Switched On – Gaspar Claus: Tancade (InFiné)

What’s the story?

Tancade is an imaginary beach, portrayed here by a single instrument – the cello of Gaspar Claus. With technical imagination and a little bit of electronic trickery he has made an entire album with the cello, using every millimetre to conjure up wooden and metallic sounds to add depth and shade to his musical pictures.

What’s the music like?

Ghostly harmonics and trills on the outer reaches of the cello usher in Une île, which is a brief contemplation in front of the waves. Un rivage portrays the gentle lapping of water through the pizzicato (plucking) across the strings, with a slow, lamenting figure that plays out in several parts.

These first two tracks are an indication of the powerful, meditative qualities Claus brings to his work, employing great imagination to get the sounds he wants.

2359 is a great example, playing out like a game of pinball with small musical ideas pinging across the sound picture as bigger, distorted waves threaten disruption. Meanwhile E.T. (Extra Terre Version) has a ghostly presence, with Claus playing two short fragments of arpeggios together but at a distance of a microtone, creating a disquieting mood in spite of the birdsong in the background.

1999 is a foreboding presence, Claus expanding the intimacy of the solo cello into quasi-orchestral sounds. Ô Sélénites goes a step further, using a wide array of textures to portray a lunar environment. Finally Mor des mystères amoureux finds relative stillness, with sustained harmonics and pizzicato flicking lazily in the breeze before a brief but affecting spoken word passage from Lyna Zouaoui.

Does it all work?

Yes, thanks to Claus’s imagination and deep knowledge of the capabilities of the cello. He creates very personal and meaningful ideas, but against bigger backdrops the listener can dive into.

Is it recommended?

It is, especially for lovers of solo cello music by Bach – Claus offers an interesting and viable alternative for the instrument as it is now.

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Switched On: Arandel: InBach Vol.2 (InFiné)

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reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The second instalment of Arandel’s InBach project comes just a year after the first. The French producer, who chooses to remain anonymous for now, has been discovering a wide range of raw material beyond last year’s reinterpretations, and has enjoyed the new perspectives offered by live performance of the first album material.

Now the music takes on more spoken word contributions, as well as using rare instruments recorded at the Musée de la Musique in Paris. The record also features Ondes Martenot player Thomas Bloch and the cello of label mate Gaspar Claus.

What’s the music like?

Extremely varied. Arandel has an orchestral mind, which means he can approach music from many different directions. The stripped-back woodwind of Invention 5, for instance, builds from almost nothing to a full, symphonic climax with electronic choral voices, showing how the French producer ‘gets’ Bach’s increase in intensity.

Concerto for No Keyboard, on the other hand retreats to the lower end of the spectrum and applies the sort of electronic squiggles you would expect to hear from Wendy Carlos – whose Switched On Bach was a big influence on Arandel’s working.

The starry-eyed Doxa Notes is a beautiful way to start the album, and develops into a lush palette of electronics, with a spoken word top from Myra Davies. It is a reinterpretation of Aux Vaisseaux, itself based on Bach’s 14 Canons on The Goldberg Ground, BWV 1087.

Spoken word is an important component of this album and Nos Contours is an even better vocal number. Developed from Bodyline, a track on the first album, it features bubbling electronics under Ornette’s low but steady vocal, both bending under the weight of increased percussion towards the end.

Arandel’s handling of Bach’s original material is always respectful but is more than happy to take risks. Capriccio is otherworldly but in a good way, a reworking of Bach’s Capriccio on the departure of a beloved brother which is in fact a memorial to Arandel’s own brother. Its spectral voicing is almost overrun by a large electronic choir, but is in fact swept up by its power.

Praeludium takes a dubby, four to the floor beat and pushes resolutely onwards, while the autotune of Fabula’s vocal over Bach’s Meine Seele Warter Auf Den Herrn will be more divisive, but it is nothing if not effective.

Confirmation of Arandel’s more adventurous approach can be found in Octobre, a pleasingly unconventional take on the famous Air. Luxurious in its Hamlet cigar promotion, this music is stripped back to a chamber organ and oboe sound here, together with well chosen atmospherics and a time-taken voiceover from the producer’s nephew, with a dreamlike story of an ominous gang of children.

