NICHOLAS VINES (b.1976): Terraformation, Uncanny Valley, Indie Ditties.
Catalogue Number: 07U072
Label: Navona Records
Description: This is meant to be enjoyed on many levels. The Australian composer’s works are contemporary piano music of high quality but alarmingly divergent styles. The packaging of the CD, titles, and humorously ironic notes are part of a sort of conceptual performance art approach to modern music combined with some serious social experimentation which may or may not have any bearing on how you perceive the music, depending on who you are. Terraformation is a suite of four pieces which do not shy away from 'new complexity' and atonality, but which contain a good measure of breathtaking virtuosity that will likely appeal to admirers of Finnissy. However, partly to aid accessibilty, the pieces are based on clearly defined classical forms - canon, passacaglia, rondo. For the benefit of listeners who, in Robert Simpson's words, "wouldn't know a fifth from a rissole", or don't care, but like their music to 'mean something' a science fiction program has been grafted onto the pieces, which may then be heard as depicting machines and organisms from Kim Stanley Robinson's "Mars" trilogy, and the whirling glitter of the first or the pounding ostinato passage in the last could certainly be heard that way. Similarly, Uncanny Valley may be heard as 'variations' of a sort, except that as a work written to commission to explore extended techniques inside the piano, the 'variation' process is as much timbral as thematic. The idea of the work is Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori's theory, with its implications for popular culture, that as artificial 'beings' become more human-like, they become more appealing - until at a catastrophic inflection point they become repulsive. The music follows this trajectory, ending with the 'theme' an actual human being, played conventionally. Indie Ditties were written with a pedagogical purpose, as examination pieces. These are twelve varied preludes, tonal and characterful, accessible and appealing, though pianistically demanding. To add to their appeal (in the appropriate circumstances) they are furnished with titles and programme notes describing aspects of 'hipster' culture - you know the sort of people; young, trendy, given to deriding each others' choices of spectacle frames, scarves and music, or for eating too mainstream a sandwich from an insufficiently Vegan, GMO-excluding deli. So this set is as 'highbrow' or 'popular culture' or both as you wish to make it, and there is much to enjoy from whichever angle one views it. 2 CDs. Ryan MacEvoy McCullough (piano).