nedjelja, 23. rujna 2012.

Daníel Bjarnason & Ben Frost - novi soundtrack za film Solaris

Islandsko-australski dvojac napravio je novi soundtrack za film Solaris Andreja Tarkovskog. Beskrajna, metafizička, elegična klaustrofobija - ne trebaju nam drugi svjetovi, trebaju nam zrcala.

Ben Frost and Daníel Bjarnason are two composers used to shrugging off the distinction between experimental sound-art and deeply felt melodies. Frost’s vast, blackened post-industrial works often crystallize in moments of quiet beauty before disintegrating in pure visceral noise; Bjarnason’s orchestral music marries brutal modernism to classical aesthetics one moment and soaring ethereal harmonies the next. And yet here, on the tail of two widely acclaimed releases; Bjarnason’s PROCESSIONS and Frost’s BY THE THROAT, we are given something altogether new. A unique collaboration, SÓLARIS is a quiet, stilled and all consuming symphonic suite at once as affecting and uncanny as the science- fiction classic that inspired it.
The power of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris is not in its futuristic sets, or in the hypnotic shots of the alien planet’s weird, fluid surface, but it’s in the way he juxtaposes his alien, futuristic elements against the intimately familiar. This is a future not just of flashing lights and video screens, but of wood and wool and leather, of dogs and horses, books and photographs. In Frost & Bjarnason’s SÓLARIS we do find the futuristic, gaseous atmospheres and pulses one might expect from a sci-fi soundtrack. Yet here they are carved instead from the warm, fragile sonorities of a string orchestra -Poland’s Sinfonietta Cracovia- a gently prepared piano whose harmonies warp and melt before transforming again—and waves upon waves of guitar.
Created through a unique series of processes, Frost & Bjarnason’s initial sketches —improvised to the film— were fed through software designed to correct music which tried to turn their dense and distorted sonic input into a digital sequence of raw musical data. Working from data riddled with error and misunderstanding, a human score was orchestrated; the whole process deftly mirroring the core of the film’s own narrative of memory and loss, alien doppelgangers and emotional feedback loops. Brian Eno —who consulted closely in the creation of SÓLARIS— also used the same film to create a video accompaniment to this music in another strange loop of computer-generated distortion.
But here the score stands on its own. SÓLARIS; a journey into an internal world, into the self, a flux of wonder, horror, sorrow and tenderness, and a ravishing sensory experience. -

Immense, elegiac space music from Ben Frost and composer/arranger Daníel Bjarnason. Arising out a 2010 commission from the Unsound Festival in Krakow - hometown of Stanislav Lem, writer of the original Solaris novel - Frost and Bjarnason's SÓLARIS is also a response to Andrei Tarkovsky's famous film version. Though outwardly a work of science fiction, SÓLARIS is really a meditation on time, memory and mortality, and Frost and Bjarnason's music is accordingly grave, pensive and moving. They clearly revel in the possibilities of working with an orchestra, inducing the 28-piece Sinfonietta Cracovia to replicate, in acoustic "reality", the effects of digital decay and delay, and contributing their own arsenal of electronics to the brew. The beautifully sculpted results are subtle, sensuous and often majestic, and will appeal to fans of William Basinski, Johann Johannsson, Gavin Byars, Roly Porter, Nico Muhly and Fennesz, to name but a few. - boomkat
“Slow but spellbinding... exploration of tonal and textural ambience.” – Halcyon

