Album Review- Eleven Into Fifteen: A 130701 Compilation
One of the most promising genres sprouting from the underground music scene as of late is what is known as “post-classical”. What this title entails is a style resembling contemporary classical music, but one that incorporates more experimental elements from stylings such as avant-garde, minimalism, and musique concrète. The realized combination of these musical fields has given many artists the chance to write new music that can be as shocking and bold as it is informed and serene. 130701, an imprint of FatCat Records founded in 2001, has been spearheading the movement, hosting many of the post-classical scene’s most ambitious musicians. To celebrate their 15th anniversary, 130701 has released Eleven Into Fifteen, a compilation of tracks from each of the eleven members of their roster. It isn’t often that I find a very worthwhile compilation record hailing from a label. This is because, due in part to its very existence as a compilation, it must often concede to allocating its merit to either, one: being representative of the label’s artists (and of course, the songs should be good, too), or two: providing a cohesive experience as is usually standard of a singular record. The second point is often missed, with the tone of the release all over the place, and it is even rarer that both requirements are fulfilled. However, I am pleased to say that Eleven Into Fifteen succeeds at both of these, and was a genuinely enjoyable record that exposed me to many prominent artists of the post-classical scene. Overall it is a record that I would highly recommend to any music fan. Opening the record is “Yangtze” by French artist Olivier Alary, a decidedly different track amongst the other ten. The piece opens with a low pitched drone of strings, over which a saxophone begins to play a pensive, drifting melody. The saxophone continues waveringly, as what may be an accordion thickens the droning of a cello, all the while violin and viola reach above the background, creating the multidimensional, albeit short and interesting piece that is this artist’s debut.
Next begins the work of acclaimed American pianist/soundtrack writer Dustin O’Halloran. “Constreaux No. 2” opens with the subdued chimes of prepared piano (the act of sticking forks and other utensils into the piano wire), supplemented by the calming piano style that O’Halloran is known for. Eventually, strings join the mix, creating a stunningly beautiful, reflective, and even slightly melancholy sound, reminiscent of his last solo record, 2011’s Lumiere, though at the same time unique from his work prior. Certainly a highlight of the record, this track is further proof of O’Halloran’s talents as a composer and musician, and a sure sign that he is not losing any of his musical charm.
From the newly added Russian pianist Dmitry Evgrafov, “Anthem” starts off as if it were a standard piece of piano music, but with each note a unique atmosphere alternating between clarity and mysteriousness is established. This dichotomy of light and darkness is enforced by means of tape warp, or some emulation of that effect. Solitary notes drift off into the ether, slowly compounding into a formless yet present reverberation, giving the piece a cavernous sound, one that seems rather unique to Evgrafov’s style.
Returning to light with an unreleased track, the now disbanded Set Fire To Flames comes forth with the 10 minute “Barn Levitate”. The Canadian collective is known as one of the offshoots of post-rock legends Godspeed You! Black Emperor, sharing many members. The incredibly dense drone of a contrabass, viola, violin, bass clarinet, french horn and trumpet materializes, and then falls back beneath the jangling of a glockenspiel. At a glacial pace, instruments fall back, and then move to the forefront, emphasizing the tonality and timbre of the piece. Consonant and dissonant harmonies wrap around each other, until eventually the pace quickens with the emergence of the strings, creating tension in the form of an almost middle eastern sounding drone. The strings shriek out, creating an unsettling yet subdued cacophony. All instruments slowly fade out in an unresolved manner, concluding what was an oddity in the band’s brief discography. Veering away from the found sound/tape loop ridden, socially concerned, experimental/post-rock style of the band’s two albums, the track makes for a thought provoking and interesting listen, but with knowledge of what the collective was capable of, it may seem a little trivial.
Newly signed to 130701, Polish cellist Karolina Rec, under the alias Resina, makes her label debut with “June”. Proving that one musicians can be enough to conjure a world of sound, Rec creates the swirling sound of countless cellos by means of looping technology. Beneath lower register bowing, she creates a thick choir of high pitched patterns, seemingly entropic, but always under control, as sudden outbursts of chirping high notes cut through the mix. What results is a highly original piece that shows Rec’s knack for complexity and variety, and most of all, her intimate familiarity with her instrument as to know how to coax out of it such sounds.
