Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

John Matthias’ and Nick Ryan’s Cortical Songs Get Nervous

Many of you have heard of this album because it contains a remix by Thom Yorke (which in this case is pretty inconsequential – he phoned it in). Be that what it may, John Matthias’ and Nick Ryan’s new Cortical Songs album, just out on the British Nonclassical label, is an intriguing and ambitious electroacoustic effort inspired by the most ancient instrument of them all, the human body. Matthias is an adept violinist and also a proficient singer, although he doesn’t contribute vocals on this album; Ryan is his laptop-toting sidekick. Together with the Trinity College of Music String Ensemble conducted by Nic Pendlebury, they’ve created an innovative suite based on the patterns of neurons firing in the brain. These “cortical songs” follow definable patterns – which makes sense, considering how much of human activity involves repetition – which lend themselves to musical interpretation. Matthias and Ryan don’t follow actual cortical patterns here, but instead a computer program that’s designed to replicate them. They’ve also added elements of improvisation via cues that add a sense of randomness: hence, this particular performance can never be exactly replicated. It’s an interesting mix of the baroque and the modern, emphasis on the modern, heavy on minimalism and horizontality.

It opens as pensive minuet, Matthias leading the procession, which quickly bulks up with layers of atmospherics and counterrythms that fades into and out of the wash of sound. The second movement is an insistently hypnotic tone poem with overtones wafting overhead, evoking the more ambient work of the great Iranian composer Kayhan Kalhor, up to a big sudden swell. The third fades up even more atmospherically, with minute suspenseful shifts against the wash that build until Matthias reenters pensively, leading to a bracing crescendo that fades down again to a quiet angst. The fourth reprises the opening minuet, then strips away the rhythm, leaving the motif to mutate and expand with considerable unease. It’s a compelling chamber work.

And that’s where it ends for us. A series of remixes of parts of the suite follows: one skips around ludicrously as if the recording program suddenly went haywire, and the engineer kept what was left because he’d been paid and had to turn in something. Toward the end there are a couple that allude to a familiarity with dub, or at least dubstep. What someone like Lee “Scratch” Perry could have done with this – with analog equipment, of course – one can only wonder.

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January 19, 2011 - Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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