8/29/11

Bon Iver + James Blake

Two of the year's records that have been playing a lot on my iTunes and on the stereo are James Blake's debut album James Blake and Bon Iver's sophomore album Bon Iver. Both artists are on to something that's happening now. I've felt them to be related somehow. There have been many instances when James Blake made me think of Bon Iver's record and vice versa.

Which is why it made sense to hear their recent collaboration where Bon Iver handles vocals and James Blake produces:


Beautiful. Both artists are playing in Copenhagen this coming fall. We got tickets for James Blake in Vega while Bon Iver in Falconersalen is sold out. We'll be on the lookout for tickets...

8/19/11

Piano Phase - music and emotion

Music and emotion. Emotion in music. A lot to consider. During spring semester I followed a course called "Music and Holocaust" as part of my studies at the Department of Musicology at Copenhagen University.

One of the cases in point was Henryk Górecki's Symphony No. 3, op. 36 (also known as the "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs"). The reception history of the work and its placement within the Holocaust discourse is quite interesting but that's not the main point of this post.

While discussing the work, the course lecturer asked the class what the musical characteristics of the symphony were and what tradition/musical direction it might be said to relate to. I mentioned the immediate similarities to American minimalism (Steve Reich, Terry Riley, La Monte Young, Philip Glass etc.), the similarities being the fact that the symphony is tonally based and makes use of a certain amount of repetition.

The 2nd movement Lento E Largo: Tranquillisimo. Notice the final one and a half minutes where one chord is repeated throughout without diminuendo. Try listening to the timbres and voices of the strings through headphones. Pure bliss! 

In response to this, one of the other students pointed out that Górecki's 3rd is much more emotionally charged than the works of American minimalism that are often characterized by a more intellectual compositional approach. Also the work makes use of functional harmony associated with romantic classical music as opposed to the droning, consonant harmonics and harmonic stasis one often finds in minimalism. He was of course completely right about this - Górecki's 3rd has some quite romantic or "cinematic" qualities that are hard to come by in American minimalism.

But this made me think about what we mean when we talk about emotions in music and the thought came back when I listened to some of Steve Reich's stuff again. Mainly Piano Phase. What struck me about the piece is that even though it is entirely a piece of process music and represents a strictly minimalist, intellectual approach to composing, I find it to be simultaneously brimming over with what I perceive to be a deep seated emotional drive. The difference is that the emotion isn't obvious or on the surface level; it comes forth at an almost subconscious level. It's very powerful and I believe it has something to do with hypnotism and meditation.

Here's an excerpt from Peter Aidu's solo performance (!) of the work:
 

The full performance is available as a free 256kbps MP3 download here

It's almost transcendent. It is transcendent. That's what I look for in music. I don't care if you use an electric guitar, a laptop, a score or two rocks to achieve it; hint at the possibility of transcendence and you got me hooked...