Daniel Bjarnason and Ben Frost: A soundtrack to Solaris

RA's Andy Battaglia charts the genesis and development of the commissioned piece that the Icelandic duo have been working on for the past two years.
"It needs to feel like it's a trick on your ears when you come in, like if you weren't looking you wouldn't know..." Ben Frost was talking to a room full of quizzical musicians holding violins, cellos, stringed bass—things that the glib among us might think have been supplanted in the service of making sounds that scan as transgressive or strange. The musicians knew what they were doing, as the orchestral pros had been trained in the art of translating oblique instruction into actionable aid. But this was something new and different for everyone involved. It was two years ago in Poland. Early rehearsals were taking place for the project that would come to be Music for Solaris, an ambitious piece premiered at the Unsound Festival in Krakow in 2010 that has since traveled to cities such as New York, Reykjavik, Vienna, Budapest and Berlin. (It will be presented this week at the latter by the festival CTM before rolling on this weekend to Brussels and The Hague.) Performances of it include up to 40 people, and the cast involved answers to the call of two leaders. One who plays a piano jammed with nuts-and-bolts, and another who has made a habit of gracing some of the world's finest stages, surrounded by serious listeners and flooded by expensive light, without shoes. So it goes with Daniel Bjarnason and Ben Frost, who composed Music for Solaris together. The idea was to make music inspired by the 1972 film by Andrei Tarkovsky and the 1961 novel by Stanislaw Lem, both of which mingle post-human ruminations on metaphysics with fantastical science-fiction airs. It was commissioned by Unsound to be performed with 30 or so players from Krakow's Sinfonietta Cracovia, a group put through various avant-garde paces by its founder Krzysztof Penderecki.

Some sample words and phrases from my notebook at the first performance, two years back: "sinuous," "unstable," "unsettling," "'wrong' notes," "like [architect] Zaha Hadid's idea of seeing something from different vantage points at once," "throbs, seems to breathe," "eerie," "like if you fed a blind person grapefruit for days and then gave him a lemon instead."

It's odd music, orchestrally summoned but otherworldly in its effects. It was composed, conceptually, to be that way. The setting of its origin story was Reykjavik, Iceland, where both Frost and Bjarnason live and work around the hub of the label Bedroom Community and Greenhouse Studios, where nobody seems especially interested in distinctions between classical music and noise, earthy folk and synthetic pop, polyphonic art songs and reductive spells of silence.

It was there that Frost and Bjarnason first got together to improvise while Tarkovsky's Solaris was projected in front of them on a screen. "The score [by Eduard Artemyev] always felt to me like it was emphasizing and compounding the idea of Solaris as a science-fiction film," said Frost. "At the time it probably made a lot of sense, at the pinnacle of the space race. It was very new the way he was doing it then, but it became dated. And it never achieves musically the effect I think Tarkovsky was going for, which was to make a film about an inner space as opposed to an outer one. In that regard, the fact that the story is set in space is kind of irrelevant."

This was seven months after the first rehearsals in Krakow, around a performance of Music for Solaris in Reykjavik in the summer of 2011. It was there, during the improv sessions at the beginning, that Frost took to rethinking music for Solaris with an electric guitar and effects, while Bjarnason played beside him on prepared piano. Frost fixed on what he called "gaseous clouds" of chords transmitted via strange tunings, while Bjarnason pressed at his piano with deliberately placed detritus inside to ring and buzz the strings, a la John Cage.
Once the initial improv sessions were done, recordings of what had happened were fed into Melodyne, studio software new to them at the time. "You're able to feed audio into it and it detects, or attempts to detect, all the note data and all the harmonic information in that audio," said Paul Corley, who works closely with Frost and played a significant role in conceiving Music for Solaris. "It's like black magic. It gives you an insane amount of control. But since it's a piece of software, it's never perfect, especially with prepared piano and a guitar with effects."In line with source sounds made ethereal by design, the data displayed in Melodyne was full of wrong notes and phantom presences. "The sound of a prepared piano is off, awkward—it doesn't make for clear notes," Corley said. "You might play a C, but if you have a clothespin inside the piano, you get a weird harmonic C, so Melodyne thinks you're playing a C and a little bit of a G and a little bit of an F at the same time. Plus there are all these upper harmonics that come from resonant frequencies in the room… Lots of errors come across." The mix of miraculous processing power with the specter of inevitable mistranslation and mistakes cohered eerily well with the story of Solaris itself, in which an astral traveler is joined in the depths of outer space by a simulacrum of his dead wife. Her presence in the space station, both uncannily accurate and not quite right, is a sort of quantum projection empowered by the mysterious effects of the planet Solaris, which roils in psychedelic swirls outside.
"The feeling of loss is the defining aspect of the film, that's always how I've always reacted to it," said Frost. "Conceptually, if you want to take it the whole way, this is all about taking something that exists as a whole without context or knowledge of how it's supposed to work and trying to make sense of it based on this two-dimensional image of it. The orchestra humanizes all of those translations, and humanizes all of the mistranslations as well."

