Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Igor Stravinsky - Le Sacre du Printemps (Stefan Goldmann Edit)

2009; 4 tracks

FEAST YOUR EARS ON..... iclonoclasticism.

Here, the popular house/dub-step artist Stefan Goldmann has "[used] samples from fourteen performances of Stravinsky and cut them into what the press release assures is no fewer than 147 segments, brushed them ever so lightly in his studio, and stitched them back together into an eighteen minute version all his own."

It's like walking into a different room every couple of seconds, bombarded by new sound, and the effect is truly breathtaking. This is an amazing recording (or, rather, collection of recordings). If you're thinking this sounds strange or displeasing, trust me, you will be -delightfully?- surprised.

The obvious question, then: is it any good? The answer, I think, is yes. Goldmann’s edit combines subtle layers of tone in ways that jar and frustrate, because no orchestra should be able to combine them in one sitting. Goldmann’s track is creepy. The familiar feeling of hearing an orchestra perform, subverted minute by minute by a collision of sounds that shouldn’t quite be with one another, gets under the skin. Whether it does more than this is probably a matter of interpretation. To some, Goldmann’s efforts here might pale in comparison to any one of the fourteen recordings he samples in their unmolested versions. For me, though, the wonderfully subtle feeling of standing on wobbly ground Goldmann creates here is a real treat. If you prefer the original way of doing things, he’s included two of the classic recordings he’s used. But for those that want a track made with a hint of Stravinsky and Russolo’s brave approach, it’s all about the remix.

It's a new way to listen to classical music, then. It is the ultimate superhuman recording. Every orchestra has it's own nuances and interpretations - maybe once in a while they get something right, or exactly as Stravinsky had intended. Perhaps this meshing of 14 different recordings has created the ultra-ultimate recording, precisely as Stravinsky had envisioned... or as Le Sacre du Printemps should sound.

The riot which took place at the premiere of Stravinsky's ballet The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre Du Printemps) in Paris, 1913, remains one of the greatest scandals in music history. While such a reception seems incomprehensible by today's jaded, world-weary audiences, the savage rhythms and violent dissonance of the composition still retain the power to awe, helping it become arguably the most important, widely performed piece of 20th century composition. It's logical that a piece so centred on rhythm should spark the interest of dance music producers, but that it has resulted in so subtle an edit, by none other than proto-progressivist Stefan Goldmann, is indeed a surprise.

The only hint of an interest in classical music I'd noticed in Goldmann was the choir which gorgeously rears up in "Lunatic Fringe," but his edit of The Rite reveals a studied, thorough understanding not just of classical music structure but, more significantly, of the classical recording industry. Taking twelve different recordings of the work, Goldmann performed 146 cuts, remaining faithful to the score throughout. As Goldmann describes it: "Every couple of seconds you find yourself in a different room, listening to a different orchestra under a different conductor. A journey through microphone positions and mixdown decisions. Each time a different world in the headphone." Goldmann, then, is in essence some sort of Perry-esque dub-engineer-prankster here, exposing the imperfection-masking "invisible edits" of which the classical recording industry is so dependent, celebrating the unique atmospheres of individual recording sessions, and, almost consequently, introducing a beloved classical icon to new audiences. A Ferry Corsten trance mix of "Adagio for Strings" this ain't.

Except that Goldmann's approach is so "minimally invasive" that his edits are often as difficult to detect as those of the industry he critiques. Actual cuts are inaudible, and the variations between performances, or rather between recording sessions, are barely discernible, even through headphones. His restraint is admirable, and it's an intriguing concept—there is some fun to be had in spotting the change in bassoons in the opening bars, or the fluctuations in tape hiss which occur throughout—but it's an alienating, academic exercise, and soon seems rather pointless.

Much better to submit and get carried away by the music, the strongest moments of which remain immune to Goldmann's scalpel. The lasting effect Goldmann's editing produces is one of dehumanisation and objectivity, the artifice of recording foregrounded, and this version, if it can be compared against "real" ones, feels uniquely cold. The contribution of individual performers, and the relative value of different performances (the basis for all classical music appreciation and criticism) become meaningless, leaving only an indifferent rendering of Stravinsky's score. This may well have been Goldmann's intention, but I'll take Pierre Monteux's untouched 1957 recording, included here, any day.

Ironically, after all these levels of detachment, it is Stravinsky whose voice remains.

Stefan Goldmann's edit:
1. L'adoration de la Terre
2. Le Sacrifice

Pierre Monteux / The Boston Symphony Orchestra:
3. L'adoration de la Terre (Live)
4. Le Sacrifice (Live)



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