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Roman MINTS - Game Over
Ed BENNETT Sometimes It Rains [7:45]
Artem VASSILIEV Story 1 [10:40]
Alexander RAIKHELSON Criptophonic Piece [9:20]
Ed BENNETT String Factory [12:36]
Taras BUEVSKY Largo Recitare [6:45]
Artem VASSILIEV Game Over [10:53]
Roman Mints, violin
Timur Yakubov, violin
Dmitri Bugakov, oboe
Ksenia Bashmet, piano
Ed Bennett, Artem Vassiliev, Alexander Raikhelson, Taras Buevsky, electronics
rec. Belfast Musicians Collective Studios, Belfast, N. Ireland, the Russian Academy of Music, Moscow Russia, and the home of Alexander Raikhelson in Moscow, Russia. DDD
QUARTZ QTZ2010 [57:59]

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Controversial 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 movies.

Against 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.

There 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 electronica.

The 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.

Story 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 Vassiliev reads.

Following 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.

String 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.

The 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.

Finally 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.

Thus 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.

Barring 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.

That 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.

Patrick Gary



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