- 24 September, 2009
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On September 29, Naxos begins distribution of Gabriel Prokofiev‘s genre-busting label NonClassical Records. The U.K.-based Prokofiev-grandson of the composer-has been at the forefront of the new music scene in his country since 2003. He began by producing events across the U.K. in both traditional and non-traditional venues before founding NonClassical Records, a unique label that presents classical music in unexpected and refreshing ways, including remixes alongside original contemporary classical works. Featuring a new generation of performers, composers, and promoters emerging from the world of contemporary classical music, NonClassical continues to host events that redefine the rules of classical music. Select NonClassical titles also are available on 12″ vinyl.
In 2005, composers John Matthias and Nick Ryan received a request for a string orchestral work from the Voices II Festival of Contemporary Music in Plymouth; at the same time, NonClassical Recordings asked if they had material for an album. Cortical Songs began as two songs, on which the composers then elaborated by incorporating results from their experiments on “rhythms and timbres triggered from spiking neuronal models of the human brain.” They noticed that the rhythms created by firing neurons were quite musical and “tend[ed] to repeat themselves over time periods of a few seconds, in what have become known, in scientific literature, as ‘cortical songs.'”
This recording features the String Ensemble of Trinity College of Music, led by Nic Pendlebury. John Matthias performs the violin solo, with interactive programming by Nick Ryan. In addition, the CD features remixes by 12 of the composers’ favorite musicians, including Thom Yorke, Neil Grant and John Fisher, Gabriel Prokofiev, Jem Finer, Marcas Lancaster, David Prior, John Maclean, Simon Tony, Dominic Murcott, Andrew Prior, and Marcus Coates.
The composers’ work with neural patterns was exciting, they explain, because these rhythms are unpredictable but not random. “Neurons,” they note, “are highly connected and trigger each other in a complex and fascinating way.” Matthias and Ryan sought to combine these rhythms with “song-based structures and string arrangements.” Cortical Songs consists of four movements composed for a solo violin and 24-piece string ensemble in which the orchestra is “partially controlled by a tiny computer brain.” Each player follows a written score and flashing LED light, connected to a small computer “brain” consisting of a software network of 24 simulated neurons-one for each member of the orchestra.
“When a neuron in the computer brain fires,” the composers explain, “the LED light to which it is connected flashes once, and the instrumentalist, following that particular light, responds according to a written instruction.” Additionally, they note, the notes played by the orchestra “are fixed in the score, but the times at which they are played are controlled by the flashing of the lights, which in turn are controlled by the firing times of the neurons. These firing times are indeterminate; the piece will never be the same twice.”
“Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra was born out of a passion for two seemingly different strands of music: hip-hop and classical. Throughout the rich history of Western classical music, however, there has always been a cross-pollination of sound between art music and folk/dance idioms, be it in the Partitas and Suites of J.S. Bach or Bartok’s in-depth study of folk song. In fact there was not a distinction between art and popular music up until the 19th century. Therefore drawing on the rhythms, colors and energy of hip hop, the 21st century’s most prolific sound, and more specifically its instrument of choice, the turntable, acknowledges and build on this tradition, addition an urban timbre to a structure that has evolved over the last 300 years.”
–Will Dutta, Executive Producer, Chimera Productions
In his Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra, composer Gabriel Prokofiev questions whether the turntable can work as a classical instrument. He observes that the right DJ can weave musical magic with a turntable: “[It] can be used VERY expressively-the DJ’s hand is [in] indirect contact with the vinyl and every movement shapes the sound.” (Unlike other instruments, however, he admits that turntables don’t have any of their own sounds.) Featuring DJ Yoda and the Heritage Orchestra, Prokofiev characterizes this five-movement work as “polystylistic,” incorporating elements from hip-hop and other DJ-oriented styles like “house and grime” into a classical framework. The recording also features 11 remixes.
Prokofiev began composing the piece knowing that certain “phases and grooves … would work well for the DJ.” In traditional classical concertos, composers showcase virtuosic solo performance; in this work, Prokofiev does the same for a DJ by utilizing the full potential of the turntable. He explores many techniques used by DJs, from the basic- “just playing back a bit of music, then stopping it, interrupting it, reversing it, slow it down, and cutting it up”-to the more advanced, including “scribbling, planning, hydroplaning, the transformer, echoes and the crab.” He also uses two-turntable techniques such as “beat juggling, mixing, and phasing; pitching and melodic playing.” As in a classical concerto, the soloist performs cadenzas in each movement, displaying refined musical skills.