One of the more popular users of prepared piano, German pianist Volker Bertelmann, by the name of Hauschka, demonstrates his affinity for the style with “Quiet”. While at its core, “Quiet” is a very pleasant piece of piano music, the element of prepared piano adds another sonic layer to the mix. Wooden-sounding percussive snaps echo over chords, radiating outwards like the snaps and pops of a fireplace, adding a certain intimacy to the piece. Other strange noises are present as well, though they are subtle enough that I cannot define what exactly they are. Overall, this is another composition typical and worthy of Hauschka’s expansive catalogue.
Fading in like some mysterious shade, French composer Sylvain Chauveau’s “N B” is an exercise in modern minimalism. The delicate yet hard to pinpoint ambience of electronic instrumentation and gently tremolo picked guitar float through this short yet trance-like track. The brevity of the piece gives it the essence of a reverie or illuminating thought, an all but fleeting moment of clear understanding, the exact meaning lost, but the emotion still intact.
Understanding is built upon duality, the acknowledgement of two contrasting but simultaneous views, and this is cleverly demonstrated on French pianist Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch’s “Aletheia”. Her hands dance about the piano, her right creating soaring arpeggios over the constant compounding melodies of the bass notes played by her left. While this is obviously how anyone would play the piano, Levienaise-Farrouch’s composition manages a distinct separation between the melodies of these parts, creating an engaging and wistful piece.
If you are familiar with the prolific British pianist Max Richter and his work, you still may not expect what comes with the new track “Bach Study”. Beginning with a delicately plucked harmonic, the composition ebbs into the droning of strings punctuated by electronic plinks that emerge into a low rumbling, almost reminiscent of a passing train softly rumbling down some distant tracks. From here, Richter’s iconic piano style enters, playing a short and relatively clean piece, though it is still occasionally distorted by the ever so slight application of electronic effects. A very slight yet cathartic performance, this interlude would not have been out of place on Richter’s 8 hour “Sleep” from 2015, a piece designed to help lull this listener into an effective sleep cycle, while still remaining an engaging and dynamic work.
Canadian musician Ian William Craig dabbles in the rarely explored art of tape looping. Easily what starts as the most jarring piece on the record, “Tender Fire” opens with the low rumblings of an indistinct tape loop, over which Craig intones. While ironically the only track with vocals on it, they were pre-recorded and played as a tape loop as well. The result is an extremely lo-fi, rather eerie warbling moan, creating a cold, distant, barely human sound. However, for a brief instant, the background distortion drops out, and two of Craig’s vocal tracks harmonize upon the title of the song, in what is a fleeting moment of undisputed beauty and clarity. As the vocals flow through the piece, some impossible to define instrument (looped, of course) sets in, and slowly fades out into obscurity, ending what turns out to be an unlikely but most fascinating composition.
For the final track of the album, renown Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson performs “They Being Dead Yet Speaketh” live in New York with the Wordless Music Orchestra. This colossal 12 minute epic served as the opening track to Jóhannsson’s “The Miners Hymns” in 2010. While originally only backed by a brass section, this performance benefits from the addition of strings as well. Slowly emerging out of silence, the brass builds up to the permeation of a single trumpet, backed by a sound that can only be compared to a frigid, unrelenting winter gale. This pattern repeats continuously, gaining momentum and power with each repetition. Slight percussion drives the brass forward with even more force, until eventually, that lone trumpet is followed up by the crushing, Earth-shattering sound of the entire orchestra reaching a crescendo and coming in at once, the apex of the piece’s dynamics. As the brass section slowly begins to mute itself, the string section supplements the electronics and organ present on the original soundtrack in what is a subtle show of restraint as the piece retreads its steps, the lento passage concluding what I consider to be the definitive performance of an already spectacular highlight of post-classical composition.
Eleven Into Fifteen is a success in that it hasn’t just sufficed as an enjoyable album to listen to, but it has also introduced me to some of the best of the post-classical movement, artists who wish to carry the torch forward in what is the natural evolution of classical music as we know it. For anyone who likes any sort of classical music, or instrumental music, or for that matter, any music, “Eleven Into Fifteen” serves as a fine introduction to a new era of emotional, rewarding, and above all, honest music, one which I would venture to say is well worth being invested in, and certainly worth the time of day to be given a sincere, heartfelt chance.
Image via http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/22108-eleven-into-fifteen-a-130701-compilation/.