I'm going to open as I mean to close. This album is the greatest thing I've ever listened to and I shall now explain why. It's going to be hard to be concise.
Greg Haines is a British born, now Berlin-residing, neo-classical composer. He started his named career with Slumber Tides (2006). A truly magnificent début that gleams with insight into the young mind of Haines and, in-turn, challenged the neo-classical and ambient trend at the time. It brought upon organic dissonance when the expectations of mind where that of beauty and for that reason, it was well received. There. We are now in 2012 and Haines, having always kept quiet about his work yet, miraculously appears into my life again.
On this album, he worked with acclaimed artists Nils Frahm, with whom he recorded piano tracks (Nils also mixed and mastered the album) and violin with Dustin O'hallaran. However, the album came from an event much more humble. Greg worked in Britain with a student orchestra for a few months, from which he recorded rehearsals and the final piece of the commission titled “Disgression”. The piece was aimed to allow the players to think about approaches to composition and sound. In return, he found himself with quite a foundation of hidden tonalities and structures. As designers and composers in true music know: where there is a sound, there is a use and Greg makes no mistake in leaving no stone unturned in his compositions on this album.
The opening piece, 'Ernetti', is the shortest of all five on this album at a radio friendly 3:45, but radio-friendly it isn't. It opens with a pounding yet distant boom followed by a low rumble that settles within our ears for a few seconds before remote whispers of strings begin to form. You can sense the tension rising and with only two and half minutes to go, this has to happen fast. It does. The low end is prominent in creating an heart-opening atmosphere as the dynamics of strings and low synth battle between slow-moving chord progressions. Suddenly, it rises to climax. Head down, eyes closed and I'm finding myself at the end of my life. Right now. If there is a way to the end of my life that is taken within minutes, it is this going to be this track (p.s upon hearing the full album, I realised that the seriousness of my feeling and attitude on death is far beyond than this track alone). The orchestration dies away and you're transformed, gliding with a subtle stringed instrument in the background leading into the next track, 'Caden Cotard'.
The layering within this piece is beyond belief. A hummed pedal drone sits nicely in the background as strings battle between harmonies at an alarming rate. You're trying to find the melody and rhythm but the underlying chord structures swell and suck logic back through itself. Though every dynamic brings tension, there is a stillness and clarity about what Haines is doing. The detail is glorious and through an echoing piano, we hear that final solo motif we heard all along and now we are alone through a narrow passage of a tender piano progression. Not even half way in, and my breathing is restless. What happens next is hard to form into words, as everything you know and understand about time, reason and life is suddenly surpassed and falls away. The track's ending is something on its own, with a haunting mid-range drone falling into gentle glistens of piano, forming a reasoned and cleansed platform for the introduction of centerpiece '183 times'. You have two seconds to catch your breath.
The duo of the devastating piano and the saddening violin. This is a funeral march. You cannot help but feel something personal about this piece. Every sorrow I have ever felt or needed to feel, no matter how hard it will be... they fit right there between the chords that bring both liberty and oppression. I cannot say much more because as the saddening violin fades, so does my mind. I've lost everything.
'Azure' conjures up questions to start up with. It's unlike any of the other pieces. It's bright and youthful timbre brings us back to the reality of the current trend and eases me back into my own body ready for the finale, 'Neublo Pueblo'.
This final track is delicate piece formed through scattered piano melodies with no sense of direction, much the same as my thoughts, which I find fitting. I wait for the resolutions of chords through the melodies of piano and, as an underlying soundscape of noise and displaced strings starts to form, a unified resonance surrounds my whole head and body. There are no frills in the way this album ends, other than the composition's sound being stripped back to the interweaving stringed melodies and even as they fade, the final note is short and leaves no guessing as to what will happen next; silence.
I could say far more about the individual pieces and the theory of which the sound and music is comprised, but on the grand scale, what I feel Greg Haines has done is formulate the greatest album I've ever heard. Its tension is unbearable at times, but with that comes a clear liberation of emotion within. The transfiguration of soul and reality is incredible and I really felt like my life would end at any moment. All my sins would be laid before me; forgive me. All my fears would wash away; liberate me. And this was the grand and outstanding masterpiece that I would be left with as my life, past and present, was being ushered into a graceful future.
The personal emotions upon listening are far to apparent but one cannot help but be reminded that all this came from a commissioned composition aimed at challenging a students in their thoughts towards composition and sound. It's hard to know where to start listening to find all this; to put it one way, it’s great to appreciate and understand how deep the ocean is and what lies there, even when though there is no possible way for us to truly discover its beauty and depth… but even glimmers from the surface tell us of its magnificent life below and beyond.
Greg Haines had an agenda and mission with the student orchestra and from that, he has challenged how I think about the orchestration of my own life.
Posted: Thu 22 March 2012