IDM Takes a Few Stuffy Stabs at Classical Precision


Intelligent dance music strives for highbrow respectability, so a mini-trend of orchestral renderings was inevitable. Last year new music ensemble Alarm Will Sound released an album of Aphex Twin covers, but Warp Works, by virtue of its program (chamber orchestra London Sinfonietta plays pieces by composers like Reich, Stockhausen, and Varése alongside arrangements of Aphex and Squarepusher) pushes the “serious music” context harder. The opening two prepared piano tracks originally found on Aphex’s Drukqs sound here like tuneful versions of John Cage’s Sonatas, five of which are also included. But the beat-driven tracks range from dull to ridiculous. Absent its jazz-break pulse, Squarepusher’s “The Tide” is a shapeless mass of vague texture, and “Polygon Window” finds the rhythm section trying desperately to reference the original’s hectic programming; a closing snare solo evidently brings down the house but sounds tame and empty on record. This is a decent modern classical sampler for IDM fans, but little more.

Detroit DJ and producer Jeff Mills has dancefloor roots, but he’s a composer at heart. On Blue Potential, he teams with the Montpellier Philharmonic Orchestra to realize old tracks on a symphonic scale. Disco comes to mind upon hearing the large and dramatic arrangements next to Mills’s thumping metronomic beats (he’s onstage playing rhythm machines), which lends a welcome pop flair to such seriousness. Mills and orchestrator Thomas Roussel inadvertently create enjoyable “classical” of the Walter Murphy variety, somehow finding a billowy romanticism inside repetitive and tightly constructed melodies.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 12, 2006

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