergströmís existing recording of Reichís piece and adding synthesised beats and other noises to parts of it. Reichís music fades in and out from time to time, but for fairly long stretches of an already interminable ten minutes I think very few people would know that it was supposed to be based on Reichís work. The booklet note, written by the remixers, is pretentious rubbish. Amongst other gems they state that it was "Öeasy to build on the dance element, and equally easy to bring out the meditative aspect of the work." Both these qualities, fully present in Reichís most poetic original, are undermined in the remix. Quite what the point of this kind of exercise is I canít say. If the remix is meant to complement the original in some way then what we have here is a meagre attempt in which the original is only diminished. If the aim is to create an independent work of art why base is so closely on something which already exists? Reich has apparently given his blessing. He should have damned it to Hell.

The horrible, scratchy electronic sounds with which this piece ends for some reason lead directly into the last work on the disc, Johan Söderqvistís Epilogue, which is a bit of romantic film music complete with strings, preceded and followed by electronic warblings.

Not quite the last work on the disc, in fact, as the computer whiz-kids amongst us have a video track as well, a "short version" of SubString Bridge, accompanied by images of an unshaven Mats Bergström looking moody and soulful on the bridge, sometimes playing his guitar, sometimes not. I feel helpless before this kind of thing, and others must judge for themselves, but I can only say that for me the visual element was even more devoid of interest and merit than the music.

William Hedley


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