Arrangements for the orchestra were written by Bjarnason, who consulted the strange Melodyne data in the final score for the piece. The result is music that skews toward the contemplative minimalism of composers like Giacinto Scelsi and Arvo Part, with spectral guitar parts by Frost that wander in.
"Daniel has this incredible vocabulary and understanding of music," Frost said. "I studied music all through school. I'm 'classically trained.' But my relationship to music from the time I was 14 has been guitars and amplifiers and listening to Nirvana, not delving into the intricacies of string quartets. His understanding of the mathematics and grammar in music is much different than mine. He has an ability to take what I do and invert it or extrapolate from it and make the scope much bigger. Instead of it just being 'red,' it becomes 30 different kinds of red."
The same effect plays out on a recording of Music for Solaris released last year by Bedroom Community in a through-composed LP form. It was recorded by all involved outside Krakow at Alvernia Studios, a galactic-looking complex of high-tech facilities used for the production of music and post-production for movies. Members of the Sinfonia Cracovia orchestra were spread out through the space, working over sounds meant to evanesce.
"It's a lot to ask from a orchestra to play as quietly as they can, as a directive," Frost said. "It's a musical dialect that you can't just drop into a normal conversation. It's like trying to command everyone's attention in a bar while whispering."

The same reductive impulse figured into the visuals conceived for the live experience by Brian Eno and Nick Robertson. Near the start of work on Music for Solaris, Frost met Eno by way of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, a program that pairs "rising artists with great masters for a year of creative collaboration."
"I've gone on record many times expressing my distaste for video and music," Frost said, "so when Brian came up with his idea I really felt like it was his interpretation of it, his way of solving a problem that needed to be solved. He provided an elegant solution for it. In the end he went through the same processes that we have musically, in that he's stripped out and there's less information. There's something about all of this that seems to demand less and less and less."
The visuals employ images from the film—slowly morphing portraits of characters, suggestive stills of Pieter Bruegel's painting The Hunters in the Snow—as well as color-field abstractions that hover on screen with a sense of kinetic inaction. At one point the screen empties and fills with a shade of static yellow that seems to suggest all colors burning brightly and burning out at once. The music in the air around it could be its fuse and it could be its ash. Or it might not be "music" at all. - Andy Battaglia


