ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Orchestra Underground: Tech & Techno

by Maggie Stapleton

Founded back in 1977, the NYC-based American Composers Orchestra is dedicated to the creation, performance, preservation, and promulgation of music by American composers by way of concerts, commissions, recordings, educational programs, and new music reading sessions.  With an esteemed leadership of Derek Bermel, Artistic Director; George Manahan, Music Director; Dennis Russell Davies, Conductor Laureate; and Robert Beaser, Artistic Advisor Laureate this organization is in amazing hands.

Orchestra Underground: Tech & Techno is the fifth digital album from ACO.   Each piece was commissioned or premiered by ACO for Orchestra Underground, “a series stretching the definition of, and possibilities for the orchestra.  The series challenges conventional notions about symphonic music, embracing multidisciplinary and collaborative work, novel instrumental and spatial orientations of musicians, new technologies and multimedia.”  Orchestra Underground just celebrated its 10th anniversary season in 2013-14 and what better way to celebrate than with this collection of live recordings by Mason Bates, Edmund Campion, Anna Clyne, Justin Messina, and Neil Rolnick.

This release busts out of the gate with Edmund Campion’s Practice, a full-blasted introduction of orchestral forces, cresting and blending seamlessly into an electronic, computer generated outro in Campion’s cheeky musical response to the age-old question, “How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?” Appropriate, seeing as most of the music on this album was recorded in Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall which seeks to host the latest contemporary sounds from classical, pop, jazz, and world music artists.

Like all of the music on this CD, the fusion of traditional orchestral instruments with electronic forces is brilliantly executed in Justin Messina’s Abandon.  This work is played to an electronic soundtrack Detroit techno from the early ‘90s during which they experienced a musical rebirth in the underground clubs.

Tender Hooks, by Anna Clyne features a pair of laptops operated by Jeremy Flower and Joshue Ott, which transmit and receive live data from the orchestra.  Each element of this recording combines standard notation, written instructions and graphic representation.  It also pays homage to one of the earliest electronic instruments, the Theremin!

Neil Rolnick collaborates with violinist Todd Reynolds, to present their instrument creation, the iFiddle.  As Rolnick puts it this is “not just a concerto for violin, but a concerto for a cyborg violin that has been intimately joined to a computer.”  This union definitely displays both elements of a traditional violin, and yes, I think cyborg describes it best.  This piece is strikingly accessible, with catchy violin melodies throughout.

The opening of Omnivorous Furniture by Mason Bates has the feel of “do your best robot dance,” inspired by down-tempo electronic music which soon leads way to full on dance party/funkadelic triptastic.  Mason Bates uses computer and drum pad with the orchestra in this work heavily influenced with British hip-hop.

If you’re looking for a gateway into electronically inspired orchestral music, this is a great disc!  If you’d like to purchase the collection, you can visit iTunes, Amazon, or the American Composers Orchestra.

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