Tuesday, March 16, 2010

This Week on Audiosurf Radio – It Needs More Piano Edition

pianokeydress The downside of a largely techno library is the sore lack of classical instruments.  They occasionally make it in after being synthesized and reduced to overtone-less digital shadows of themselves.  Where are my real French horns, cellos, oboes, or pianos?  Well, excluding everything but the pianos (and the occasional strings) right here.

Kubikk is a Kazakhstani pianist/computer musician with a website I can’t read.  His tracks selected this week come from his 2010 album Turiton.  He’s also an accomplished DJ, having dropped a remix-heavy album just this month.

Gabriel Fauré is was a French pianist not a computer musician.  He composed over 120 works for everything from piano sonatas to operas to choral pieces.  His career greatly influenced 20th-century music education, and he (like Ludwig van) suffered from hearing loss late in life. 

The Warhol Piano Quartet is an Italian piano/string ensemble who also have a website I can’t read.  They enjoy taking promotional shots in the woods.

Kubikk’s on his own facing off against the Warhols channeling Fauré.  Who wins?

“Liebe” is a good example of what to do with piano in a techno song.  Often, piano parts feel tacked on to electronica in a vain attempt to add some sort of “musical legitimacy” – a nebulous term, I know.  If you are trying to “class up your techno” with piano, you’ll fail.  The genre’s perfectly legitimate as is; it doesn’t need to squeeze into your tailed tuxes and choke down your fancy hors d’oeuvres.  “Liebe” is a song built around the presence of the piano, not on top of it.  This song will not lower your guard with gentle ivory-tickling only to pound your eardrums into submission with throbbing bass.  It will soothe, but not bore or lull.  When the synthesized strings overcome the piano as the song picks up, it’s an exciting, organic evolution of song’s main hook.  It doesn’t just swallow up the pretty with white subwoofer noise.  The track graph suggests a ride without incident, which is simply not the case.  In the middle section, the strings conjure epic tunnels, and the track bobs dramatically with every beat.  The traffic seems a little low, but trust me – play this song.

Do not be dissuaded by the opening of “Theory Love.”  I will concede: it’s hella boring.  Traffic’s scattered way too far apart.  The music isn’t yet lively enough to keep the ear interested.  But stick with it.  Riding the crest into the long, downhill is quite jarring (with all the Audiosurf I’ve played, I tend to notice moments that actually surprise me).  Unfortunately, after that initial uphill climb, “Theory Love” is mostly just that: a long, downhill ride.  It’s got it’s ups and downs, sure.  And the music changes subtly over time.  However, the ride just feels a bit bland.  I came away wanting more variation, more drastic shifts in tone or speed.  Perhaps it should’ve been shorter, because the music itself is good.  The drums sound almost like a djembe, something more alive than your average snare loop.  A sighing guitar melody heightens the final refrain.  The piano implementation, while a little stereotypical, is inoffensive if not pleasing.  Its constituent parts being of such quality, I think it’d make a great track for a game like Chime, which assigns various loops and samples to separate in-game actions and benefits from a somewhat repetitive song.

Prepare yourself before embarking on the Adagio non troppo from Fauré’s “Piano Quartet No. 2 in G Minor.”  Take a bathroom break, stretch your mouse hand, whatever.  You should probably also find a comfy chair and a box of tissues, just in case Faure’s lush harmonies gently weigh down your eyelids or his straining violin melodies tug too strongly at the old heartstrings.  Fanfare writer Jerry Dubins wrote some glowing reviews of other chamber works by Fauré, saying that he “believe[s] they forge an otherwise missing link between Brahms and Debussy.”  I’m not up on my Brahms, but I know a little Debussy.  I hear similar harmonic devices at work, “impressionistic textures” Dubins calls them in reference to a later quintet.  Chords don’t bother to resolve in ways you expect; they simply existing to “shimmer,” to borrow again from Dubins.  It’s a beautiful piece.  The ride?  Well, the winding curves that appear whenever the strings swell is a welcome change from the pittance of traffic scattered throughout.  If you’re not a classical music buff, give this one a spin just to try something new.  If you dig some late 19th-century French compositions, put this one in your music library.

Author’s Note

All songs were played on the Pro difficulty at least twice using the Eraser and Vegas characters.

There was a debate raging in the comments for the Fauré piece about what a piece of music required to be considered a “song,” prompted by someone claiming that the track sucked because it lacked vocals and was therefore not a song.  After a little bit of research, I must admit that the classical-hater was, in fact, correct.  I’m not surprised, given that “song” is etymologically linked to the verb “sing,” something you’ll see mirrored in other languages such as French (“chansons” and “chanter”).  And while it’s not entirely relevant to this little semantics lesson, you should all check out this helpful Answers page I came across during a little fact-checking (assuming the site admins haven’t gotten to it yet).