Ben Frost and Daniel Bjarnason – Solaris

Taut. Anguished. Claustrophobic. In this case, to launch too soon into a description of the music would be unfair. Expectations are high, and questions abound: a collaboration between Ben Frost and Daniel Bjarnason. Production by Valgeir Sigurðsson. A re-score of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 adaptation of Solaris. A film that — at turns — is said to skewer epistemology, Soviet bureaucracy, or American science fiction. “Film manipulations” by Brian Eno. The modified piano. All manner of jargon regarding the songwriting software. Some reviews of the live performances to which we can only charitably refer as “mixed.” And that album cover: Bjarnason’s attire. Frost’s predatory glare. The grip. The gun.
Indulge us then a moment of exposition: the source material surrounds a fictional planet, once thought by researchers to be covered with oceans, now hypothesized to be a single, living, hyperintelligent creature, rippling with muscle contractions instead of waves. Psychologist Kris Kelvin docks on an orbiting station and finds there a sort of administrative cul-de-sac: a once-thriving station of 85 cosmonauts that has been reduced to three researchers. Or two, now, as it seems his friend Gibarian has opted for self-murder. The explorers are haunted by visitors — “cruel miracles” — and Kelvin will be no exception, as the psychologist comes upon a simulacrum of his dead wife toward the end of the first half. As it happens, this manifestation is a durable one, reappearing days, even minutes after each apparent death. Kelvin sends the first reincarnation away in a rocket, and the second — like the genuine article — commits suicide. The third is as crazy as a bat and, for reasons not entirely clear, convinces the other two scientists to kill her. Given the plot, referring to Solaris as “haunted” is akin to calling Animal House “fraternal.”
The pace of the film has been described as “slow but absorbing,” even “extinguished.” Indeed, silent credits dominate the first three minutes of screen time, and another five minutes pass before a character speaks for the first time. Scenes may seem overlong, and Western audiences might consider taking in this picture in installments (four, here). But Tarkovsky realized, it seems, that a film needs to creep before it can be creepy. And while the Zavrazhye-born director may have noticed in Lem’s book a Soviet-like space station at the end of its own history — where there is no point for Kelvin to stay, and no incentive for him to leave, and where an unseen mirror separates manifested dead from the walking lifeless — this is not a political film. Solaris transcends that, in an agonizing, sometimes unbearable microcosm of a man’s life with a woman. In the first act he flees. In the second, he relents, but she does not buy it. By the third, the courtship has driven her to lunacy. And the near-absolute zero outside (2.7 Kelvin, for those keeping score) does not help her space madness any.
Last year Ben Frost decided to rework the soundtrack, which has not aged as gracefully as the film: “I always felt that Russian composer Eduard Artemyev’s score compounded the external, science fiction elements of the story rather than exploring the internal, the human.” He continues: “It occurred to me that an interesting way to approach the orchestration of the work would be to mirror that materialization. I started playing around with music software designed to recognize tonal and rhythmic structure within polyphonic – that is, complicated – recordings.” Sinfonietta Cracovia re-transcribed the music from software back to string. Unsound presented the composition during an October 2010 performance in Krakow, and again in an April 2011 concert in New York. Bjarnason conducted and played a reworked piano (one blog, named Kogos, reprints an Evon Koprowski article that wrote, “With top lid removed, the modified piano allowed some strings to be struck with a soft mallet whilst others had sustained a metallic transformation to sound tinny and bent.”) Frost performed with guitar and laptop, while the Sinfonietta Cracovia also appeared, for this act as well as the preceding one: selected compositions by Krzysztof Penderecki and Steve Reich.

