Jordi Savall – Tous Les Matins Du Monde OST (1991)

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Tous les Matins du Monde was the result of novel writer Pascal Quignard’s desire to bring to life a story about one of the greatest composers and perhaps performers of the the viola da gamba (“leg viol” in Italian, from the traditional position in which it is held), Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe, and his most famous student, Marin Marais. He partnered with writer-director Alain Corneau, who had been formally trained as a musician before switching interests to film-making in his youth. The writer built a fictitious novel around what little is known about “Jean” de Sainte-Colombe and later adapted it for the movie. The movie has a melancholic tone, suitable for what is known about the composer as a recluse, a trait that Quignard exploited to the point of romanticizing the legend to a believable but ultimately symbolic level as inspiration for the spirit of art.

There was a man who was perfect for the job, his name was Jordi Savall. This decision came as no surprise given that Quignard first found out about Sainte-Colombe from a recording Savall and Wieland Kuijken did of the French composer’s music in 1976 under the title Sieur De Sainte Colombe – Concerts A Deux Violes Esgales. Whether the consequent recordings by the duo of Sainte-Colombe’s music were at least in part due to the movie is unclear, but a second tome was released in 1992 followed by reissues of the older work several years later. Savall was already a well-known name in his world, but the movie boosted it to popular stardom as he became famous all over the world as a viol player and ensemble conductor.

The music in the soundtrack has a very private feel to it and stands in contrast with the contemporary religious music we know was for service. At the same time, it shares with it a quality of “introspection”. What this implies musically, exactly, is something that cannot be pinpointed easily and is probably a confluence of several different traits, similar to how the romantic “authentic” has been systematically analyzed by some in very interesting but abstract descriptions (for instance, simple, understandable melodies in the manner of folk music). The movie depicts a time of transition when a lot of the music that was being made by amateur nobility was increasingly being taken up by professional musicians playing in courts (this is, essentially, what separates Sainte-Colombe and Marais). Herein, the transcendental and the temporal and commonplace are juxtaposed.

This soundtrack consists most of pieces by Sainte-Colombe and Marais with a minimal addition of a few superb piece by other composers. Personally, I recommend “Le Bandinage” by Marin Marais  and the excellent addition of a piece by an anonymous composer simply titled “Fantasie en mi mineur”.

Monastery – Ripping Terror 91 (2015)

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This is the reissue of a grindcore album released by a Dutch band in 1991 and was previously only available in cassette format. Most of these are just hipster and collector fun coming to light. In the case of this Monastery, the music is solid but just does not have any spark in it. Everything in Ripping Terror had already been done better by the trinity of grindcore, Repulsion, Napalm Death and Blood (bands that have rendered all other grindcore output virtually redundant). Thus, the re-release of this passing triviality is just one more move to cash in on nostalgia and collector’s obsession to possess every tape out there.

This impulse bring back to life just about any band from the golden era of underground metal is both detrimental and helpful. On the one hand, the albums that are really deserving in being reissued, the ones whose legacy should endure are being suffocated in their own niche by a great many Bs, Cs and Ds that had no reason to come to light back in the day and have no reason to do so today. On the other hand, a historian of music wishing to compile human activity in a genre will be delighted to have such a large-scale reproduction of the output of the era.

I am torn between the two and my proposed solution is that the albums are produced on demand instead of Cs like Monastery getting thrown in with the rest of the promos. Which also implies that re-releases or re-issues should have a stack or channel of their own that does not mix in or get clotted by the rivers of filth being vomited on the audience by modern bands. Now, having separate stacks, and the reissues only being produced on demand would save us all time and trouble. Whoever is interested in a completely forgettable like this from back in the day can indulge himself, while Massacra, Incantation, Immolation or Gorguts can dominate the market as they ought to as superior works of art. Save the planet, recycle, stop manufacturing more plastic to release mediocre albums, EPs and demos.

Amok – Necrospiritual Deathcore (2015)

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Tagged as a death/thrash sort of cross-over band, Amok, at least in the present album, sounds much closer to hardcore stemming from the tradition of Discharge Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing and filtered along the line of Amebix Arise!. Some gestures of 80s heavy metal show up but only briefly and not prominently enough to turn this into one of the many kinds of  so-called “melodic death” bands out there. In Necrospiritual Deathcore a healthy, coherent mixture of different punk and metal expressions collide to form an enjoyable album.

Like any hardcore album worth its salt, we find fragments of speech taken from television or radio, snippets of urban audio, coughing, among the rough scream-barks of the vocalist. All this, combined with the great pains to which Amok goes to give this album musical variety despite the fact that the music is primarily percussive (and simple in its percussion). Commendable are the smooth tempo changes in the album that are never abrupt even though they change the music drastically. Voice and instruments conspire so that the “line” is never broken when going from a faster speed to a slower one. When it comes to accelerating, though, the punks show themselves.