Finally Myriade provides a soothing and rather moving close, with another voiceover – from no less than Bridget St.John – complementing the slow-moving, majestic harmonies.

Does it all work?

Yes. Some of the interpretations are more divisive than others, but this is a good thing, as Arandel is showing a wide range of possibilities when working with Bach’s music. When it comes to electronic music his is surely the most flexible of original material with which to work, and the fact it can be reproduced more or less faithfully says a lot about its staying power.

Is it recommended?

Yes. An essential purchase for those familiar with Arandel’s way of working, InBach Vol.2 suggests that the ideas are only just getting going rather than drying up! These powers of invention and imagination will surely serve the producer well as he moves on to even more ambitious things.

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On Record – Vanessa Wagner: Inland (InFiné)

What’s the story?

After her Statea collaboration with Murcof, Vanessa Wagner turns to solo piano for this substantial anthology of pieces with a minimalist slant. It is a broad selection, from the established coffee shop soundtracks of Michael Nyman through to longer pieces by Gavin Bryars, Hans Otte and Pēteris Vasks. Wagner brings together different approaches from either side of the Atlantic, and in doing brings up a half century of albums for French label InFiné.

What’s the music like?

The key to the success of this album is in the planning. By bringing together different approaches Wagner keeps the interest level high, from short but poignant pieces such as Moondog’s Für Fritz (Chaconne in A minor) to Otte’s Das Buch der Klänge, Pt. 2, which has a tonal base but ventures quite a long way harmonically, as its ripples get more pronounced. The pronounced statement at the end serves of a reminder of the influence of Janáček on this area of music.

There are two pieces from Bryce Dessner, with Ornament 3 especially animated, bringing suggestions of Sibelius. The Etude no.9 of Philip Glass drives forward obstinately, its kinetic energy bracing if slightly clinical, but this is complemented by the short but descriptive Railroad (Travel Song) from Meredith Monk. If Michael Nyman’s The Heart Asks Pleasure First inevitably conjures up visions of an Italian coffee chain in the early morning, it is still given extra freshness here, Wagner giving Nyman’s arpeggios a flowing sweep and a really nice sense of space.

Gavin BryarsRamble On Corona hits some deeper set emotions as it works out, reminiscent of the Spanish composer Mompou in its pairing of intimacy and space, while Nico Muhly’s Hudson Cycle has a lovely, lilting syncopation that rocks gently.

The best is saved for last, however, the Latvian composer Vasks really casting a spell with the stillness and poise of Baltâ ainava (White scenery), a cold excerpt from his substantial piano suite The Seasons, serving as one of those ‘last pieces before sleep’.

Does it all work?

Yes, very well indeed. Wagner has a very sympathetic ear for music that has plenty to offer, getting to the nub of its meditative qualities but bringing out its positive energy too. Each composer holds their own, the result an authoritative and accurate look at piano music in the 21st century, showing how it is possible to write with both simplicity and substance.

Is it recommended?

Yes, in all sorts of different musical directions! Recommended to fans approaching from the more ordered classical direction of Reich and Glass, but also to those coming in from the more electronic approaches of Nils Frahm and Murcof.

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Talking Heads: Labelle

Arcana chats with Jérémy Labelle, the prodigiously talented composer and performer signed to InFiné, about his album Orchestre Univers. This ambitious project looks to bring classical and electronic music together, as well as the musical cultures of Europe and the Indian Ocean. We explore his methods behind that combination, beginning with the inevitable first question…

Can you remember your first encounter with classical music?

Not exactly, it was at primary school. But the first piece that really did stand out for me was Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale:

You say your family home had a wide range of styles – was it important for you to reflect this in your own music?

Yes, it’s very important as this wide range of styles is an expression of the multiculturalism in which I was brought up in and through which I define myself. Actually, these different styles belong to the same world for me. If you look beyond the differences, you can see what links them.

