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Olivia Block, "Karren"

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An album presented in two distinct movements, one on each side of the LP, Olivia Block's latest work at first seems like two diametrically opposed pieces, but are thematically, if not evidently from the sound, tied to one another.  Based partially on the idea of presentation, both in the form of musical performance and in the sociological perception of the self, Karren has conceptual depth, but is captivating even stripped of that fact.


The A side composition, "Foramen Magnum," is the darker and more discordant of the two by far.  Culled from field recordings in a multitude of public locations, such as zoos and museums from across the world, as well as orchestral rehearsals (of the piece that lies on the other side of the LP), there is a chaotic, disjointed quality throughout.  Unidentifiable found sounds, crispy processed static and a menacing far off hum sets a sinister tone at the onset.

The occasionally overt smattering of applause, fragmented conversation or obvious sound of footsteps makes for a precious few moments of familiarity, but the rest is disconnected and improvised feeling.  It continues to move and evolve for its 20 minute duration, never really fully settling into a single mood or sound until the conclusion.

With "Foramen Magnum" acting as the back stage half, "Opening Night" is the on stage piece.  Performed by the Chicago Composers Orchestra, it is a much more calming and meditative piece.  Recorded over a period of multiple years and with added percussion courtesy of Jon Mueller, it results in a soaring piece of layered strings and organic sounds.  Linked together, the result is more that of a mass of instruments than anything overly identifiable.

Even in this fog, an individual instrument sometimes floats to the surface only to be pulled back again into the mass.  Throughout there is a slow, aquatic like flow that moves the composition forward, with sporadic, unobtrusive bits of percussion, but nothing that upsets the soft balance.  Towards the end, the instruments seem to lose their identifiable qualities and instead take a turn for the synthetic and almost unnatural, closing in a very different way than it began.

Concepts aside, Karren makes for a distinctly bipolar pairing of compositional styles, with "Foramen Magnum" emphasizing the rawer, more electro-acoustic elements of Olivia Block's work, while "Opening Night" is rooted more in traditional sounds and structures.  Neither feel rigidly rooted in their respective styles, however, and some bleed over does occur, reflecting Block's own self as a distinct and proficient composer.



Last Updated on Monday, 02 December 2013 00:40  


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