As we alluded above, some of the reviews were less than favorable.
There is little doubt that the new soundtrack works better than the original, but neither are near long enough. Scenes are often punishingly silent; more often than not it seems intentional, a device for building tension, which Solaris delivers in kilograms. Moreover, if Frost/Bjarnason’s song titles are meant as bookmarks, the tracklist lacks a “Simulacra III” and is wildly out of order, most notably how the “We Need Mirrors” speech occurs a few screen minutes before the “Any Scientific Truth” scene (those two pieces are separated by nine other movements on the soundtrack). This brings us to the point at which the live performance apparently failed altogether. The idea of presenting a 46-minute soundtrack while the 166-minute source film rolled overhead became unworkable, and by all reliable accounts, Brian Eno’s answer for this — the parsed “film manipulations” — was a complete mess. The Village Voice remarks that, by comparison, the visuals made Eno’s “iPhone app look like Avatar.” The Silent Ballet reports, “This all happens at the speed of glue. The face gradually turns younger, then old again. Then we see images of a bucolic town — buildings, trees, ice skaters — which slowly break apart to reveal the image of a murdered woman. At this point, a swiftly rising cacophony gives way to church bells. Then the screen goes yellow for the next 20 minutes.” Yellow? Apparently so. “The colour of a bruise,” writes Koprowski.
It probably did not help that the performance was out of place. Penderecki’s compositions are crowd-pleasing and full-bodied (those familiar with Bjarnason no doubt longed for Processions by evening’s end). Reich’s work would have been familiar to most, and the reader is forced to wonder how Frost/Bjarnason’s soundtrack would have fared against other debut material. Because the music is excellent.
The soundtrack begins with “We Don’t Need Other Worlds, We Need Mirrors,” a brief, glassy string arrangement that traverses from hushed/high-register to large/low register. Bjarnason has remarked that the performers strived to play their albums digitally, even simulating their own delay effects through strictly acoustic means. Those effort seem on display here: “We Need Mirrors” is a cinematic, slightly mental, and perfectly convincing piece of modern composing. Again, the question of sequence: it opens the album and sounds like it was meant to, but the title refers to a late-game realization.
“Simulacra I” follows. The plural form of the word seems to remove the focus from Kelvin’s wife and returns it to all of the visitors, the rest of whom Tarkovsky introduced in brief, merciless glimpses. Given the way the film ambles through other themes, this is surely not an accident. “Simulacra I” begins with a quiet and sustained percolation — Frost’s guitar and laptop? — building tension and interest for well over two minutes, after which a melody finally comes into view: the shimmer of post-rock tremolo at a continental pace. The violins return for the last third of the track, and again, the final view is of lovely, conventional work, which does not ostracize anyone or invent much. The process of composing, introducing the material to software, re-transcribing, and piano modification seems a long road to take to arrive at “conventional.” But things change from here.
“Simulacra II” (again, note the plural form) is one of the album’s capstones. The partnership is finally more evident here, as we can hear Frost literally slapping at his guitar strings far in the distance, while Bjarnason plays his redshifted piano on center stage, one note at a time. Strings confiscate the piece at the midsection, at last abandoning the thick pensiveness for something a little more suitably large, passionate and mad, given the film and the contributors. The quick summit is hair-raising, and the restraint of the album’s first eight minutes starts to pay off.
Another key track is “Saccades,” a reprise of the opening movement, now painted over with machine loops, deranged violin scribbling and atmosphere turbulence. Frost’s thumping guitar method creates eerie and skilled dissonance in a late transition, and again the listener becomes almost too aware of personalities. You could make a pretty strong case either way whether or not the composers intended this. The reader can tell simply by its name that the high point of the album will be “Cruel Miracles,” a slow, facile, and twinkling melody for a slightly out-of-whack piano, with a glacially swelling violin section and a crashing final measure.
This is a smart, sometimes exhilarating tribute to a challenging, heartbreaking and singular film. Available November 7 through Bedroom Community.- Fred Nolan for Fluid Radio



Daníel Bjarnason, Over Light Earth (2013)

Available here

I first encountered the work of Daníel Bjarnason in 2008, when I picked up a CD, unheard, in a Reykjavik shoppe.  The suite “All Sounds to Silence Come” was immediately enthralling, and I suspected that the young composer might be the nation’s best kept secret.  Soon afterward, the album Processions broke this secret to the world.  This was followed by the intricate Solaris, recorded with Ben Frost.  Frost is present here as well, as are Valgeir Sigurdsson and the Reykjavik Sinfonia.  Bjarnason conducts the orchestra and plays piano and synths; Frost and Sigurdsson grace the final suite with processing and programming.
A good word to describe Over Light Earth is unrushed.  Four years have passed since Processions, and in the interim, Bjarnason has been tested by fame and honed by collaboration.  The influence of Solaris is clear on the new work; these pieces take time to develop and ignore linear progression.  There may be nothing so immediate as “Sorrow Conquers Happiness” or “Spindrift” here, but the patient approach – from both composer and listener – makes this album a more consistent collection.  Big moments still abound – explosions of brass, flourishes of strings – but quieter, subtler moments are also frequent, and the piano veers from contemplative to abstract.  This is especially fitting as the paintings of Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock inspired the title track.
The two-movement “Over Light Earth” is an anticipatory piece that erupts briefly at 1:56 of the first movement, only to retreat again into a larger framework.  Plaintive piano notes feed into a stream of brass, only to be beaten into submission by a large drum.  The less percussive instruments bide their time, shy until the second movement, when the entire ensemble grows more active.  One imagines the dancer on the cover (painted by Winston Chmielinski) racing to portray the myriad emotions as they unfold in turn.  At exactly 4:30 (the exact midpoint) of this movement, a perfect chorus emerges, but is swallowed by silence only 15 seconds later, imitating Bjarnason’s inaugural work.
The complex, three part “Emergence” offers a series of harmonic convergences and divergences, a temporary separation of magnetic attractions.  The first movement boasts an ironic title, “Silence”, and attempts to suggest silence through the sound of extended chords and trills.  The brass-filled finale jolts the timbre into the opposing realm, offering an indelible sequence topped only by the blasts that conclude “Black Breathing”: two dark notes, in and out, like respiration.
“Solitudes”, originally Bjarnason’s first piano concerto, now includes added electronics from Frost and Sigurdsson and arrives in five movements.  The most abstract, “Dance Around in Your Bones”, wanders in multiple directions like a drunken coquette, yet eventually lands on its feet as if it were sober all along.  ”Selge Ruh” offers a sense of the haunted sublime, while the closer “T’aint No Sin” toys with dramatic tension like a cat with a wounded mouse.  With fierce intelligence confirmed, Bjarnason now seems primed for a romp through the rest of the 21st century. - Richard Allen

