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Recordings of the Month



From Ocean’s Floor


Conner Riddle Songs

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Of Innocence and Experience



Arne NORDHEIM (1931-2010)
Solitaire (1968) [12:11]
Warszawa (1968) [11:37]
Ode to the Light (1968) [16:38]
Lux et Tenebrae (1971) [19:29]
Pace (1970) [9:24]
Dei kjenslelause (1960s) [3:50]
Vi på Alfabulator (1960s) [2:27]
Colorazione (1968) [18:51]
Distance [3:04]
Crossroad [3:11]
Stille, Kepler tenker (1987) [20:41]
Alfa Alfa (2000) [15:26]
Dråpen (2001) [3:26]
Summa [3:05]
rec. produced by Eugeniusz Rudnik in Polish Radio Experimental Studio, Warsaw, Poland. No date given
BOLT RECORDS BRES11 (DUX 0997/8) [68:31 + 77:05]

The Polish Radio Experimental Studio in Warsaw welcomed numerous international guests during the 1960s and 1970s. This comprehensive collection brings together Arne Nordheim’s work in Poland, including recently discovered tapes, a few installation pieces and works made elsewhere. The booklet goes into great detail about Nordheim’s background, his working techniques, sound sources and other information which all helps to bring these pieces even more to life.
Arne Nordheim’s Solitaire is one of those seminal electronic works of which you’ve probably never heard if your experience of this kind of music hasn’t gone much beyond cinematic atmospheres and ubiquitous hit tracks on the radio. This is a piece whose suggestive atmospheres work on the imagination in similar ways to Edgard Varèse’s Poème eléctronique, though with a few degrees greater sonic sophistication. Vast spaces are suggested, high sounds swarm around you like insects, and changing aural perspectives tease your senses. The psychological effects are heightened through the introduction of a human, female voice - indistinct and as much part of the landscape as the electronic sounds.
Warszawa uses street sounds from the city, but is no mere musique concrète assemblage of noises. You will hear sounds returning from one piece to another, and there are technical family relationships between many of these works. Warszawa ultimately brings us into a not entirely comfortable chamber of sound where metallic bumps and grinds argue with chattering electronic birds in the acoustic of a vacant factory. Ode to the Light is an interesting work made to accompany the sculpture of Arnold Haukeland at the Centre of the Blind and Visually Impaired in Skjeberg. This is a reconstruction made for the CD, the music “based on the assumption that blind people would ‘see’ the music” in combination with the feel of the sculptures. There is a nice anecdote about how the installation attracted nightingales, the trilling high noises at times penetrating long distances. Even from outside my headphones the missus’ thought a car alarm was going off at one stage. There is a huge range in this piece and not all of it is high pitched or even uncomfortable listening. The atmospheres work strongly on the imagination, strangely manipulating your perceptions of space while working through the chance relationships of tape loops of different lengths.
Lux et Tenebrae is a concert version of an installation Nordheim made for the Scandinavian pavilion at the World’s Fair in Osaka in 1970. Karlheinz Stockhausen was busy next door in the German pavilion at the same time. As with Warszawa there are fragments of recordings which emerge from electronic effects – an orchestra tuning, children singing, strange calls and cries … Associations and dislocation – a sense of narrative within abstract expression – these things are all at work simultaneously, at times amusingly but always with a dark edge which prevents any thought of relaxation. Nordheim’s skill in pacing his effects and allowing sonorities to develop, coexist and dissipate is unerring. CD 1 concludes with Pace, a Polish Radio commission, based on a reading from the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights, but filtered and transformed into something deeply rich and strange, filled with bell sounds and exquisitely layered and textured.
The first two pieces on CD 2 were made before Nordheim went to Warsaw. Dei kjenslelause is almost like a church hymn, and this and Vi på Alfabulator show some of the composer’s earlier interests in reverberation and sonic exploration of different perspectives, though less complex and sophisticated than the no doubt better resourced pieces made in Poland. Colorazione is a vast and impressive landscape out of which sounds both strange and seemingly familiar emerge with a sense of organic wilfulness. The surrealist mood of Distance has an attractive, all-embracing quality. This and Awaiting, as well as the more unnerving Crossroad and the final, more cataclysmic Summa were all fairly recent discoveries which appeared mastered for CD for the first time in 1993. Another highlight is Stille, Kepler tenker, which explores sub-luminous and twittering sounds in another installation work in which repeating tapes ensured constant change of sonic relationships. The deep moods of Alfa Alfa make this one of my favourites in this set. The electronics at times take on the quality of conversing entities is rather special – are they talking to each other; or to you?
This aspect of Arne Nordheim’s compositional output adds useful dimensions to his work for orchestra and other media, but most if not all of these pieces have their own fascination. It is intriguing to see how many qualities they share in common, but how each also acquires its own identity, character, and world of sound or unfolding narrative in sensations which can hit you like a whiff of familiar perfume in the street, or set your imagination on new pathways. Sound quality is inevitably variable but the tapes have been very well mastered, and you always feel you are getting the best of the raw materials to hand. This release is superbly produced and documented, and comes highly recommended to fans of period electronic music, or just electronic music which can convey a message. You may not always understand the message, but you know it means something.
Dominy Clements