WILLIAM BRITTELLE: ‘Loving the Chambered Nautilus’ = American Contemporary Music Ens./Jensen – New Amsterdam

by | Jun 26, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

WILLIAM BRITTELLE: ‘Loving the Chambered Nautilus’ =  Future Shock for string quartet; Acid Rain on the Mirrordome; Future Shock for solo cello; Loon Birds in Meshed Crystal; Loving the Chambered Nautilus – The American Contemporary Music Ensemble/Clarice Jensen, artistic dir./William Brittelle, electronics – New Amsterdam Records NWAM038, 36:11 *****:

William Brittelle is a new name for me, but what an exciting find! From the press release for this album, Brittelle is a Brooklyn-based composer of pop-influenced electro-acoustic art music. His primary musical mentors include Mike Longo, longtime pianist/arranger for Dizzy Gillespie; Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Del Tredici; and punk guitarist Richard Lloyd of Television. Brittelle’s work is characterized by the melding of complex thematic ideas, rhythms, and formal structure with the visceral power and surface appeal of pop/rock music. That duality is represented by Television Landscape, his fully-composed, post-apocalyptic art rock concept album scored for orchestra, rock band, synths, and children’s choir. Prior to Television Landscape‘s release, Brittelle received a 2006 emerging composer grant from the American Composers Forum with funds provided by the Jerome Foundation for the creation of Mohair Time Warp, a full-length art-music concept album featuring live musicians and lip-synched vocals. This new release is, indeed, an uplifting and exciting blend of rock, classical minimalism and a very imaginative recreation of chamber music, and one I enjoyed a great deal!
Brittelle creates a sound world populated by a blend of acoustical sources and electronics, mostly drum machines and some ethereal backdrops of various origins. The effect in these pieces is very engaging and Brittelle’s work seems to exist in a fascinating and indefinable zone between pop and classical. The album title is a reference to the chambered nautilus, a marine creature inhabiting a complex and beautiful shell that is uniquely comprised of both organic and inorganic material, with the line between animal and shell often blurred to the point of becoming indiscriminate. This fluid duality in effect mirrors the relationship between strings and electronics in Loving the Chambered Nautilus, with both elements coexisting to the point of becoming one.
The opening work is a wholly captivating three movement work for string quartet and electronics, Future Shock. This is a buoyant and propulsive work where the synthesis between the strings and the electronic tracks. All three movements flow together seamlessly and in the most appealing way! There is a solo cello with electronics rendition of Future Shock also that has many of the same infectious elements. Cellist – and ACME artistic director – Clarice Jensen plays very well and with a true sensitivity to the style. This is a very nice work also, that sounds and feels more complex than the relatively small forces of which it is made.
Acid Rain on the Mirrordome is a very short but meditative work for viola, cello and electronics. This is a “trance-like” work that is very pretty and restful, having a nearly “New Age” quality to its meanderings. In fact, I envisioned that this work would make a very nice, longer ambient composition, carrying forth the ideas in the very pleasant minute and a half of this work. It certainly is quite enjoyable as it is.
Loon Birds in Meshed Crystal for viola, cello and electronics is a slow, plaintive foray into the same light, somewhat new-age feel of Mirrordome. This five minute work is very enjoyable and provides moments of restful beauty throughout. The title track, Loving the Chambered Nautilus, closes the album with an interesting blend of flute, harp, banjo, vocals and “retro electronics”, concluding with ACME violinist Caleb Burhans repeating the phrase “I do not hate” in succession. This is, according to the press release, a reference to Brittelle’s compositional embrace of seemingly contrasting styles: the grace, intimacy, and intricacy of the classical chamber tradition, and synthetic pop music.
This present album project and this set of pieces premiered at New York’s landmark alternative venue, The Kitchen, this past May. All performances by the American Contemporary Music Ensemble are wonderful and kudos to them for being dedicated to new music. William Brittelle is definitely an important new voice. I am sure much discussion could be had about whether he is an alternative pop artist or a contemporary classical composer or something somewhere in between or perhaps well outside any style and genre box. All that really matters is whether this music is engaging and great fun to listen to. I say “yes!” and I am motivated to go get his 2010 album, Television Landscape.
— Daniel Coombs