What dance music did you grow up with? The InFiné site makes reference to Derrick May and Jeff Mills.

I discovered Detroit techno when I was around 10/11 in 1995 and 1996, thanks to my older brother. It was the first type of music I played when I was a DJ and from then on it was the base of the music I was composing.

Was it a long (but enjoyable!) process getting the musicians together for ‘Orchestre univers’?

Getting the musicians together was actually pretty fast (a few weeks). It was the writing process that was very long (but enjoyable!)

It is very difficult to place the music of ‘Orchestre univers’, in a good way. Was it important for you to bring these contrasting styles of music together?

Yes it was very important for me as it’s how I see music for ensembles. A music that is capable of integrating instruments from other cultures but more importantly to find space for the body again. It had become too disconnected from the mind in certain contemporary expressions throughout the ’90s and the ’00s. The body and the mind are a whole for me, a single unit with which I try to communicate.

Where did you learn your skills for making colour with orchestral forces?

I learnt to write at university when I was studying music. But what I did really learn was to understand the different schools of thought and genres that have existed in the history of classical and contemporary music and how and when these genres appeared. Practical exercises allowed me to understand and appreciate the mechanics of these music. But beyond learning, I also have teachers that gave me the keys to understanding the space and the dimensions inside a piece as well as contemporary orchestration and time.

How did you arrive at such rhythmically driven music too?

Rhythm is a fundamental part of maloya and how the trance emerges. It’s in this spirit that rhythm expresses itself. I can’t not work with rhythmic instruments 🙂

The track Oublie-voie-espace-dimension brings in some remarkably strong percussion to go with the held chords. What were you describing in this music?

It’s exactly the beginning of the trance! You have to understand the title as a succession of states. Oublie = forget, forget your markers, letting go; Voie = path, the path that appears at that moment ; Espace = space, the feeling of vertigo, of depth that having chosen this path brings to you ; Dimension = a new dimension opens up (the one that expresses itself in O).

You did a concert recently at the Philharmonie in Paris? What was that like

The concert at the Philharmonie was one of the most beautiful concerts of my young career. The feeling of the acoustic space when you’re on stage is incredible. You can really feel how the sound moves in the room, it’s beautiful. Also the energy that the stage catalyses and disperses is out of this world. The stage seems to float in this circular movement with the audience. The room is unique.

What else can we expect from you this year?

Starting from now until the end of the year, I’m going to be working on my next piece, which is written for a string quartet, as well as on my next album. I’ll also be touring my solo electro-maloya act from the end of August till mid September for the promotion of Digital Kabar with my friend BoogzBrown and the Sheitan Brothers! A special night will happen at La Réunion early Octobre (Digital Kabar – Le Club) with many of the artists that appear on the compilation! Finally, for the first time I’m organising a night dedicated to experimental music on the island. It will happen at the end of Septembre.

What does ‘classical’ music mean to you?

The term “classical” is rather distorted actually. Musicologists refer to MOTE (musique occidentale de tradition écrite = western music of written tradition) and it’s in this sense that I understand classical as a traditional music just like other traditional music in the history of humanity.

What other musical plans and ambitions do you have for the future?

Writing pieces for large instrumental ensembles! But also develop the trance and dancing. I want to stay in touch with the club world and the festival world while writing pieces for orchestras that have this unique combination of classical instruments, electronics and the percussion from maloya.

You have contributed to the new InFiné compilation Digital Kabar. What does the word ‘kabar’ mean to you?

Historically, the kabar is the place and time of maloya, but for me it’s also the place and time of all the maloyas: electronic, electric, pop etc…

The track ‘Block Maloya’ has a strong rhythmic drive. How does maloya manifest itself in your writing?

It’s actually in the rhythms but it also manifests itself through other means! The distant pad that introduces the track is an ancestral reminiscence that carries the track through its development. It’s this relation to ancestors and customs that’s particular in maloya. Maloya is also a spiritual music when it’s played in ceremonies.

Could ‘Block Maloya’ become a really substantial track in a live performance?

Yes and that’s exactly what you’ll hear in my solo electro-maloya live act that will be touring for Digital Kabar in August.

