EYCK: Fantasias for Theremin and String Quartet – Eyck, theremin/ American Contemp. Music Ens. – Butterscotch vinyl or CD

by | Oct 17, 2016 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

Interesting contemporary works featuring the Theremin, on both vinyl & CD. (First Amazon button is for vinyl; second one down for the CD.)

CAROLINA EYCK: Fantasias for Theremin and String Quartet – Eyck, theremin/ American Contemporary Music Ensemble (string quartet) – Green vinyl or standard CD, Butterscotch BSR-015 (10/14/16) ***:

There are six Fantasias, designed to ape early-60s Nonesuch LPs with three to a side of the LP. The original recording is 96K/24-bit, but let me tell you something: Every record label that promotes the hi-res nature of the original recording is maintaining a hoax, because it all must be down-sampled to the standard 44.1K/16-bit of standard CDs, no matter what the original recording was. (Keep that in mind when you look at physical CD jewelboxes in the stores.) Also, there is no such thing as hi-res vinyl – no matter what some of the manufacturers such as Sony may advertise.  This may sound very good but it is merely an analog recording, not hi-res. Putting it in this hi-res section is just because they usually sound very good (especially the 45 rpm remasters), not because they are really hi-res.

In this case the striking theremin performances of Eyck were designed especially for the vinyl release, which is much more expensive. The vinyl and the CD sound about the same, except that during the pauses between the six numbers one hears on the vinyl a low machine sound of the cutting head and turntable, whereas the CD sound is totally silent.  But the green color of the vinyl is very beautiful, and matches the cardboard sleeve. Lampblack was introduced into the pressing of most LPs due to its reduction of surface noise. Therefore any vinyls in any color are automatically going to be noisier than ordinary black vinyl versions. There may be a very slight improvement in the naturalism of the sound of the strings on the vinyl on a very good (and very expensive) turntable and setup, but there is also a slight lessening of the higher frequencies.

There is a wide range of sonic environments during these six pieces. Their titles were created by scanning multiple Scandinavian languages for pleasing lingual combinations. Not being a language person at all (except in English) I must say I can’t really appreciate this. In the Bartok Quartet-sounding work, Dappa Solarnos, (which means Dappeled Sunlight), it makes some sense, but the other five make little sense to me. What is quite amazing, is that in several of the six works, especially the final one, the theremin – of which Eyck is a consummate virtuoso – sounds much like her human voice. The composer-performer’s work ranges from super-minimalism such as Glass and Reich, to fingering and special bowing techniques to get an ethereal sort of ambience. Eyck has memories of growing up in the woods of northern Germany, and her Fantasias are the expression of this.

Technically, the string quartet was recorded first and then Eyck played her theremin over the original recording. A Roland R-880 digital reverb was used to create the aural illusion that strings and theremin are in the same physical space. Trutone Mastering Labs made the vinyl version. A long essay by the album’s producer, Allen Farmelo, accompanies the vinyl and CD versions.

Oakunar Lunntuja (Strange Birds)
Leyohmi (Luminesence)
Nukkuva Lohla (Sleepy Dragon)
Metsa Happa (Jumping River)
Dappa Solarjo (Dappled Sunlight)
Nousta / Needad (Ascent / Descent)

—John Sunier

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