On the other hand, given the simplicity (and I mean real simplicity) of each song and the fact that the album is a song-collection (rather than a concept album, or a greater work, or a set of variations), the staying power of this kind of record is very limited. Sounding like a more single-minded, less flexible Amebix, Amok Necrospiritual Deathcore will please and entertain, but there is little reason to continue listening to it when there are albums like Arise! lying around. All in all, it is a refreshing hardcore album with heavy and death metal colors done by expert musicians.

Deverills Nexion – The Sinister Tarot (2015)

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Here’s the problem with critiquing programmatic music: any criticism levied at a piece or album can be explained away, by its adepts or its authors, as a failure to understand the external reference points, or their connection to the music.

As its title suggests, The Sinister Tarot is based on a Tarot cycle, a subject on which this author is entirely ignorant; an ignorance that undoubtedly hampers his comprehension of the album. However, it is clear that Deverills Nexion have created a work that is meant to be experienced as a series of separate but ultimately related images, therefore, “development” as traditionally conceived is not to be expected.

This would not in and of itself be a problem if the individual songs, or “images,” were compelling enough on their own, regardless of whether or not one is acquainted with the program. This, however, is most often not the case. Songs tend to begin by establishing a sonic template, as opposed to a theme, and then wander around it for a while before fading away. These sonorities, though varied, are usually not very interesting on their own, or at best mildly so, consisting mostly of cheap synth pads and aimless guitar playing. These are occasionally enriched by other typical elements of the dark ambient palette, such as chanted vocals and nature samples. The unsurprising nature of the sonic range would again not necessarily be a problem were it not approached in so uninspired, almost idly derivative and predictable way.

Burzum’s Hliðskjálf used a similar set-up, and an even smaller sonic palette, but it worked because it was driven by truly remarkable themes, a feat The Sinister Tarot cannot boast of. The few melodies that do appear are unexceptional, lead to very little, and are easily forgotten. The album’s lack of strong melodic direction ends up looking like a technique with which to hide a lack of content: place the texture at the forefront of the music and let things glide quietly by. This is often a problem with ambient music, in which it stylistically accepted, and almost expected, for melody to be given the backseat. But the best practitioners of this style have always managed to overcome this challenge by using the texture itself as a compositional device; as an element to be treated and developed with as much care as melody or harmony. This is how artists such as Tangerine Dream create works of profound stillness and yet, simultaneously, of gripping intensity. However, this is not the case here. In fact, after a few songs dissipate slowly, one after the other, the listener is left with the worst possible feeling for an art form, such as music, that exists in time: that nothing has actually happened.

On the rare occasion in which a song does not end exactly where it began the transition is often unsatisfactory. These few instances of minimal development, such as in “The geryne of Satan” and “A Deverills man at the Bladuds Head,” are a case of too little and too late; tension rises momentarily only to disappointingly stutter back into the album’s habitual plod. The Deverills Nexion are definitely capable of writing some beautiful raw material, as evidenced by Ere the dancers depart and Bestride a corpse with my face, but even these tracks seem to simply sit there without accomplishing much, fidgeting impatiently. These moments of beauty sadden this particular author, as they are testament to the project’s potential, which, alas, remains but a ripple in a puddle.

VI releases De Praestigiis Angelorum preview track

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VI, the French black metal supergroup comprised of members from Antaeus and Aosoth, has released the improbably-named “Il est trop tard pour rendre gloire. Ainsi la lumière sera changée en ombre de la mort.” sample track from De Praestigiis Angelorum, permitting a short review.

Like later Antaeus, this band is hollow. It is not outright fake, but it aims to control your mind by pleasing you with surface characteristics and missing what lies beneath. Much as the first Antaeus had possibility in that it attempted to upkeep some of the ideas of the past that worked, but never quite got there, and then the band backed off of that direction with later releases, VI has a strong surface of old school black metal — fast rhythms, the right minor-key riffs, the right texturing of melody and grinding — but at its core there is nothing. You might look at this as simply a better take on Deathspell Omega, but there is no transcendent passion in these songs, only a somewhat cynical knowledge of how to make music sound brainy and violent at the same time.

What propelled original black metal was a strong emotionality based in a worldview inspired by logical analysis, not social feelings, about human problems. VI reverses this with a song about the social feeling of belong in black metal and thinking how austere, relentless and different you are just for listening to this, and yet it has no substance. The band ably combines two riffs and variations for the initial part, then drifts off into a patchwork of ideas that fit together rhythmically but crush any chance for expressing a consistent or developing theme. What you get is like American beer: it has all the right ingredients, in the wrong order, with no idea uniting it all except to please the average fool for long enough that he will buy it again. Avoid this FMP/NWN release.

