If prizes were awarded on the basis of user-unfriendliness,
this CD would be in line for a Pulitzer. To begin with there
is the glossy 24-side booklet - with nothing on any of the pages
but strings of apparently random letters, looking like computer
printout run amok. How on earth to tell what is on the CD? Step
one, take the disc itself and read the text that spirals around
it in ever-decreasing circles. That supplies recording details,
engineers' names, instrumentalists' names, works' titles, composers'
names and some legal warnings. The clue for step two is also
there: "Further information www.dacapo-records.dk".
Unfortunate for those who come across the disc in a shop - but
it could be that this release is altogether too 21st century
According to the Dacapo website - and anyone considering buying
this will need this
link - this is the world première recording of Jexper Holmen's
"international breakthrough work", fresh from plaudits
at the Huddersfield Festival of Contemporary Music. It is a
"1-track, 1-hour cloud of sound - an extraordinary experience
in every way!" It is extraordinary, but so is the
fact that Dacapo would claim that a forty minute work is a sixty
minute one. Because the last fourteen minutes belong to a different
piece - well, sort of (see below) - by Martin Stig Andersen
... even though, in a further annoying twist, they are both
part of the same CD track, with a thirty second silence inserted
All of this rigmarole is apparently intended, however, according
to the composer - to lend the CD the appearance or aura of an
artefact of electronica. The booklet, Holmen says, is
"a piece of conceptual art that unfolds chaotic principles
related to those of the music." Bizarrely, the recording
is part-sponsored by the Danish Composers' Society and "KODA's
Fund for Social and Cultural Purposes." One can only suppose
that both societies have very deep pockets - they certainly
have a strange notion of marketing.
But is the music any good, after all that? In fact, the first
question to answer is, is Oort Cloud music? Naturally,
much hinges on one's definition of music. The strange soundscape
of Oort Cloud - an astronomical term referring to a vast,
hypothetical region beyond the solar system containing an immense
number of icy objects, including billions of potential comets
- suggests electronic music, but everything here comes from
a soprano saxophone and two accordions, which have been amplified.
Holmen frequently uses saxophones and accordions in his work,
not only for the aeriform soundscape they can conjure up, as
here, but also, according to the composer, because they are
not heavily associated with classical music, a fact which is
important to him, with his boundary-blurring mission.
Oort Cloud is forty minutes of dense, relentless sostenuto
- an unremittingly slow, dissonant, swirling, mesmerising mass
of ethereal sonorities, punctuated by shrill outbursts. It is
both 'ambient' music, and intellectual music; it is also what
many might imagine deep space sounded like, if sound could carry
in a near-vacuum, which it cannot, not even the screams of those
who loathe it - of which there will doubtless be many.
In an online interview, Holmen says that his original inspiration
for the piece was listening to concert music in church with
poor acoustics - though the music itself was spoilt by over-resonance,
he found the sound enthralling.
For their uncompromising/radical approach to music, Holmen counts
Iannis Xenakis and Karlheinz Stockhausen as among his most important
influences - something which will be immediately evident to
anyone listening to this disc. One thing Oort Cloud is
not is easy listening. According to Holmen, it is "intended
to be difficult to listen to, because its structure is so complex
that it is practically impossible to perceive everything. I
have no complete overview of its structure myself either."
Be that as it may, Holmen is heavily influenced by 'electronica',
citing Aphex Twin as one of his favourite 'composers'. Fortunately
his other influences - house, trip-hop, punk techno and experimental
death metal - are nowhere in evidence.
The work is very physically demanding on performers. The saxophonist
must constantly draw on the advanced techniques of circular
breathing and 'multiphonics'; the accordionists must repeatedly
stretch the bellows right out, requiring sustained muscular
The second work on the CD, Cosmogyral Echo, is actually
a remix of Oort Cloud by producer Martin Stig Andersen,
who is also a composer of electronic music. It is a quieter,
even more static distillation of the original. Less extreme,
but also duller.
The sound quality is very high. For no obvious reason, the apparently
random letters of the booklet are actually endless permutations
of the letters of the composer's name and of Oort Cloud.
Overall, this is music best heard through headphones.
It would be perpetuating a fatuity to say that this is the kind
of CD for those with 'open minds', but it really is only for
those who are comfortable in the Kuiper Belt of experimentalism.