is a well packaged SACD hybrid CD, with
some attractive minimalist artwork in
succulent blues and reds. This promising
presentation is reflected in the musical
content, which displays a variety of
stimulating and rewarding electronic
and electro-acoustic music.
Rolf Enström says,
"My art lies in a borderland between
pictorial art and music – where the
images are missing." It is of course
the listener’s imagination which provides
his or her own imagery, and with the
wide palette of sounds on this CD the
aural experience calls up a rich source
of associations and mental landscapes.
Many of the pieces
here are based around the human voice,
and the opening piece ‘Rama’, which
uses texts and quotes from Shakespeare
and Arthur C. Clarke, begins with subtle
whispering over a satisfyingly resonant
electronic soundbed. Slow motion choral
‘water-fall’ effects mix well with,
and are subtly entwined through the
electronic sounds the nuances of which
provide sometimes chilling juxtapositions
with a disembodied voice quoting in
Swedish from poems by Gunnar Ekelöf.
The choral writing is often beautiful
and expressive, and the electronics
are always sympathetic – sometimes having
been sourced using voices from the Stockholm
Motet Choir, an idea which always helps
integrate tape sounds with live performers.
The whole is powerfully atmospheric
rather than dramatic, and is one of
best electronic pieces I’ve heard for
quite a while.
The first three works
here are a trilogy, and the second of
these, ‘Kairos’ was written in 1999
as a ‘musical drama’ for radio. Once
again, text and voice are central. While
the spoken Swedish might be slightly
alienating, one can revel in the reader’s
rich voice while a multi-layered sound
narrative unfolds in convoluted waves.
I’m a little less enthusiastic about
the slightly obvious ‘fader flapping’
here, and a so-called lute which sounds
like a fairly straightforward ‘lead’
sound from a Roland keyboard.
‘Kronos’ brings back
live vocals, and the five strong ensemble
‘The Purifive’ have a counter-tenor
enriched early-music sound which calls
the Hilliard Ensemble to mind. Deep
bell-like resonances are combined with
percussive shocks and the computer-processed
voices of The Purifive singing work
by Thomas Tallis. This layering of live
and electronically manipulated voices
once again provides an effective link
between the two sound-worlds. The constantly
shifting and tidal nature of the waves
of sound are an apt illustration of
the piece’s subject; time.
The following group
of pieces came as a result of an initiative
from Stockholm’s Saxophone Quartet,
and comprises three works for saxophone
solo and tape. In ‘Saxplock’, the saxophonist
Jörgen Pettersson sounds as if
he his wrestling with his bass sax inside
a big electronic bag full of nasty noise-monsters.
‘Ebb’ uses the alto sax, and consists
of a kind of jazz recitative over swirling
electronic noises, which are subsequently
reinforced with rhythmic drum sounds.
The drum machine is just ‘parachuted’
in however, and the piece tails off
with more saxophone meanderings accompanied
by the now familiar bell-like resonances.
Enström protests that pulse, tempo
and rhythm have been ‘forbidden’ in
electro-acoustic music, but he would
need to develop the idea further than
this if he intends to buck the trend
convincingly. ‘Tide’, the last of the
trilogy, uses stabbing soprano sax notes
and some fairly nondescript warbling
from the electronic stock cupboard.
Supposedly working with quarter-tone
scales it adds little to the canon of
micro-tonal music. An unmemorable contribution,
but with the advantage of brevity it
does provide a little light relief.
The past piece, ‘Observatoriemusik’,
brings us to a world which is tailor-made
for electronic treatment – stars, space
and the planets. This is the most purely
electronic piece here, having been generated
from an initial algorithm whose function
was to filter white noise, allowing
the composer to sculpt new sounds from
random noise. My audio equipment unfortunately
doesn’t run to SACD surround-sound,
but I can easily imagine the quadraphonic
effect of this piece to be quite overwhelming.
At one point the sounds merge and unify
into a rising, phasing column of noise
which almost guarantees the ‘goosebump’
factor I’m sure many of us seek when
listening to this kind of music. The
distant stretched chiming of much of
the remaining material provides the
listener with everything one might expect
from the vastness of the subject.
I’ve enjoyed this CD
immensely, and recommend it to anyone
interested in modern electronic music
or contemporary music in general. Rolf
Enström is self-taught as a composer,
and while this always sets off alarm-bells
(especially when it comes to electronic
music) there were only a few spots where
I felt that structural tightening might
have strengthened the works. However
any such criticism would be nit-picking.