This is a disc that
I popped into the player not knowing
at all what to expect. What I discovered
was a fascinating musical experience
from an artist whom I knew only by reputation.
This music is somewhat difficult to
critique from the viewpoint of one who
is classically trained, as it erases
all of the boundaries between styles
and genres. This is a disc that could
as easily be found in a number of sections
in a record store and be correctly filed
in all of them. I am not sure that I
can really do more than describe what
I have heard and what effect that it
had on me. Since the music is unique,
it would be hard to compare it to similar
works and note the contrasts.
First off, let us deal
with trying to find a good description
of something that is rather enigmatic.
Graham Fitkin has composed an hour of
music that could just as easily pass
for electronic dance music as it does
for a serious work intended for the
concert stage. It fares better in the
realm of a recording, as the countless
studio and electronic effects might
be rather difficult to reproduce on
the concert stage.
The music is based
on the fictional life of George Kaplan,
the spectral character that is the protagonist
in Alfred Hitchcock’s film North
By Northwest. The film’s hero, played
by Cary Grant, is mistaken for one George
Kaplan, and is pursued by the authorities.
It isn’t until half-way through the
picture that the audience realizes that
George Kaplan does not exist at all,
and is just a fabrication of the U.S.
Intelligence Agency. Fitkin uses this
character metaphorically, allowing the
listener to decide whether his musical
Kaplan is one of the performers, the
composer, him or herself, or a member
of the audience.
Having spent a lengthy
personal purgatory in academia, I have
heard my share of experimental electronically
generated music. More often than not,
I have come away with a giant "so
what" emblazoned on my forehead.
There are, however, some electronic
pieces that work splendidly. Amongst
the notable examples are Alvin Curran’s
Songs and Views from the Magnetic
Garden, and Morton Subotnik’s The
Key to Songs. I am going to venture
out here and say that Mr. Fitkin’s creation
can be added to the list of very effective
Can it, however, be
called a work of "art music,"
to use my own term?
Now you may wonder
why I might pose this question. The
answer is not an easy one. Although
the work, which comprises seven individual
sections, opens up with sounds that
one might expect from a work of electronic
music, the listener is quickly rather
taken aback by the drum machines kicking
in and the segue into what sounds like
music that you could hear in any gay
bar. Yet there is far more to this than
just disco and the influence of 1970s
vintage synthesists; Vangelis, Tomita,
Andreas Vollenweider and Jean-Michel
Jarre are names that come immediately
to the fore.
This is a well-structured
work. There are themes, tunes and subtle
shades of color, nuance and mood. Elements
of dance music, disco, rock and roll
and jazz are spread throughout. Most
importantly though, this is music that
engages the listener from the first
thirty seconds, and keeps his attention
through to the end. One simply wants
to sit there and find out what happens
next. It is this element more than any
other that makes this work a true success,
and one that I believe, will appeal
to a broad spectrum of musical tastes.
In terms of production
quality, there is little to criticize.
It is all done in the studio, and is
done very well. I have noticed a rather
growing tendency, however, for record
companies to forego written notes and
instead utilize the wonders of the Internet
to store information about recordings.
There are no program notes or descriptions
of the music whatever in the booklet.
Instead, the listener is directed to
place the disc in his computer, where
he will be directed to a web site with
complete information. The site is interesting,
but more so to a teenager perhaps than
a serious adult music aficionado.
There are biographies
of the composer, sound and video clips,
something that passes for program notes,
and a lot of trendy web design through
which to plow. If you have the time
and inclination, the site has some fun
eye and ear candy, and is well put together.
Although this sort of thing is ecologically
correct, I am not certain that every
buyer is going to take the time to play
around on the composer’s web site. I
am of a split mind as to the value of
the virtual program booklet, and I will
only say here that it has both its advantages
and disadvantages, and leave the verdict
to the jury of the buying public.
If you are adventuresome
and want something quite different than
the latest rehash of the Beethoven symphonies,
then pick this one up. It certainly
cannot hurt you, and you may just be
turned on to some new and interesting
sounds. Recommended for the adventuresome
in the readership.