or not, one can certainly claim that classical music is in danger
of becoming totally irrelevant as an independent art form. The
most successful programs in symphonic literature are those that
highlight music that is more than a century old. Many instrumentalists
have turned to rock and pop music for recording purposes, making
piano or string ensemble versions of Radiohead, Police, Beatles
and Metallica songs. While these efforts are interesting and
generate some revenue, there is nothing groundbreaking about
them and certainly nothing that will save symphonic music from
being relegated to background music in television shows and
this backdrop Roman Mints’ new album is an exciting experiment.
It seems that he is attempting to find a polymorphic music drawing
down from classical traditions, avant-garde musique concrète,
ambient electronica, and the soundtracks to movies and video
games. The result is a collection of dark soundscapes that are
listenable for a broad audience while still innovative and experimental.
are moments on this album that are so moody that the lights
in the room seem to darken and the air to fill with a misty
smoke. The effect is eerie and takes the most emotive sounds
of the violin reinventing the sonic world that a classical violinist
normally inhabits. On the other hand, Mints never strays so
far that he loses the thread amid a chaos of sound effects and
opening track, Sometimes It Rains, is a collection of
samples taken from Mints’ own violin, a flute together with
a few words and natural sounds that have been heavily processed.
Layered into that mix is the performed violin with a signal
input that makes it sound more akin to an ehru than anything
else. The composer claims that he was attempting to make this
music visible, like a short film without words. It certainly
seems tangible in a way that most music is not. It can elicit
a nearly tactile response in places, as if you could feel the
misty rain that the sounds imply.
1, which follows, is less obviously electronic. It could almost be performed
with violin and percussion, though some of the sounds are truly
synthetic in nature. In terms of structure, this work would
not be foreign to anyone familiar with works from the expressionist
school of composition. It is even largely tonal, though with
the non-pitched nature of the accompaniments the tonality is
often ambiguous. The attempt, according to the composer Adam
Vassiliev, is to evoke moods from literature, though what literature
this references is totally undefined. The music instead seems
to hearken to the trumpet melody in Charles Ives’ The Unanswered
Question more than any particular works of any particular
literary authors. This, of course, does not detract from the
piece in any way. It only leaves the listener wondering what
Story 1, Criptophonic Piece by Alexander Raikhelson is
a true violin duet with added electroacoustics. This was debuted
in live performance in January 2000, and has the feel of a work
by Alban Berg accompanied by the sound effects from Star
Trek: The Next Generation. The music is atonal, though not
serial, and occasionally abruptly changes character. The two
violins are used to create long, intense dissonances that the
electroacoustic instruments can then enhance with effects similar
to whale song or to nails scratching on a blackboard. The whole
thing is intriguing, though it definitely is not what you would
put on as pleasant background music.
Factory starts with electronic effects
straight out of a Dr. Who episode, shortly thereafter
coupled with the music of the violin. The composer Ed Bennett
claims that, much like in Sometimes It Rains, he took
the source sounds from Roman Mints’ violin, which he then disassembled
and reassembled to create a collection of complementary sounds.
The work is a study in layered sound and contrasts, interrupted
by abruptly changing electronic effects which then set up a
new sound palette. The resulting work is the most episodic of
this collection, and while the mood is not a constant fog like
Sometimes It Rains, it is relentlessly innovative.
next work is Largo Recitare by Taras Beuvsky. The notes
for this work contain only a poem by the composer where he discusses
the loneliness of man. The work is stark and the electronic
accompaniment is extremely slow moving and minimal, then theoretically
static while suggesting turbulent movement. The piece is starkly
beautiful and intensely listenable in its simplicity.
the title track appears. Game Over is supposed to be
a combination of the mechanical and the natural, where the electronic
slowly overtakes the analog, then suddenly stops. As an observation
on the nature of society or man, this is a fairly trite and
pedantic statement. As a framework for a quartet between violin,
oboe, piano and electronic music it is quite compelling. The
opening is almost Baroque in nature, especially once the full
acoustic trio is performing together. This does not last long
though, as the music becomes more minimalist for a couple of
minutes, then mutates again. Once the electronics enter, they
start by imitating earlier thematic material from the piano,
and then starts slowly to introduce new elements that the oboe
and piano imitate. Throughout, each section melts into the next
with new sonic elements and theoretical structures borrowing
from previous ones or replacing older styles with newer ones.
The work is seamless and truly invigorating. It might have been
a more appropriate theme for this piece if the composer would
have claimed that it was a synopsis of popular music dating
back to the beginning of written music and continuing to the
present. Of course that would not have adequately described
the work either, as that would have been far too ambitious in
scope for a mere ten minutes.
the program explores an entire new genre of chamber music, borrowing
from traditions as old as written music as well as from the
most recent of technical innovations.
the headshot of the artist himself inexplicably trying to look
like James Hetfield even the packaging is well done. Each song
is given a paragraph or two of description written by the composer
accompanied with complete recording notes, as the album was
recorded at several locations at different times with a variety
of performers. There is a conspicuous lack of dates in the notes,
both composers’ dates and recording dates, but one can assume.
through other information given. that these recordings were
made some time between 2000 and 2003. Perhaps it doesn’t add
much to the enjoyment of a recording knowing exactly when it
was played, but it does help contextualize the grand scheme
of a career evolving through one album after another.
being said, this is a really good album. The music is moody,
but not overly so. It is experimental while staying approachable.
It is not for those listeners who like their Bach, Beethoven
and Brahms and wish that Stravinsky was a bit less adventurous,
but can be stomached in moderation. It should appeal to a broad
variety of listeners. The generation raised on video games,
movies and television will find this a brand of instrumental
music that seems relevant to today’s world. It is, quite possibly,
a harbinger of the future of classical music.