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Eyvind Kang - Athlantis

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Artist: Eyvind Kang

Album: Athlantis

Label: Ipecac

Review date: Jan. 22, 2008

Athlantis is composer Eyvind Kang's choral arrangement of a 16th century Latin text by the philosopher Giordano Bruno. The man was burned at the stake in the inquisition for his heretical conception of an infinite universe; the work used here is his Cantus Circaeus, a dialogue between the sorceress Circe and her assistant Moeris. Jessika Kenney, of the Black Cat Orchestra, sings Circe; Moeris is, of course, Mike Patton.

Kang excels in string arrangements and in writing instrumental hooks and has worked for artists like Laurie Anderson who clothe pop songs in orchestral fluorishes. While his solo output is quite varied, Kang's classical records on Tzadik modernize the genre through odd instrument choice (tuba, for instance) and catchiness, rather than by being "out." Live, Kang takes an interest in the form and simplicity of English folk songs that can translate as contemporary. Athlantis makes religious music from the same era relevant to current pop audiences by highlighting minimal melodies and allowing the emotion of the singing to propel it through and beyond genre conventions.

While Kang uses Bruno's words as the form of Athlantis, his fiery death influences its style. Kang refers to the piece as an oratorio, but it sounds more like a funereal mass or an elegy. Church music is our touchstone for death (notwithstanding television's unrelenting campaign to replace it with covers of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah") and takes its aesthetic power from keening choirs of angels and the melodrama of not being able to go on without. Athlantis begins with sections like "Andegaveness," which would not sound out of place in a cathedral, and progresses during the second half of the album to shrieking by Kenney that sounds like Joan LaBarbara and evokes Antigone.

The contrast between Kenney's training and Patton's roughness is important throughout in keeping this from being a recapitulation. Patton incanting "Te quoque Mauortem aduoco, ne dedigneris tuos hic promere scorpiones, serpentes, aspides, viperas, hircos, hoedos, pardos, canes, cynocephalos, apros, pantheras, lupos, onagros, equos, hyppelaphos, vulpes" during "Inquisito" to a sitar arrangement is a perfect aesthetic match formed in hell. In "Ros Vespertinus," Circe quenches him, sounding like a Jewish cantor

Modern art often fails to be beautiful. Athlantis uses the ancient aesthetics of grief to fill our desire for modern loss.

By Josie Clowney

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