Saturday, 15 October 2011

Tangerine Dream: Tyger

Some 25 years prior to the band's initiation of the Eastgate Sonic Poem series with 'The Island Of The Fay,' reviewed here, came the release of 'Tyger,' an album typical of their 80's output in style but featuring a brief foray into vocal melodies, courtesy of singer Jocelyn Bernadette Smith. This release takes as its inspiration selected William Blake poetry, specifically "The Tyger", "Smile", "America", "The Fly", and "London".
Tangerine Dream: Tyger
Tyger - Tangerine Dream

The album begins with 'Tyger,' perhaps some of the most accomplished writing in the album, drawing upon 80's production and musical aesthetics within the context of their own style which many fans will enjoy. In contrast to their more recent releases, this album focusses (as much of their 80's output does) on ethnic timbres and the creation of hybrid timbres which gave their releases at this time great sonic complexity ahead of many other artists in the field. This word music influence is of course unsurprising given the band's definition of an early New Age musical style.

Moving on to 'Alchemy Of The Heart,' the first instrumental track of the album, the writers combine various sequencer lines with sampled harpsichord writing and drum machine lines. Given the virtue of hindsight, it is very interesting to hear the elements which now underpin the band's music in an early form. In the track's mid section, the band utilise moving baselines aside long running sequences to create highly interesting patterns which sound equally at home in the context of their contemporary music (referring to the inclusion of 'Alchemy Of The Heart' in the set list for Tangerine Dream's recent Zeitgeist tour).

'Smile' sees a return to song writing, beginning with various sequences before Jocelyn Bernadette Smith enters powerfully. Particularly strong is the harmonic progressions in this piece. The usage of song format for the band suits their style in this regard as it accommodates the long repeated harmonic structures well. From a musicological point of view, the changes of metre in this track and the song's structure prove particularly interesting. For the listener, these smaller details may not be audible yet they add a great deal of interest to the music.

The 1987 release reviewed here ends with '21st Common Man,' a two part composition which exemplifies some of the most intriguing tambral aspects of the album. Listeners of the 1992 release will find an additional track 'Vigour' concludes the album. 21st Common Man provides an appropriate end to the album in a New Age style of writing embellished with instrumental solos which typified earlier writing. Overall, this album proves a highlight of the band's accomplished catalogue of works.
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Saturday, 8 October 2011

Erasure: Always

As the first single from the Band's 'I Say I Say I Say' album, the pop duo Erasure released 'Always' in 1994. Unsurprisingly, the song quickly added to the act's other top-10 achievements written in their distinctive synthpop style which since their 1985 debut has seen notable aesthetic refinements.

Erasure: Always
Always - Hits! The Very Best of Erasure

The song begins with a melancholy combination of background vocals, guitar an various synthetic elements, shortly giving way to a more positive feel as the instrumentation develops to synthetic chords, sequenced bassline, vocals and percussive elements. This limited set of instrumentation later expands in the second verse in order to create a varied arrangement to the piece. While on the topic of musical structure, the duo's use of a short section preceding the chorus further adds to an interesting form, this itself being a device common to the synthpop aesthetic which informs the duo's creative practice.

The song is largely concerned with notions of love and harmony:

I wanna be with you  
And make believe with you 
And live in Harmony ...

This however is possibly considered to be an antiquated concept given the musical writing which subverts any optimism seen in the lyrical content.

The song comes at a prolific point in the artists' careers built on earlier successes. This previous experience is clearly shown in the song, exhibited by clever harmonic writing and commendable attention to instrumentation. One of the song's successes lies within the clever use of layers and variety therein. The music also benefits from strong production, the clarity of mix contributing to the song's overall charm. Certainly a strong release for the duo.
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Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Imogen Heap: Propeller Seeds

To date, the English artist Imogen Heap has released just three albums in a career spanning 14 years but with every release featuring a distinctive take on the Singer Songwriter style of composition which utilises at points highly advanced application of electronics. In 'Propeller Seeds,' the first single form her highly anticipated sequel to 2009's 'Ellipse' album, the entire track has been written and mixed binaurally in collaboration with Nick Ryan, an audio specialist, to create an immersive 3D soundscape, placing the listener in the shoes of the performer.

Listeners are advised that the 3D effect can only be perceived when listening on headphones.

As is typical for Heap, the instrumentation is purposefully limited to a small number of instruments to let the singer's voice shine through. The piece begins with sampled tuned metallic strikes before Heap enters alongside a number of background voices which create the impression of an audience providing a commentary of the music as it slowly unfolds. As the piece develops, instrumentation thickens to include various percussive elements and a bass line, mixed to create a pleasing character to the music.

As with much of Heap's work, the music takes on a complicated structure rather than the typical verse-chorus structure used by many of her counterparts. The artist does however choose to add extra emphasis to the lines
"What’s happening here? 
I’m growing roots through my toes 
And leaves from my fingertips"
                   as they are the only lines to be repeated in the music, giving it otherwise a free-verse impression. While this could be considered to be a naive subversion of commonplace musical form, it is a technique central to the artist's aesthetic and is accomplished in a truly laudable way. Through the complicated musical structure, Heap creates a very interesting narrative arc which draws the listener in and sustains their interest until the piece's ultimate conclusion.

With the release of this single, fans are undoubtedly highly excited for the next Imogen Heap album and based on the quality of this single, rightly so.
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Monday, 26 September 2011

Christopher Franke: The London Concert

Many of The Sonic Music Review's readers will no doubt be familiar with the German band Tangerine Dream whom have been featured a number of times on the site. Lesser known to some is Christopher Franke, an electronica composer and long time member of Tangerine Dream, having joined in 1971 and remaining a member until 1988. After leaving the group, Christopher Franke soon returned to electronic music production, subsequently releasing a number of albums under his own name in the New Age musical style that he previously pioneered as a member of Tangerine Dream.

Christopher Franke: The London Concert
London Concert - Christopher Franke

'The London Concert' is Franke's 1993 release of a collection of live material recorded during a concert at The Royal Apollo Theatre, London in 1991. The album opens with a group of five tracks, referred to as parts 1 - 5. The first part, 'Empire Of Light' illustrates Franke's awareness and skill at ambient composition, unsurprising given the strong relationship with his own new age aesthetic and ambient musics. This brooding introduction combines various processed samples with synthetic dissonances to create a highly cinematic atmosphere, a quality seen in much of his work. Moving to part 2: 'Purple Waves,' the listener is afforded a more conventional electronic musicality in the work which later develops to include extended sequenced passages.

One of the most instantly recognisable tracks from Tangerine Dream's 1979 release Force Majeure, 'Cloudburst Flight,' for which Franke also features on the credits, is covered in part 3 of this release. Most interesting is the way in which the artist recontextualises the piece into a notably meeker recording than the original work, focussing on several of the lesser elements in the 1979 version and redefining the instrumentation into a more clearly New Age inspired sonic palette.

The concluding three tracks which forgo the previous convention of being entitled 'parts' embellish the artist's New Age aesthetic with additional creative influences. Considering 'Mountain Heights,' the use of an electric guitar alongside synthetic instrumentation suggests a progressive rock methodology. The final track, 'Private Diaries' ends the release on a high with a soaring pan flute melody atop various sequences and well considered backing timbres. Overall, this release is a very welcome live album and many fans of Tangerine Dream will certainly enjoy.
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