“Precipice” Modern Marimba – Nathaniel Bartlett – Works of GLASS, REICH, ALLAN SCHINDLER, AUGUSTA READ THOMAS, GREG WILDER – Albany

by | Oct 4, 2006 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

“Precipice”  Modern Marimba – Nathaniel Bartlett – Works of GLASS, REICH, ALLAN SCHINDLER, AUGUSTA READ THOMAS, GREG WILDER – Albany Multichannel SACD TROY855, 51:28 ****:

Obviously this is not the sort of standard repertory which has been the mainstay of most SACD releases.  But the fact that more new concert music is coming out on SACD shows that the format is continuing to grow (with over 4000 releases so far), if not exactly thriving. Much contemporary music depends on unusual and often subtle timbre exploration, and precise reproduction is vital to appreciation of the often complex rhythmic designs in the music. Marimbaist Nathaniel Bartlett integrates computers and electronics into his live performances to create hi-def, multidimensional sound environments. Sounds like a perfect candidate for 5.0 surround SACD, right?

Bartlett wanted to assemble a well-balanced album with the intention of the listener listening to it from start to finish, so that its artistic impact would be greater than just the sum of the works in it. He begins with a short Philip Glass piano piece performed unaltered on the marimba. The sharp percussive transients of the marimba played with harder sticks reverberates delightfully in the space of the concert hall, and the multichannel approach preserves them well. This is the sort of material which is much more effective if you have similar speakers all around.

The next two works both match the modern five-octave marimba with prerecorded computer-generated surround sounds. This approach in live concerts gives the audience something to look at other than loudspeakers, but even on recordings it is clear which sounds are usually coming from the live solo instrument and which from the hard drives or discs. On Schindler’s Precipice Bartlett used Ambisonic techniques to create a sophisticated virtual environment in five channels derived primarily from sounds of his marimba. Wilder’s Interlude was designed as just that, to appear prior to the final two selections on the disc. The computer-manipulated sounds here came from acoustic instruments such as piano and woodwinds, and the overall feeling is more lyrical than the surround works.

Silhouettes, by Thomas, is transcribed from two guitar works of the composer. The title refers to the influences of a famous classical composer and a famous jazz artist which are combined in each of the very short works. Just reading the four titles would make most listeners anxious to hear what the aural results of these musical cocktails would taste like: Like Takemitsu crossed with Bill Evans; Like Stravinsky crossed with Thelonious Monk; Like Boulez crossed with Oscar Peterson; Like Bartok crossed with Art Tatum!

The closing Steve Reich work is just in time for the composer’s 70th birthday celebrations all over the world.  Originally written for a flute ensemble, it has been performed on other instruments as well. Bartlett not only plays each of the parts himself on the marimba, but gives each track its own special position in the hi-res surround field, going 360 degrees around the listener.  It reminded me of the Real Surround SACDs from the German Tacet label – especially the recent one which places different voices of the piano in Pictures at an Exhibition all around you. (You might want to recheck levels on all your speakers with a good multichannel test disc such as Telarc’s or Chesky’s and a Shack level meter, before you play this marimba concert.)

 – John Sunier

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