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Douglas Lilburn, "Complete Electro-Acoustic Works"

Douglas Lilburn was already an award-winning composer when he turned from conventional music to focus on electronic music, founding New Zealand’s first electronic music studio at Victoria University of Wellington in the late 1960s. The three CDs and the DVD comprising this collection contain many valuable pieces that highlight Lilburn’s contributions to the electronic form.

 

Atoll

Lilburn was particularly interested in evoking New Zealand’s natural environment, which he does through meditative drones. Using electronics to replicate concrete elements like ocean waves and birds, he also adds conceptual touches like the stretched tones mimicking bird flight in “Sounds and Distances.” Although he doesn’t often use voices in his work, when he does they are among his better pieces. One of the best tracks is “The Return,” which uses a Maori woman’s voice as a compositional element before turning to a man’s recitation of Alistair Campbell’s poem of the same name.

In addition to his more formal works, included here are his studies documenting his experimentation with singular ideas or techniques, such as the two separate groups each collectively entitled “Five Toronto Pieces,” which were recorded six years apart, as well as a soundtrack for a dance sequence. The DVD contains a few all-too-short excerpts from films that find Lilburn demonstrating his techniques and talking about his ideas, two songs reproduced in four channels as he originally intended, and an illuminating audio interview.

One commonality among these different musical projects is the meticulousness with which they were created. Lilburn struggled with the primitive equipment he had at his disposal and his poise and patience are evidenced in every recording. Rather than settling for unpredictable effects, he took the time to study the technology in depth and harness it to his own end. There are a few places in the collection that hit an introspective plateau and lose some momentum, but for the most part each disc is arranged non-chronologically in a way that balances the different dynamic levels found in Lilburn’s works. I found the third disc to be the most consistently rewarding, yet the other two discs hit peaks just as high.

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Review of the Day

The Twilight Singers, "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair"
Birdman
It's been a tumultuous ride for Greg Dulli. The Afghan Whigs stormed onto the scene in 1986, determined to destroy all the walls that stood in their way. As the years went by, they slowly metamorphosed into a sex rock project, with Dulli's howl shifting more into a purr meant to coax off panties rather than bust down barriers. And then, after three labels and fifteen years, they called it quits. Dulli had already started his new project in the Twilight Singers, but their debut was languid and laden with death imagery, probably because Dulli wrote the record in the pit of a depression determined to kill him. Needless to say, it didn't fly off the record shelves, despite the best efforts of Fila Brazilia to dance up the dirges. It was time for a change, it seemed, as Dulli parted ways with his second major record label in five years. Now with a firm cheering section in place with Birdman, it feels like Dulli has hit his stride again, and he's brought the angry swagger with it. This limited edition EP is the first new Twilight Singers material in 3 years, featuring a cover and two original tracks. Where the Twilight Singers used to be a mellow affair with scattered dance beats, now it's as if Dulli decided his two bands needed to become one. "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair" is a traditional that Nina Simone made famous, and as he did on Uptown Avondale with classic soul numbers, Dulli makes it his own with classic verve. It starts off like any Twilight Singers song would, but when the guitars join with Dulli's screams, it's like the Whigs at their height: goosebumps galore. "Domani," too, at first is more like what you'd expect from the Singers, with soul licks and that sexy vocal. But again the wall of guitars return halfway through the song, and the Singers are born anew. "Now I can see, everything's clear up here from my position" says it all as Dulli's confidence has never been this charged. "Son of the Morning Star" sounds like a remix of another track, with faded vocals and a rapid-fire dance beat. The track's a bit of a throwaway until the strings come in, and even then I would probably skip it on repeat listens. On the strength of the first two tracks, though, the forthcoming album should be a real treat with plenty of sex to go around.

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