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TranceClassical J.S. BACH (1685-1750)
Air (arr. M. Beiser for cello & electronics) [5:04] Michael JORDAN
All Vows [9:22] Imogen HEAP(b. 1977)
Hide and Seek (arr. M. Beiser for voice, cello & electronics) [5:08] Glenn KOTCHE (b. 1970)
Three Parts Wisdom [10:40] Lou REED (1942-2013)
Heroin (arr. David Lang for voice, cello & electronics) [9:34] Julia WOLFE (b. 1958)
Emunah [8:01] Mohammed FAROUZ (b. 1985)
Kol Nidrei [7:48] David T. LITTLE (b. 1978)
Hellhound [6:15] Hildegard von BINGEN (1098-1179)
O virtus sapientiae (arr. M. Beiser for cello & electronics) [3:46]
Maya Beiser (cello)
Andrew McKenna Lee (electric guitar) and Morean from Dark Fortress (Hellbound).
rec. details not given. INNOVA 952 [65:42]
Multifaceted cellist Maya Beiser is a founding member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars and has a sizeable discography with eight solo albums and many studio recordings and film music collaborations. Her own comments on this project are useful: “TranceClassical started from a washed-out still photo in my mind – me, as a little girl curled with a blanket on her parents’ sofa, hearing Bach for the first time, hanging on to every mysterious note coming out of the scratchy LP. TranceClassical is the arc my mind sketches between everything I create and Bach – David Lang and Bach, Glenn Kotche and Bach, Michael Gordon and Bach. No matter how far I venture, how rebellious, or avant-garde or electronic, my artistic mooring stays with the creation of this immense genius.”
This statement is clear from the outset, Beiser’s simple and lovely arrangement of Bach’s famous Air from the Orchestral Suite No. 3, BWV 1068 emerging as from that scratchy old LP, the signal from the grooves dimmed as if from dust on the needle and an antique crackle from beginning to end. All of these tracks have been treated in some way, either through an approach to the sound or in arrangement, so Michael Gordon’s All Vows is played through a halo of reverberation almost at the same level as the original sound from the cello’s strings. This is elegiac music but with shape and momentum, the climbing major-key material building some tension, but in a monadic and Medieval way rather than Romantically, though this is part of the mix as well. The effect with the sustained and sparing notes of the voice part further into the piece creates a magical effect.
Hide and Seek sends the singing voice through a Vocoder effect, adding cello texture and harmonic progressions to the voice in a remarkably effective way. This has been done before by the likes of Laurie Anderson of course, but the cello sound gives the sound a melancholy intimacy which goes against what you might associate more with robotic de-personalisation. High-speed contrast is delivered in Glenn Kotche’s Three Part Wisdom, the already restless cello part given added impetus through a chase-your-tail echo effect. The canonic counterpoint between the multiple ‘cellos’ and a healthy dose of cavernous reverberation widens the stereo image into a kind of landscape of very attractive sonorities.
Lou Reed’s Heroin, in its version with singer and guitar only, is perfect for the kind of arrangement it receives here, the cello roaming over the strings like a Bach prelude but with Reed’s guitar harmonies still recognisable. The vocal part is made suitably husky through the recording balance and everything is suitably enigmatic. The notes inside the cover of this CD are brief and often poetic, the words for Julia Wolfe’s Emunah or ‘Belief’ being “the friction between a cello and a voice floating in closely colliding intervals occasionally surrendering to a perfect unison…” This doesn’t cover everything of course, but think of a surreal soundscape contained in an industrial chamber in which the player and voice are always further away than you expect, or strangely disembodied in their world of restricted tonality.
Kol Nidrei by Mohammed Fairouz, described as “a prayer about human imperfection”, likewise sets the performance in an unusual acoustic but builds a passionate interaction in exotic scales. “The words are personal, the melody is Universal, the words divide, the music unites.” The sotto-voce quality of the Aramaic vocals here do not prepare us for the dark march of Hellbound which is an environment of rock-like distortions, through which the cello sometimes emerges as a softer centre, but as often rising to the challenge like a lead guitar in a huge stadium, and certainly equalling the added actual electric guitar of Andrew McKenna Lee.
The “sense of trance” delivered by Hellbound may not help your “reverie and meditation,” but calm is restored in the final O Virtus Sapientgae, in which the cello sings Hildegard von Bingen’s beautiful lines over a gentle drone.
Maya Beiser continues her category-defying path with TranceClassical, and I have no doubt this release will delight her fans and feed the flame of her crusade in redefining the cello’s boundaries beyond the conventional. If you are open to this rich vein of classical-instrument-meeting-modern-technology then there is much here in which to revel. I’ve certainly very much enjoyed becoming immersed in this imaginative and wide-ranging world, and would certainly recommend this album to any young musician seeking ways to go as far beyond their Popper Etudes as possible.