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Philip Blackburn: Ghostly Psalms

Blackburn / Blackburn / Fullman / Wong
Release Date: 02/28/2012 
Label:  Innova   Catalog #: 246  
Composer:  Philip Blackburn
Performer:  Andy LoEllen FullmanTheresa WongPhilip Blackburn
Conductor:  Timothy Brown
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge Clare College ChoirSisters Of Notre DameWild Music Chorus,   ... 
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

The Innova website describes its many-hatted director Philip Blackburn as "a guerilla sound sculptor, creating occasions for listening where the public least expects them." What does that mean? The opening piece, Duluth Harbor Serenade, offers some answers: it is, to quote the notes, "a giant soundscape composition for the entire sounding bodies of the busy port city on Lake Superior: bridge alarms, steam train whistles, boat and fog horns, bells, brakes, and sirens, not to mention a flash-mob band of dozens of local performers parading around with loud Read more outdoor instruments." In essence it is like one of those 'sounds of the rainforest' kinds of CDs that were popular a few years ago, only these are sounds from the human jungle known as Duluth Harbor! In keeping with Blackburn's speciality, a coordinated 'performance' actually took place and this recording is, presumably, a minimally processed version of that. One obvious element missing is the noise of motor traffic, doubtless because it tends to drown out all other sounds in almost any environment, but Duluth still comes across as a very loud place! This is pretty much musique concrète for the new century, although the traditional Ash Grove tune does intrude into the bustle, almost humorously, at a couple of points.
The meat of the CD is the massive Ghostly Psalms, a 50-minute work, recorded live, for large chorus, organ "and unusual instruments". According to the notes again, it takes the listener through a dream Blackburn had in his chorister days thirty years ago: "Ruined abbeys, watery/windy streams of consciousness, and planetary motions feature prominently"! This is, in effect, a huge sound collage with all the ingredients of a weird dream: swirling stasis, ethereality, intimacy, intermittent intelligibility, non sequiturs, blurriness, repetition and so on. The eerie first Psalm, 'Jungle Litany', is impressive enough on its own, judging by scale, noise or imagination. Some listeners may feel mentally drained by it and needing a lie-down before facing a further forty minutes, but the remaining Psalms are less demanding, both as far as length is concerned and in their generally more benign-sounding material. Segueing into each other, the pieces are generally slow-moving, densely layered and flotsam-like, punctuated by occasional outbursts of rowdiness or emotionally-charged objets de son. As a whole, the Ghostly Psalms may well be at the core of what Blackburn is driving at in his very 21st-centuryvartistic statement. Incidentally, Innova point out that live performance videos of both Duluth Harbor Serenade and Ghostly Psalms can be found on YouTube.
The final work is the provocatively named Gospel Jihad, "an a cappella work for two rival choirs, one distant and tranquil, the other spitting fire and brimstone based on beloved (yet vicious) gospel hymn texts." The choir at Clare - England-born Blackburn's own Cambridge College - has probably performed relatively few works like this, and the raving 'evangelical' group certainly seems to relish letting rip as it cites words and phrases from bellicose hymns like 'Onward, Christian Soldiers' in various domineering ways, whilst the other shows great self-control to keep the traditional-style background drone going in the face of much provocation. This is an unsettling, original work that builds to an intense, almost demonic final few seconds.
Innova make a big claim for their catalogue, now more than 400 titles strong, "all somehow non-conformist, individualistic, and groundbreaking". Not all titles may live up to that billing, but this one does on most counts. It is probably only suitable for those interested in experimentalism, however, although a download of Gospel Jihad might be worth anyone's money. More from Blackburn is available on Innova 204, released in 2004.
The CD case is Innova's usual digipak type, and sports their preferred pop album look, with a typical lack of indication as to what kind of music is inside, who the performers are and the like. The 'booklet' is a folded-up strip of glossy paper that slots into the front cover. It is informative, albeit written in Blackburn's own flamboyant style. Sound quality is as immaculate as ever in these superbly produced recordings.
-- Byzantion, MusicWeb International Read less

Works on This Recording

Ghostly Psalms by Philip Blackburn
Performer:  Andy Lo (), Ellen Fullman (Strings), Theresa Wong (Cello),
Philip Blackburn (Electronics)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge Clare College Choir,  Sisters Of Notre Dame,  Wild Music Chorus
Duluth Harbor Serenade by Philip Blackburn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Citizens Of Duluth
Gospel Jihad by Philip Blackburn
Conductor:  Timothy Brown
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cambridge Clare College Choir

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