If you could recommend one piece of music from this year to Arcana readers, what would it be?

I know I should think about other artists but right now I’m thinking of my piece Playing at the end of the Universe from Orchestre univers 🙂 It’s a song that always surprises me. I wrote it for my previous record Univers-île but it took another dimension on my new record.

Labelle’s third album Orchestre univers is out now on InFiné, who have also just released the Digital Kabar compilation which can be heard below:

Vanessa Wagner – Expanding the piano

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We’ve already spoken to Murcof about his collaboration with pianist Vanessa Wagner – and now it’s time for her side of the story. She describes how she found classical music and how her meeting with Murcof opened up all sorts of electronic possibilities. Here they are on their work together:

Vanessa, can you remember your first encounter with classical music?

My parents were not listening to a lot of classical music. They were rather into jazz and the French chanson. Then one day, the piano of my great-grandmother came home, and I started to play. My childhood idol was a wonderful Romanian pianist named Clara Haskil, far away from the glamour girls are usually dreaming of! She is still an artist that I love.

Who are the composers you have grown to particularly admire?

I grew up with the music of Bach, Schubert, Schumann, Mozart, Rachmaninov, Brahms and Janáček, who are still my favourites, Schubert especially. His melancholy, and the time stretched in his music touches me enormously. Die Schöne Müllerin and Winterreise are pieces that never leave me.

What was it that appealed to you about working with Murcof?

I was the one to initiate this encounter. I have listened to his music for a long time. I met him at the workshop of the Infiné label, and we made an improvised test. Then I had the chance to have a residency in a room of the Arsenal of Metz. They gave me carte blanche to develop new projects, I invited Murcof to play with me, and Statea was born.

How did you make sure you got a good balance between the piano and the electronics?

I always asked Murcof to pay attention to the acoustic piano sound. The piano is the starting point of this project, and it was important that the electronic effects do not swallow its sound even if it is sometimes distorted. Similarly, it also seemed very important to stay true to the scores of composers that I interpret. That’s why the album is called Statea, which means balance in ancient Italian.

Had you listened to much electronic music prior to working with him?

I have listened to electronic music for 20 years. At that time, in my classical circles, it was frowned upon. I had never heard of the big techno anthems, and I went right back to ambient/IDM artists – the likes of Autechre, Aphex Twin, Model 500, Maurizio, UR etc.

Do you think there are other albums or pieces of music that bring classical and electronic together well?

Max Richter´s Four Seasons of Vivaldi works pretty well. Brian Eno also has a beautiful piece called Fullness of Wind, taking its lead from Pachelbel.

Do you think classical and electronic music have a lot more in common than one would expect?

I think meetings of the two styles are quite possible, if one avoids falling into the mainstream that we call crossover classical. The approach focuses on the sound result. We must respect the original script. Adding a beat onto a piece of Mozart or Beethoven cannot be a creative artistic process in itself.

Moreover, music known as ‘contemporary classical’ and art music has a lot in common with experimental electronic. Bridges are possible and desirable between these universes.

Has working with electronic music helped your appreciation of classical?

This does not specifically help me in my classical interpretation. What I greatly appreciate is to exercise out of my classical world, to transform the sound of my instrument, and to experience concerts differently, giving a new fresh perspective to my daily occupation of being a pianist.

For me, it is an interior window that opened itself, and I strongly hope that this is new cornerstone in the musical world which will contribute to the opening of minds and ears!

If you could recommend one piece of classical music to Arcana readers that you’ve been listening to recently, what would it be and why?

I would recommend listening to the Goldberg Variations of Bach (Glenn Gould, for example), the Death and the Maiden String Quartet by Schubert, or Tabula Rasa by Arvo Pärt, especially the second movement Silentium.

Statea, by Murcof and Vanessa Wagner, is out now on Infiné. The pair will appear at the Barbican on Monday 31 October as part of a bill including pianist Lubomyr Melnyk. Tickets can be purchased from the Barbican website. Vanessa will also be giving her thoughts on classical music to Arcana shortly!