Blood Urn – …of Gory Sorcery and Death (2014)

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Blood Urn is a death metal project whose approach to the genre is one that can reinvigorate it while being very traditional. Superficially, a listener who only glances over the surface of …Of Sorcery and Death may incorrectly say this is an old school album, a modern euphemism for retro-acts or merely those who do not play the metalcore-based so-called technical death metal. It is true that this is an old school release, but only in the sense that it upholds the same ideals of the best of that era, including certain preferences in aesthetics as a reflection of an inner attitude — an idea that stands in contrast with the superficial selection of genres and expressions of modern bands that wear style as a change of clothes to pose as something they are not.

If we made the mistake of approaching this distinction like most clueless people do, that is, with a shopping list of the aesthetic characteristics that usually accompany a genre in order to identify it, we would definitely arrive at the same conclusions. That is why premises are as important as having good logic. Wrong premises and good logic only lead you safely to wrong conclusions. But if we start with the premise that those aesthetic characteristics are only the reflection of a spirit which is much more than intention or purpose but also crystallized significance, we will recognize that the shopping-list approach is at best a collection of hints and not a concrete definition.

Blood Urn …Of Sorcery and Death is a death metal (‘old school’ death metal is the only one, with various regional styles) album in the truest sense. A death metal at heart and in representation. The expressions that seem typical of death metal are used here in what can be accurately described as progressive without incurring in the fallacy that all disparate appending of music qualifies as such.  In accordance with death metal tradition, music builds up through structural devices: mainly through variation and manipulation of theme with a climax and a clear musical goal in mind for an end.  By musical goal we mean one as defined by traditional classical theory, not by the “good intentions” of the music writer. Intention and realization are two different and distinguishable things, something relativists and individualists would do well to keep in mind.

While varied in expression, Blood Urn manages to remain fairly coherent, choosing to tie different textures in a mix that also incorporates the riff-salad approach. In this, it is somewhat similar to the way Horgkomostropus Lúgubre Resurrección builds in a very typical death metal push and pull between structural theme-play and variation and contrasting ideas that are brought gradually into the fold, first as a splash of cold water to the listener and then in gradual integration through interleaving and recombination of sections and themes. It is important to say that in good death metal fashion, the limit of the contrasting ideas does not break away from the chosen style, which is the sin of many a pseudo-prog outfit. This conjoined approach of dealing structural development from a theme with one and then riff-salad with the other only to increasingly interleave them and sometimes ultimately fuse them into altogether different endings can be referenced in masterful albums such as At the Gates’ The Red in the Sky is Ours and is also the approach of Blood Urn to music composition, albeit with a much more humble and less-layered result.

Alexander Jacob – Richard Wagner: Parsifal (2015)

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Richard Wagner wrote epic operas based around primal mythology as based on Nordic and German folklore. Almost two centuries later, Alexander Jacob sat down with piano scores by Richard Kleinmichel and created an album of spacious, otherworldly music using that interpretation of the original. Numen Media released Richard Wagner: Parisfal on digital and compact disc for an audience wanting to explore Wagner in a sitting and not an afternoon.

The selected scenes from the opera translate into music with strong themes emerging from dense backgrounds, giving it both the textural feel of contemporary electronic music and the depth of heavy instrumental complexity as is found in most classical and progressive rock, but in the single voice of the piano this becomes a comforting shift like transition from city to country to town via train. Themes arise and then recede, like ideas in a dream, and play off related ideas in a shifting scenery which reveals its contours only slowly.

Transitioning to a single instrument from the multi-layered score written by Wagner, which famously required larger orchestras than were normally used, requires sacrificing some detail as many voices become one. The piano, on the other hand, demands lack of outright repetition as it becomes too obvious. Jacob and Kleinmichel navigate those obstacles by isolating different leitmotifs and working them into the piano as complementary voices. The result strikes the listener as more peaceful than Wagner, and relies on subtlety to bring out its power, manifesting out of a background ambiance a striking and sudden clarity like an explosion in darkness, then returning to a piece that almost conceals itself in calm. As a result, Richard Wagner: Parsifal serves as soothing music which inserts its intensity like a revelation in the mind of the listener after the fact, leaving a lingering sense of being transported to a different and more epic era.

Antaeus – De Principii Evangelikum (2002)

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After a very promising debut album which the band explained as consisting of a collection of demos and other recordings, Antaeus released their first “proper” album in 2002: De Principii Evangelikum. Antaeus play a saturated black metal that foreshadows the developments of Sammath and shares with it an antecedent in Uranium 235 Total Extermination. For all the violence expressed here on the face, the riffs ride very short melodies that make up for the constant percussive assault. The more one gets familiar with the album, the more this balance is perceived. Like most black metal albums, the front assaults or deceives the listener (some albums present a saccharine front that actually contains very thoughtful and detailed music, even if not reflected in quantity or variation of patterns) that only reveal their whole worth after both repeated listens and emotioal immersion in the music.

