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Thursday, 4 April 2013

Arnold Dreyblatt - 'Animal Magnetism' (Tzadik)

This is one that blew everything wide open for me. My impressionable teenage mind heard this for the first time (i think) in someone's car, on a cassette, and even still I was quite affected by the power of microtonal music. This is rocking 20th century classical composition, an album to make anyone sit up and take notice. But it's not aggressive, macho, or posturing - it is pure energy, an open, celebratory exploration of sound with a pulsing momentum and a driving urgency. It would be easy to try to read the sound of post-wall Berlin into this, and were I a Greil Marcus type maybe I would try to say that this music celebrates the eclecticism of a new Europe. But I'm not, so I'll just again repeat that this fucking 'rocks'. It's that drum on the opening track, 'Point Rotation', that sets the tone, but it's not a snare - it's a Basque string drum. Yes, even the drums are tuned microtonally and would you expect anything less? There's such a passion behind this ensemble, compared to the more sedate Propellers lineup (only cello/tuba/electric bass specialist Jan Schade remains) that when a deep bowing sound (maybe Schade's cello) saws through the mix, its accelerating rather than retarding. Interesting recording techniques mean that on some tracks, certain instruments are not properly in the mix, so it feels like someone is tapping a bell or block right over your shoulder, as opposed to with the other musicians. The piercing, sharp staccato notes are the brightest sounds on here and work really well against the horns. Everything is distinguished, and it's a composition to celebrate. I know this work like the back of my hand, making this a rare work of classical music that I sing along to. Like 'Propelleres in Love', it ends with a slow, spacious statement, just a note, a rest, and the note again, repeated. Very little gets better than this.

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