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Carl Craig & Moritz von Oswald - Recomposed Vol. 3: Music by Maurice Ravel & Modest Mussorgsky

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Artist: Carl Craig & Moritz von Oswald

Album: Recomposed Vol. 3: Music by Maurice Ravel & Modest Mussorgsky

Label: Deutsche Grammaphon

Review date: Nov. 4, 2008

At their most pure and powerful, the Detroit and Berlin techno styles can share an almost classical aesthetic and execution that combines a sensuous textural and rhythmic approach with a cool and futuristic attitude to musical structure and architecture. It’s an aesthetic that leads to sonic art with a sense of transport and transcendence that is at once spacious and inclusive: dub and DJ and adventurism combining in a democratic and utopian music for dancing and dreaming.

Carl Craig and Moritz von Oswald have been at the vanguard of efforts to extend techno into collaborations – with other artists, in other styles and genres – that go much deeper than just adding beats and filters to pre-existing approaches. Thus, their collaborative move to “recompose“ by deconstructing, rebuilding and expanding upon orchestrations by Maurice Ravel makes utter sense: Ravel himself was a master of modernist texture and surface who aligned cool and considered classicism with his passions for the more emotional expressions he found in American jazz and the ancient reach of Spanish/Moorish music. That Craig and von Oswald would choose to work with master tapes from the Deutsche Grammophon label featuring Von Karajan conducting the Berliner Philarmoniker makes sense, too: These are some the most glossy- surfaced, lush-yet-powerful orchestral recordings ever made.

It seems our recomposers like a challenge. They take as source material Ravel’s “Bolero” and Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” (the latter as orchestrated by Ravel), two extremely popular warhorses of the European art music tradition that have been reworked and re-referenced, alas, almost to the point of losing their original glory.

Recomposed Vol. 3 begins with a long, languid section of slowly shifting blocks and washes of orchestral and analog synth chords and melodies that take on the shadowy shapes of vintage Eno ambient music. Eventually, the insistent – and undeniable – snare drum rhythmic motif of “Bolero” fades in and increases steadily in volume. Next, a sampled/looped cell of trumpet melody leads by way of repetition to a pulsing excursion into Riley/Reich/Glass minimalism. Now, with pulse and rhythm established as the mode of expression for some duration, beat boxes, synths and EQ filters take over for a few long episodes of deep techno, exhaustive and nearly symphonic in timbral exploration, in motivic exposition and variation.

Following this comes a warmly shimmering and slow-breathing synth interlude, a brief meditation before the two epic movements that follow. “Movement 5” is built from massive orchestral textures and their intersection with a gamelan-like pulse of tuned percussion sounds. It could serve as the soundtrack to the climactic scenes of some visionary post-apocalyptic movie, the dark and romantic dense harmonies pushing at the seams of the organic and cyclic percussion and melodies. The final movement loops lush strings and burnished, deep-toned orchestral bells with a gentle, warm drone of spatially morphing electronics, the composition held together here by the pulse of slot drums, congas, gourds and shakers.

Recomposed Vol. 3 stands up very well to repeated close listening. There’s an elegant and carefully wrought command and reinvention of musical and technological materials in evidence, and although the sonic vistas imagined and articulated here by Craig and von Oswald can be quite massive and pervasive, they are nonetheless accessible and inviting.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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