Can you approach a symphony orchestra as though it’s an analog synth? That’s a question composers have asked since the first time they heard electronic sounds. It’s impossible to hear the 20th-century technology alongside the 19th-century technology without the one reframing your view of the other. Now, it will be tackled by the new album from composer/singer/violinist Owen Pallett, with an interesting cast of characters onboard, plus one imaginary ultra-violent farmer.
Pallett, who performs confusingly under the band name best known as a Japanese video game, Final Fantasy, is something really different in the artist scene right now. For years, the “new music” or “art music” landscape had begun incorporating elements of rock and pop songwriting, but his work seems to find an ease and intimacy that’s entirely his own. He’s also evidently a Max/MSP fan – see the site:
Final Fantasy gets filed clumsily under that catch-all “indie,” but the artist’s work is heavily influenced by contemporary chamber music and classical gestures. I imagine some people may actually find they hate the results, in asymmetrical combinations of ideas and wordy streams of lyrics. To me, though, those quirks can grow on you, carried by utterly gorgeous string writing. “He Poos Clouds,” with piano and string quartet, is an imaginative operetta inspired by Dungeons & Dragons. Then there’s his video single from the beginning of this year, “Horsefail Feathers,” seen below. It epitomizes Pallett’s unusual tastes, mixing quasi-surrealist lyrics, lush, movie musical-style arrangement, and a dose of self-aware awkwardness that could upset everything else but instead becomes charming.
It certainly made me wonder what would come next. At a time when many of us eliminate instrumentalists altogether, the upcoming “Heartland” will be 45 minutes of orchestra music, courtesy the Czech Symphony. To me, the relevance to this site is thinking about how to construct music, whether for instruments electronic or acoustic. In today’s announcement, Pallett says:
The album was compositionally modeled upon the principles of electronic music. The principles of analog synthesis informing symphonic writing, like an inversion of a Tomita record. These songs, too, were designed to be as dense with polyphony as the Final Fantasy live shows can become. While writing it, I kept an image in my head of putting so many notes on the page that the paper turned black.
The first album for Domino, Heartland has an unusual subject matter: the lyrics are sung from the perspective of “a young, ultra-violent farmer, speaking to his creator” in the fictional realm of Spectrum. There are some fascinating collaborators, too: ongoing collaboration with Arcade Fire’s drummer Jeremy Gara, a guest appearance by composer Nico Muhly (whose new music is strongly influenced by his work with Philip Glass, without being derivative), mixing by Animal Collective producer Rusty Santos, and a number of others.
After our extended discussion in comments about what constitutes an appropriate artist for CDM, Final Fantasy is not really digital music. But it does promise an interesting interview on the “creation” side, and – given that many brilliant artists find it tough to be articulate in interviews – I know that’s what matters when I have my choice.
The new album is due in January.