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Pieces in a Modern Style by William Orbit (Review)

William Orbit takes pieces by the likes of Vivaldi and Beethoven, as well as Cage, Satie, and Górecki, and runs them through his bank of synthesizers.
Pieces in a Modern Style - William Orbit

I have no formal music training. Well, I suppose you could count the handful of piano lessons I had in 2nd grade, or the recorder lessons I had in 5th and 6th grade. However, I have several friends who are very talented musicians, who have had those music theory classes where they’ve dissected the likes of Bach and Beethoven. And I’m sure that it’s very fascinating for them. However, I really don’t care about that stuff. Rather, I care about the feelings and emotions, the way that a song moves me — not what scale, meter, and key the song is in.

Another thing I should tell you is that I know about as much about classical music as I do about basketball. In a word, nothing. I know the famous names and a couple of the famous symphonies, but that’s about it.

The reason I tell you these things is so you can understand the mindset I have when I listen to Pieces in a Modern Style. For this album, William Orbit (who produced Madonna’s “Ray Of Light,” but don’t hold that against him) took pieces written by the likes of Vivaldi and Beethoven, as well as Cage, Satie, and Górecki, and ran them through his bank of synthesizers. Now this may raise the hackles of some of you out there.

Some of you might see this as one of those kitschy parodies, something along the lines of The Moog Cookbook, if you replaced glam rock and grunge with classical music. Others, especially those more “classically trained” than I, might even find it a bit shameful, that transposing Beethoven through a synthesizer might do some injustice to the original.

Well, let me shoot those two concerns down. This is no modern version of “A 5th of Beethoven.” Many of the pieces are strangely evocative, even in the midst of their synthetic wooshing and swishing. There’s a real sense of care, of craftsmanship that flows throughout Pieces in a Modern Style. The result is an album of music that may have little resemblance to the original pieces (I can’t say for sure, since I’m unfamiliar with most of them). Regardless, Pieces in a Modern Style still works as an album of moody electronica.

Quickly setting the mood of the album, musically and emotionally, Samuel Barber’s “Adagio For Strings” is solemn and reverent. Orbit issues out massive clouds of sound from his synths, settling around the listener gently like newfallen snow. It’s certainly not depressing, but nostalgic and moving, and the song’s final moments are pure joy and beauty.

Generally, I’m fairly ambivalent about remakes, revisions, and such. It’s not so much out of a belief that certain music is “sacred” or “untouchable.” It has more to do with the fact that it usually shows a lack of creativity. I rarely see the point of releasing an album of remakes, just so that you can show your vision of what they should be. But Orbit’s approach is different. Or at least, it feels that way.

Maybe it’s because I’m approaching the album with a completely blank slate, with no preconceptions of what the songs should sound like. Whatever the case, I know I like this. I know that the music is beautiful, that I enjoy listening to it. And that’s more than reason enough for me to recommend it.

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