Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Loga Ramin Torkian’s Mehraab Puts a New Spin on Classical Persian Music

Mehraab, the title of Iranian composer/multi-instrumentalist Loga Ramin Torkian’s new album, means “shrine” in Persian. It’s an enormously successful attempt to play classical Iranian instrumental music through the swirling, hypnotic prism of dreampop and shoegaze rock. Musically, this most closely resembles Copal’s haunting Middle Eastern string-band dancefloor instrumentals; sonically, it’s remarkably similar to Huun Huur Tu’s landmark 2008 electroacoustic Eternal collaboration with producer Carmen Rizzo. Torkian takes care to mention in the liner notes that the electronics here are limited to how the instruments are processed, without any computerized backing tracks. Since all the instruments here are acoustic, the efx add welcome layers of sustain and reverb. Sometimes a riff becomes a loop; occasionally, the timbres are processed to oscillate or change shape as they move through the mix, dub style. Torkian plays a museum’s worth of stringed instruments, including but not limited to guitar, sax, baglama, viola da gamba and rabab, accompanied by Khosro Ansari on vocals (singing in Farsi) and a small army of percussionists including Omer Avci, Zia Tabassian, Mohammed Mohsen Zadeh, Azam Ali and her bandmate Andre Harutounyan.

The songs are dreamy, windswept and often haunting. The opening instrumental, Gaven (The Wild Deer) works an apprehensive descending progression in the Arabic hijaz mode, lutes and strings over reverberating layers of percussion and an astringent viola da gamba passage. Az Pardeh (Through the Wall) contrasts a matter-of-fact lead vocal with a somewhat anguished, hypnotic drone playing tensely against a central note, in a stately 6/8 rhythm. Golzare Ashegh (Garden of Love) establishes a sense of longing with its austere arrangement and dreamlike ambience; Chashme Jadu (Your Bewitching Eyes) is absolutely bewitching, in a creepy way, ominous astringent atmospherics over echoey clip-clop percussion.

With its subtle oscillations working against a distant, reverberating loop, the title track brings to mind a Daniel Lanois production, a simple, memorable, ringing motif circling through the mix. It’s the first part of what’s essentially a suite, segueing into Parva (Compassion) with its dub echoes and trancelike flute. Souz-El-Del (The Burning Heart) is the most rhythmically tricky piece here, a forest of lutes and what sounds like a kamancheh (spiked fiddle) doubling the dark levantine melody – it’s an absolutely gorgeous, sweepingly majestic, haunting song. They go out with a tersely wary, cello-like string theme. Simply one of the year’s most captivating and haunting albums.

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June 19, 2011 Posted by | middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dreamy, Otherworldly Soundscapes from Lesley Flanigan

Imagine you had a recording session but for some reason you ended up in the studio with just a microphone and some random speakers whose hums, crackles and occasional roars you could amplify. Could you make it interesting, something that would speak to anyone besides yourself? That’s what Lesley Flanigan did on her album Amplifications. Flanigan is a sculptor, and the compositions here are designed as sound sculptures. Using only her voice and a collection of speakers that she builds herself out of abandoned parts, she’s crafted an intriguing series of soundscapes that transcend any avant-garde cred she may have achieved by creating them. Some of her compositions are simple and stunningly direct, while others rely on dizzying layers of studio effects. Either way, they draw the listener in, and they’re vastly more accessible than they might seem. Flanigan’s vocals are mostly wordless, with a timbre that ranges from high and clear to take on a smoky tone on the album’s last number.

She begins with the aptly titled Retrobuild, harmonies methodically layered over and over again, almost an exponential expansion of a simple two-note phrase. She bends the notes and adds a tinge of longing before cutting off the piece abruptly. Following that is a vivid dreamscape, vocals alternating with oscillating, droning textures buzzing and swirling from the speakers, creating simple, sustained chords. Sleep comes down, is interrupted for a second, shifts to a distantly nightmarish interlude with uneasy, Middle Eastern inflected vocalese and ends on a calm, balmy note.

Snow pits the drones, buzzes and frequent shrieks of the speakers against the voice. As with the previous track, Flanigan carefully adjusts the frequencies to create a chordal drone, voice eventually emerging resolute and triumphant over the lo-fi squall as the melody from the first piece returns. Thinking Real Hard finally introduces lyrics and a cinematic theme: “Would you star in my picture?” the narrator asks, with a torchy longing. The album concludes with the pensively layered Pinkish White, shades of the Cocteau Twins, and the restless, all-vocalese nocturne Say You. It’s a marvelous late-night album.

October 16, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment