Tuesday, August 04, 2020

New classical music for these troubled times


No reference is made to the  (Farewell) theme in the final movement of Mahler's Ninth Symphony by composer/producer Steve Roach in the notes for his new album A Soul Ascends. But both works take the listener on a similar transcendental journey, albeit in very different ways. Mahler deploys a symphony orchestra in all its sonic glory for his masterpiece, while a century later Steve Roach crafts his music from synthesizers and sequencers.

A Soul Ascends is important because it reaches the giddy creative heights of Steve's other ambient masterwork Structures from Silence. But it is even more important because it is new classical music for these troubled times. Steve crafted the album over seven solitary days of inventive white heat at his remote desert Timehouse Studio in Arizona while the world was entering lockdown. The title and a brief dedication defer to a farewell theme. But this is not a farewell to life: it is a farewell to a way of life eradicated by the global pandemic. Life will never be the same, and classical music will never be the same. A Soul Ascends is the harbinger of a new paradigm - created in isolation using new technologies, disseminated by more new technology, all with little regard for live performance possibilities.

Let us try to slay once and for all the old canard that electronic music is not classical musical. My definition of classical music is any music which has a primary purpose other than to entertain. Pluralism is central to the new musical pardigm, and hankering for the old paradigm - designer concert halls, jet set music making, celebrity maestros, etc - is futile. Carl Nielsen declared "Give us something else, give us something new, indeed for Heaven's sake give us rather the bad, and let us feel that we are still alive". Steve Roach's A Soul Ascends is most definitely not bad. But it is something new which in these deeply troubled times let's us feel we are still alive. In this new dark age we must never lose touch with the rapture of being alive, as Joseph Campbell explains in The Power of Myth:

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”
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