Processions by Daníel Bjarnason 

Streaming ovdje

Blurring the line between electronic and chamber music—a familiar style for the Icelandic Bedroom Community collective—the constructions of this recording’s emotional triggers are wholly unique. In Daníel Bjarnason's Processions, the composer marshals all the technical forces at his disposal to accomplish a musical goal rather than an ideological statement.

Daníel Bjarnason is 'the other classical composer' on our label, a throne he now shares with the omnipresent Nico Muhly. Daníel and Nico may both conjure their magic and craft via black dots on manuscript paper and swinging of the arms & upper-body, but their music is as fundamentally different from each other's as it is from that of Ben Frost or Sam Amidon. If anything else connects it—apart from allowing me to cast my own spell on it—it is that it is all brand-new; taking nothing as given while being fully informed of the past and the possibilities of now. As the fifth member of Bedroom Community, Daníel Bjarnason promises to share his bewitching alchemy with our troupe and our listeners.
Valgeir Sigurðsson

Daníel Bjarnason’s music is so intelligently crafted, it makes you want to pause the concert every second and look at a score.  At the same time, the craft whizzes by organically, and you don’t have enough time to pause and contemplate.  His music is thoughtful without being overthought, and obsessive without being persnickety.  As an outsider in the Icelandic music scene, I've observed that Daníel is a musician trusted by all: he is just as happy and effective conducting the Icelandic opera as he is strolling down the street; one night, I saw him fidget with a new arrangement of All Sounds to Silence Come and then rush off to conduct a series of ecstatically huge arrangements for the band Hjaltalín. His album is just a small peek into the life of his mind. —Nico Muhly

Bow to String, composed for multi-tracked cello, was written for Sæunn Þorsteinsdóttir. This is a piece that not only evokes feelings of tension or tenderness, it dares to signal them.  The unapologetically, relentlessly direct harmonic progression grounding “sorrow conquers happiness”and the melody singing out in the concluding “Air To Breath” lay themselves bare, inviting the audience into the score by demonstrating an awareness of emotion without crossing over into irony. The violently percussive performance techniques, the moments of ghostly timbre or asynchronous attack, are not there as commentary on the piece’s emotional vocabulary but as an extension thereof. 
Processions, Bjarnason’s second concerto written for pianist Víkingur Ólafsson, performs a similar balancing act of self-consciousness versus earnest appeal in both its genre and harmonies. True to the archetype of the concerto form, Processions begins with an extravagant statement; a statement Bjarnason takes to new heights in his thunderous exposition “In Medias Res.”  Its subsequent development recalls a traditional Slavic concerto, remarkable for its virtuosic elements and deeply earnest melodies. The propulsive rhythms of the last movement (“Red-Handed”), like the syncopations in "Bow to String", project a certain quasi-primitive energy reminiscent of electronic or rock music. 
"Skelja", a darker, more introspective score for harp and percussion, in a sense suggests what might remain behind if the comforts of form and more overt forms of expression were somehow extracted from Bow to String and Processions.  The dense texture of the electronic cello choir and the massed resources of the orchestra are replaced with the strict economy of a plucked and e-bowed harp.  But even here, glimpsed in the harp’s obscurity and the percussion’s subtle halos of color, the style of the composer, now introverted, persists. -

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