De Principii Evangelikum does sound like a consolidated Antaeus, insofar as they choose a very particular approach narrowed down from their previous album, Cut Your Flesh and Worship Satan. In a Faustian gambit, Antaeus ripped all pretension of ambience and took the frontal assault that only figured as one aspect of their earlier music. As such, this is a condensation of that style that even if it limits the expression range of theband, it allows it to refine a very particular language and also sets it in a track in which a band attempt to perfect a sound until they get it. A parallel would be Sammath’s more-than-a-decade long efforts that finally culminate in 2014’s Godless Arrogance, a kindred spirit of De Principii Evangelikum.

As a first full-album effort, De Principii Evangelikum show us a highly focused band that knows what they want and that have matured musically. It is the realization and not the concept that is still being experimented on. In De Principii Evangelikum this is practically realized in potency and convincing excellence. The question is, is this all the band is aiming for?

Olivier Messiaen plays Olivier Messiaen (1956)

Olivier Messiaen about 1940 at the console of the Cavaillé-Coll-organ St.Trinité in Paris

Olivier Messiaen about 1940 at the console of the Cavaillé-Coll-organ St.Trinité in Paris

Famously noted for having claimed that he saw colors when listening to music, Olivier Messiaen was born very early in the 20th century (1908) and was one of the last in a bastard’s litter of composers to be caught in the crossfire between a lingering romantic spirit and modernist aesthetics. This extremely vivid perception of musical tones and his fondness for birds and their songs were, doubtless, a great influence on his methodical choice for musical language. This includes his own compiled and defined modes of limited transposition. These existed before but he was the first to compile them and examine their boundaries and relationships exhaustively.

Hanging in an interesting intersection of the concentrated meditations of Ildjarn Landscapes, Tangerine Dream’s and Klaus Schulze’s early improvisation-like soundscapes and the latter’s methodic motific constructions, Messiaen’s organworks such as Les Corps Glorieux anticipates them all and brings them together in a very personal language. Appart from that, we find passages that could be taken from the most bizarre organ fantasias dreamed of by Baroque or Romantic composers. What is special about these works is the convincing power with which he brings all this together without falling into the modern tendency of classical music to twist around and transform ideas so quickly the listener barely has time to be submerged in them.

In contrast, his music lingers in the ecstatic wonder that we might guess was induced by an appreciation of nature and its patterns as the grand work of the Judeo-Christian god as per his Roman Catholic beliefs. The exact source of it is not important, but the state of mind achieved in silent and inner introspection and  outwardly-projected contemplation is transmitted in these organworks through a plethora of distinct techniques that Messiaen manipulate without incurring in an overcrowding of any particular piece. But even when a comparison between movements is done, the nature of the whole work is not disrupted, all come under an intent, even though each of these is an idea of its own. While any can lump compositions and songs in an album or title and call it a day, in Messiaen’s different organworks we find the perfect example of  works as expressions of ideas in episodes. Integral works that divide individual ideas into self-contained movements.

The recordings of 1956 are said to suffer from audo-technical problems even for the recording technology of the time. A hiss is present here and there, and not all tones are captured in the pristine way that classical music audiophiles fantasize about. In addition to that, the way Olivier Messiaen himself plays his works on the organ is criticized heavily by some, arguing that he is not a real organist. This is quite a statement given that he held a post as an organist at a church for decades. The third condition that affects the recording is that the organ is said to be out of tune, with some pipes diverging slightly from how they should sound. In my personal opinion, given the nature and character of Messiaen’s music, and the fact that he wrote the pieces for that precise organ, the imperfect condition of the instrument is perfect for the performance. His talents are more than enough, as he composed and feels the music he gave birth to, filling it with  expression in rubato and more as it flows through and out of him. The subpar recording and defects in hiss and what not only add to the eery atmosphere of mixed wonder and dread that probably represents the Christian fear of God. Love and admiration and extreme fear mixed together in irreconcilable battle for primacy in an endless cycle that fades into eternity.

The following is a three-part series of articles discussing this performance and contain links to horribly-tagged mp3 files of the 1956 performance of the composer’s works by himself:

Olivier Messiaen plays Olivier Messiaen part 1

Olivier Messiaen plays Olivier Messiaen part 2

Olivier Messiaen plays Olivier Messiaen part 3

While he was instrumental in the academic exploration of his techniques (he compiled two treatises: the later one in five volumes was substantially complete when he died and was published posthumously), and was himself a master of music analysis, he considered the development and study of techniques to be a means to intellectual, aesthetic and emotional ends. Thus Messiaen maintained that a musical composition must be measured against three separate criteria: it must be interesting, beautiful to listen to, and it must touch the listener.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olivier_Messiaen#Music